22 People who Changed my Life – for the Better

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1) Paulo Freire – This inspirational Brazilian educator understood that the most world-changing, revolutionary gift to give to people is the gift of literacy. He is like a Caxton, Melancthon, and Wyclif all rolled into one. In the 1970s and 80s monastic catalysts carried the Scriptures into Amazonia, and sparked a seismic move of community transformation. It took me more than a decade to understand the significance of what I had seen. But ultimately their philosophy and work redefined my understanding of mission and church. They saw their role as one of emancipating those at the “base” of Brazilian society, understanding their work specifically in the light of Freire’s work. They were Freire’s monastic children.
Ruth and I have seen the life-changing power of literacy – including textual and Biblical literacy – in our respective work. Paulo Freire spoke to us with a love for people and a holism of concern and vision that opens up worlds of opportunity for meaningful service. Looking back, I realize that my 12 years of pioneering and leading Jesus Generation, my formation of the Simple Rule – and my work in generating books and documentaries would never have happened without the seminal influence of Paulo Freire.

2) Archimandride Sophrony – I first encountered Fr. Sophrony in print in 1987. His words changed my spiritual life from a canon of conclusions into a lifelong journey of discovery. As a monk of Mount Athos Sophrony expressed its tradition of prayer, solitude and authenticity by burying himself in an obscure part of rural Essex, UK – a tiny village called Tolleshunt Knights – where he founded and led the co-ed monastic community of St John the Baptist.

The monastic brothers and sisters living in the quiet reclusion of Tolleshunt Knights welcomed me in friendship and hospitality, and for more than a decade they influenced me deeply through patterns of prayer, hospitality and person-to-person mentoring, learned from from their founder and resident saint, Sophrony.

Especially significant for me was not meeting Sophrony in what somehow became an extended sequence of non-meetings, spanning 1987 to 1996! (The closest I came to conversing with the great staretz was to stand next to him through the three hours of the community’s eucharistic liturgy.) In some strange way my repeatedly not meeting Sophrony crystallized my own call to a ministry which shares the journey of exploration and learning through hospitality, writing and person-to-person conversation.

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3) Bessie Pereira – I always smile when I see Bessie in this picture. Bessie was a kindred spirit to Ruth and me. She really was like a spiritual aunt to us, whose friendship, counsel and comradeship we greatly appreciated over many years – before during and after our working with her in OIKOS Australia. Bessie’s ministry to grassroots, emerging, Anabaptist and post-institutional churches was truly inspiring in the humble and open-handed way in which she ministered. Bessie modeled for me true servant leadership, the work of a missn companion, who journeys with and assists open-handedly, without coercion or taking over.

Bessie’s apostolic gift operated entirely on a “they’ll invite you back if you’re helpful” model and demonstrated for me the spirit of grace and self-sacrifice that work at a regional or national level often calls for. Bessie was so grounded and honest in her own walk with Jesus. Her stewarding of her gifts was an example in itself.

In my final conversation with Bessie shortly before she died she told me something that really captures something of her spirit. While she was dying in hospital Bessie told me that as she reflected on her life and ministry she could now see that everything that she had lastingly achieved she had achieved after her first diagnosis of cancer 25 years before. It was an inspiring testament to her unstoppable spirit and what stewarding of a life can mean. Ruth and I are so looking forward to seeing Bessie again on the other side!


4) Professor Gary R Collins – One of the most influential books in my life is a very short one – Gary’s “The 60 Second Christian”. My good friend Phil Steer bought me a copy from a Christian book shop in Bristol UK in 1986. Gary’s aspiration to simplicity in thought and communication has been a perpetual force in shaping my own faith.  Gary modelled something I heard from a previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, namely that if you cannot explain something in terms simple enough for a child to understand it, then perhaps you haven’t really understood the thing yourself. Gary did that superlatively. For the academic to be able to communicate at a child’s level is a wonderful gift and I received it as a personal challenge!I hope I can say that, from that day to this, Gary has been a powerful influence in my writing and speaking from that day to this.


