This is part of a series of letters written by Sam to his younger self. He reflects on mistakes made and lessons learnt; the presence of God and the way of his work; spiritual formation in word and culture; paths to consider and avoid.

All the world [is] my parish.[1]

As an impressionable young Christian, you won’t hear that phrase until you study church history,[2] but as you are formed by the “Young, Restless and Reformed” movement, it will be part of your formation. Your major impressions of Christian leadership will be nation-wide or international pastors and speakers: people who are charismatic, passionate and who engage the Christian public from large-scale influential platforms. Their larger-than-life presence, visionary energy and confidence is going to sweep you away. They will affect your faith in a way that you can’t begin to imagine.

Their larger-than-life presence is going to sweep you away. They will affect your faith in a way that you can’t begin to imagine.

The changes will be good in many ways: you will be enriched in your love for God and develop a passion for the gospel; you will be enlarged in your awareness of global mission; develop wider relationships with different communities of believers. You’ll be enthralled by Calvinism, by reformed theology and by evangelistic movements. You will also be caught up in historical-redemptive debates about the millennium, the sovereignty of God and the Puritans. You are going to consume a diet of books, expository sermons and world-wide worship music. Evangelical conferences will give you a sense of camaraderie beyond the scope of your neighbourhood. The gospel will feel bigger; the people of God will look unassailable, and the kingdom of God feel global.

The gospel will feel bigger; the people of God will look unassailable.

People like John Piper, Don Carson, William Lane-Craig and Matt Chandler will become your go-to rabbis—by-passing your local pastor. Soon, you will seek their advice and revere their wisdom ahead of that of your non-PhD, uncharismatic, father-of-four pastor. The teaching and preaching you receive from these big-platform, online/overseas pastors will make it harder to listen to every-day, bread-and-butter, three-points-and-a-poem sermons.

But remember that when you are listening to online platform speakers, they are speaking on a platform. Platforms are neither good nor bad, but they are removed from your everyday life. Try to remember this as you get swept away by gospel/parachurch/global movements and begin networking and making friends around the world. You will be tempted to look to these as sources for your spiritual formation—you may prefer them to the people in your local, in-the-flesh congregation.

But both platform speakers and friends around the globe— though many of them are wonderful and buzz with the same excitement you feel—do not walk alongside you in the flesh. These preachers, leaders, global brothers and sisters have their own churches. They have their own families and neighbourhoods. They have not watched you grow up, make mistakes, experience frustration and wrestle with sin. Their wisdom and advice can only be contextualised in a limited way.

So when you start to think that Christian leadership is “global”, remember that the local church is the body that God has placed you in. That is where you belong (1 Cor 12:12-26). When you are swept up in the idea that “[r]eal or vital or powerful or truly spiritual Christian life is all about the big event, the larger-than-life leader…[t]he result is such a massive distortion of Christian life;”[3] God typically works through weakness (2 Cor 4:7; 12:9). When you think that the local church with the average bake-sales, empty pews during the summer holidays, and its slightly out-of-beat drummer are all indicative of passionless apathy, remember that God’s kingdom manifests, “not by might nor by power, but by [the] Spirit.” (Zech 4:6)

So, finally, remember much of the time spiritual things cannot be seen by material eyes.
Remember, the whole world is not your parish—Jesus is the shepherd of the global church.
Remember, be faithful with that which you have been given—whatever the size.

With grace once more, again and again,


[1] Wesley, John, in https://www.ccel.org/ccel/wesley/journal.vi.iii.v.html; Whitefield, George. Letters of George Whitefield, for the Period 1734-1742 (Banner of Truth, Pennsylvania: 1976) 105.

[2] Maddock, Ian J., ed. Wesley and Whitefield? Wesley versus Whitefield? (Pickwick, 2018).

[3] Carson, D.A. 2014. The Underbelly of Revival? Five Reflections on Various Failures in the Young, Restless, and Reformed Movement. Themelios, 39, No. 3. (November): 407.