5) St Seraphim of Sarov – a Russian Orthodox Hermit – an amazing “staretz” who incarnated the “hesychast” tradition of prayer within himself and brought healing and conversion of life to many in 18th/19th century Russia. He moved in the prophetic, operated in words of knowledge, remote viewing, powers of healing, could read people supernaturally. At times he emitted light and defied other causative conventions!

From my own spiritual journey I recognized these phenomena as authentic. Once he caught my attention I realized that for Seraphim phenomena emanated from spiritual practices rooted in solitude, immersion in the New Testament and a life of prayer, fasting and conscious breathing. For more…go to my books page check out “My Dinner with Anton.”


6) New Zealander, Barry Kissell – the Associate Minister at my first church, St Andrew’s Chorleywood. Barry included me in various mission and ministry teams so I was privileged to observe Barry’s gentle and prophetic ministry at close quarters. Barry showed me that being moved by Seraphim could go much further than mere admiration to re-shaping one’s own life and ministry

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7) Revd Margaret Knight – whose courage I greatly admire in her pioneering work in the context of healing ministry and women’s leadership in the churches. Margaret helped to develop patterns of healing ministry and prayer ministry, embedding them within inherited patterns. She generously included me in these ministries when I was in my teens. A life-changing inclusion!


8) Bishop David Pytches – I owe so much to this wonderful man and to his very great wisdom and courage. David was a very generous mentor to me in the early years of my faith. One of the many things that David modeled for me and for so many around the world – the gift of being a non-anxious presence in the midst of all the unpredictability, conflict, mess, surprises and glories of renewal in the Church! A lesson which has stood me in good stead through 33 years in church-based ministry and in the years since. Through St Andrew’s Chorleywood and its offshoots New Wine and Soul Survivor, David’s impact on Christian renewal around the world is incalculable. Forever grateful!

(Click here to hear David & Mary Pytches talk about the DNA of New Wine – and look out for me on the video!)

(Click here for a recent interview surveying David’s life and times.)

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9) Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh – who somehow seemed to incarnate the entire Russian Orthodox tradition within himself. His way of preaching, his approach to sacred texts, and the real-ness of his ways of prayer inspired me. He introduced me to the Eastern tradition and many of the great teachers of the eastern tradition. And I am forever grateful to him for his making available to me his personal archive of materials on Seraphim of Sarov. (Click here for a taste of Metropolitan Anthony’s teaching.)


10) Tina Turner – no surprise to anyone who knows me. My generation encountered Tina Turner as a fully formed and authoritative performer, bursting onto the pop scene “from out of nowhere” in the early 1980s. I had only a dim awareness of the 25 years of prior career and hard yakka that had honed these skills. For me, as for many, Tina’s inspiration is in her longevity (the image above is of Tina at 70) her perpetual energy and her ability to continually develop and adapt – sufficiently to take her musical career from a first performance in 1957 at the age of 18 to a final farewell tour in 2009 at the age of 70. Now in her 80s, Tina’s honesty, acceptance and openness in processing ill-health, frailty and bereavement expresses a fresh challenge and inspiration to those of us who admire her vitality and longevity.

Tina’s story, as much as anybody’s –  is really a story of teamwork – the collaboration of a brilliant manager in Roger Davies, among many other musical comrades. Aside from the fun and inspiration of her prodigious stage-skills, Tina’s story gives others of us courage to play the long game, to continue developing and adapting. And it spurs me to believe that even I might prove a later bloomer! Click here for Tina Turner performing Joni Mitchell’s “Edith & the Kingpin”with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter,


11) Tony Benn – From 1994 to 2004 I was privileged to meet with and correspond with British MP Tony Benn. Tony was what we now call a “conviction politician”. As an MP for 47 years between 1950 to 2001 for the cities of Bristol south-east and Chesterfield, his steadfast principle was to represent the interests of the ordinary working people of his constituency – and of the country. I admire that he allowed himself to be defined and driven by conviction rather than career convenience – cost whatever it might. And I was very blessed by his continual personal interest and encouragement of me through a critical decade in my life.
We talked together about Jesus and the Gospel. Deeply shaped by his father’s political engagement, and both his parents’ thoughtful and intentional Christian teaching, Tony gave his life to occupying the prophetic space that speaks truth to power. As a boy he was banned from his Sunday School for ably competing with the Sunday School teacher in his earnest attempts to truthfully interpret Scripture!
Tony told me that although the “mysteries of religion” didn’t draw him, he was fully persuaded that in his work he was applying in the public sphere the social teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. Prime-Ministers Wilson and Callaghan, in each of whose cabinets Tony served, both complained of Tony’s habit of bringing “theological arguments” to policy discussions!
Publicly he said, “I…regard the teachings of Jesus has having a very, very radical political importance…For me social justice is everything in politics; how I should see my fellow men and women is absolutely crucial in interpreting the responsibilities that I feel that Jesus has imposed upon me.”
Courage came naturally to Tony and he seemed to have no concept that this was not a universal trait. Without knowing how he did it, he unfailingly strengthened the courage of all who came close to him. Tony’s investment into younger people in his later years was inspirational. I am so grateful for his personal encouragement towards me. Without a doubt, Tony has influenced my preaching, my politics and my parenting.

12)  The late Prince – (thank you Zook for introducing me!) because, with tireless nurturing of his talent, Prince was unashamed to embrace and build on the contributions of predecessors. We are going to miss mountains of potential if we are not willing to stand on others’ shoulders, inherit the mantles of others and carry on where others have left off. I admire a performance ethic that was all about giving to the people. Prince’s shaking off the shackles of corporate deals to go his own way, from hand to mouth – rather successfully – is a great encouragement to many whose call is to pioneer new patterns in a world where finances are tied up with inherited patterns.

Prince’s rejection of another behemoth that others took for granted – the Tiketek/Ticket Master monopoly – made his concerts accessible to ordinary and poorer people. He was genuinely about getting his music to the people. In his home town in 2015 tickets to his concerts were $10 each. I loved his art attacks, which again took music to the people. I was in London when it was announced one morning over the radio that that same evening at the Jazz Cafe in Camden Town Prince would be playing a set of his new songs – to whoever wanted to come along.

I was driving when I heard of Prince’s death in 2016. I had to pull over and stop the car to take the information in. Prince’s presence and inspiration had been so pervasive in my life that it felt as if I had personally lost something from the fabric of my life. His presence in the world had been so life-giving for so many that Prince’s death was simply hard for me to believe – especially at the tender age of 57.

As an artist, an inspiration and as a mentor, Prince leaves a lasting legacy. His championing of new generations of talent gave us great new talents – such as Tamar and, on the link below, Sheila E. And he is an inspiration to so many simply because it is inspiring to see anyone passionately doing what they were wired to do!! Notably, Prince was also unafraid to speak publicly from a heart and mind informed by his faith. Many of these themes  are echoed in the spirit and words of this song. Intrigued? Click here for some funk!!

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13) Shelby Foote – hearing Dr. Shelby Foote talk about the American Civil War was like sitting at the feet of an eyewitness. He spoke of events as if he had seen them, and historic personalities as if he had known them personally. He made history so vivid you could hear the shells and smell the grapeshot. To bring something alive that could otherwise be just the dusty recitation of old data; that is a skill worth aspiring to. I hope he has been an influence in my broadcasting, speaking and writing.


14) John Wimber – his intersection with St Andrew’s Chorleywood (12 months before I came to faith through that church’s ministry) changed the course of the renewal among UK churches. His avoidance of hype and VIP culture, the reverence and intimacy of the Vineyard songs of worship, the theological thoughtfulness, the respect and gentleness of his approach, and his enormous generosity were a great gift to the churches. Through Vineyard, St Andrews, New Wine and Soul Survivor, the DNA of John Wimber’s work has impacted the world and has shaped me from the very beginning. Eternally grateful!

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15) Joyce Huggett – Joyce was very significant for me in being the first (non-editorial) reader of my first book, “Rough Ways in Prayer” which she launched with a stellar endorsement and foreword. Her brave and pioneering book, “Listening to God” courageously opened the world of contemplative prayer – and the wider and longer tradition of Christian faith – to the British evangelical world.

Without Joyce’s book mine would not have found a market. Her amazing sequel, “Listening to Others” opened up the paradigm of the Kingdom of God in a way that taught her evangelical readers to perceive divine activity well beyond the confines of Christian church-ianity, and to nurture a more genuine fellow feeling with all human beings.

Joyce’s literary career was built on other pioneering titles, books which generously helped her young readers engage with sexuality and learn about sex-life in preparation for marriage. They may seem amusingly dated today, but in the climate of the 1980s Joyce’s books were well ahead of their time.

The most important thing thing I learned from Joyce could hardly have been more significant for my life. As a woman in ministry, at a time when Evangelicalism and Orthodoxy resisted women’s leadership at every turn, Joyce modeled for me how pioneering leadership can be exercised quite powerfully – with or without any formal position – through the power of print. A lesson I have lived by!

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16) Captain Kirk
– It may seem strange to count a fictitious space captain as an influence! But, complementing the inspiration of my Dad, James T.Kirk was significant for the teenage me in shaping my internal concept of adult masculinity. Kirk had an untameable and boyish sense of fun, which somehow enabled him to maintain some kind of posture and equilibrium in the most unlikely and impossible-seeming of scenarios. A quality worth aspiring to.

Captain Kirk’s ability to combine leadership with friendship made him an appealing model to me. Engaging the counterpoints of Spock’s logic, and McCoy’s morality and compassion, Kirk’s job was always to reflect on the tension between the two poles and then chart a course of action. I reckon that, in order to be effective, all leaders need something of that same  mix of listening, reflection and chutzpah! So, albeit he’s a better boxer than me, I am not ashamed to count James T. Kirk as an inspiration!

A little P.S. because it is so difficult to separate Captain Kirk from his actor-creator let me add a sweet conversation between William Shatner and Joan Collins both at the age of 82 as they reminisce on the episode they acted together in Star Trek the original series in 1966. Just for fun!

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17) Edward Dudding, another New Zealander, was known for much of his career as Father Gregory of the Community of the Servants of the Will of God (CSWG.) Through many years of quiet conversations Fr Gregory taught me to embrace dissatisfaction and diligently pursue patterns of community that support deeper conversion of life. Fr Gregory introduced me many of the great teachers of the Hesychast tradition. A great  spiritual director to me personally and an inspirational supporter of Jesus Generation. (You can find an homage to Fr Gregory and CSWG in my book “The New Monastic.”)

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18)  Bishop Trevor Huddleston (above, top). I met and talked with Trevor Huddleston at the offices of the African National Congress. My parish in King’s Cross was part of a sub-culture of churches with spiritual roots in the East End of London. Common heritage with Fr Trevor. Equally significant for me was that Fr Trevor is the person responsible for giving the pioneering jazz trumpeter, Hugh Masakela (above) his first trumpet.

My encounter with Fr Trevor and my sense of his legacy forever challenges me to encourage people in their potential and invest in their beginnings. Trevor’s personal impact in South African (and therefore world) politics perpetually challenges me to promote democratisation and engage with issues of social justice in my own country. Trevor’s testimony constantly asks me how holistic and wholehearted is my engagement with the networks and places in which I live and move.

(Click here for a tribute to Trevor Huddleston)


19) My Gramp was born in 1900 in Brynmawr, Wales. When he taught me to count to ten in Welsh Gramp was speaking a language that the British Government had illegalized during the years of his own childhood. People could be fined for speaking Welsh in public. Families could be fined if their children were heard speaking Welsh at school. The logic from on high was that if there were no Welsh language then there could be no Welsh culture – which would make the Celtic principality rather easier to govern.

In 1926 the General Strike closed Brynmawr’s pit. The whole town depended on its economy. My great-grandfather, my Gramp, and all his siblings were employed there. My Gramp was forced from his ancestral homeland – and became what today we call an “economic migrant.” He walked 250 kilometers to High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, where he found work, got himself some basic digs and a bike. The local dialect was difficult to understand at times but one day a fall from his bike introduced him to my Gran. As a consequence my maternal great-grandmother took him in as a boarder and the family taught him the ins and outs of local language.

Gramp worked in a factory and later as a road-builder. For the latter job he would cycle two hours a day to reach the work-bus. The long days and hard work supported my mother’s family through Britain’s years of depression, war-time and post-war austerities. As a young boy I remember staying at my Gran and Gramp’s and watching for the bus to bring my Gramp home from work. If at that time you had asked me what my Gramp did for a living, I would have proudly told you without a moment’s hesitation, “My Gramp’s a coalminer.” Never mind he hadn’t mined for coal in 50 years. That was just who he was! I loved my Gramp. When he passed away I made a decision to inherit his prodigious Celtic ability in story-telling and I have sought to hone it ever since.

I am an economic migrant myself, in my Gramp’s tradition, and my political convictions are really rooted in my Gramp’s story:

  • a belief in weighing social costs in the formation of policy
  • a concern for regions and the impact on them by decisions of national government
  • a concern for indigenous peoples who are often seen as an inconvenience in national politics
  • a concern for those forced to leave their homelands – whether by war, persecution or simply the need to find decent work
  • and most fundamentally for the interests of ordinary working people to be democratically represented.

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20) Joanne Linville – There are two major schools in acting. One is the Stanislavski “Method” approach, geared around tapping one’s own emotional memory banks to synthesize the inner motivations of characters as they engage with the situations at hand. The other approach holds that “acting is reacting.” It is an approach which allows the unfolding situations and the organic chemistry among the actors on the stage to shape the emotional response of each actor. The great actress Beulah Bondi gave an insight into the power of the second acting-as-reacting approach when she was asked how it was for her to act opposite towering stars like Jimmy Stewart. Beulah played his mother in “It’s a wonderful life.” Her answer: “When we were working together on that set I didn’t see Jimmy Stewart. He was my son.”

There is an internal individual vulnerability to the Stanislavski approach. The second approach, however, requires a collective vulnerability. Actors must vulnerably entrust and show themselves to one another. The acting of Joanne Linville shows the amazing power of this second approach.

Like many in my generation, I first became aware of Joanne Linville when she appeared in the third season of Star Trek, the original series, and absolutely dominated the episode in which, as a senior Klingon commander, she entrances and seduces Mr Spock – and vice versa. Linville’s is an absolute standout performance. Simply mesmerising.

These two schools in acting mirror reflect two counterpart approaches to leadership. One paradigm is that leadership is about control; the business of getting others to marshal themselves around what you want in order to achieve a goal that you have determined internally. The alternative paradigm is that leadership operates through what you are able to bring to the unpredictable vicissitudes of corporate and organisational life.

Reacting sometimes gets a bad rap. It’s the opposite of being proactive – right? Yet organisations have to respond to unpredictable, random and sometimes absurd situations. Players within organisations often face the unpredictable, random and absurd. The skilled leader is one who can walk individuals and groups through wise processes and responses. This takes the willingness, like that of the actor in the Linville school of acting, to give yourself to the moment, make yourself vulnerable to the unpredictable response of the other, immerse yourself in the moment’s uncertainties, and be willing bring to the table the contribution that the moment evinces from you.

It is a more conversational paradigm. In many ways it takes more courage. And the longer I have been in ministry situations, on stages and media platforms, the more I have been willing to go the Linville way. Certainly it is an approach which has tapped her talent and rightly made Joanne Linville a sought after actress and a revered teacher of acting.

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21) Mary Portas – is an amazing blend of intelligence, creativity, strength and dogged determination which finally wins the respect of others and transforms their businesses. Mary embodies a tough as nails model for Transitional Leadership and the ministry of the Church Doctor. In this regard she is an inspiration to those of us who work in situations that call for the kinds of surgical leadership interventions which serve the community’s survival and health – but not the surgical leader’s popularity!

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22) Phyllis Tickle – a woman whose joyful, intelligent and prophetic ministry was never about self but always about recognizing, serving and promoting what others are doing. I resonate with that call and am enduringly inspired by Phyllis’ insightful and progressive example.
I am perpetually grateful for Phyllis’ great generosity to one such as me! Her encouragement of and belief in my writing were unfailing. She was a faithful and nurturing correspondent with me over more than a decade and I am forever thankful to Phyllis for her generosity in endorsing three of my books – all with her typical poetry and enthusiasm. RIP Phyllis! XXX