It was 2016 and I was on sabbatical, burning up leftover rubbish in my garden, when I felt God say to me clearly: “I want you to be more like John Collins”.
I had heard of his name as my training incumbent had often referred to the extraordinary moment in 1985 when John Collins had passed leadership of HTB on to Sandy Millar and gone on to be his curate. I had read how Collins had been instrumental in David Watson’s conversion and his development as one of the foremost evangelists of the twentieth century. But I had very little idea of the waves of grace that have emanated from this man’s ministry and now echo around the Church of England, UK Vineyard churches, and anywhere else where the Alpha Course Holy Spirit weekend has been conducted.
Collins led many students to Christ both as a student, ordinand and then later on student missions whilst curate to John Stott for seven years. These students included David Sheppard (England cricketer and later the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the House of Bishops) and David Watson (the renowned evangelist). He was Stott’s curate for seven years during the explosive growth of All Souls Langham Place, and the training he received there was central to how he ministered and trained some of the best known names in British Evangelicalism.
He went from there to St Mark’s Gillingham, in Kent and again growth was rapid, backed by two curates living in the vicarage, and then by a night of prayer which produced another dimension to his ministry, following shortly after a stirring visit from Corrie Ten Booth.
It has been said that “The next revival will cost you everything you gained in the previous revival.” Collins paid deeply for that night of prayer and subsequent experiences, accused of perfectionism / fundamentalism by former friends and church hierarchy respectively. But, as he pursued a form of renewal that wouldn’t implode a church, students (like Graham Cray) flocked to him and Gillingham became a great centre of renewal.
Despite massive church growth and an extraordinary ministry, other jobs were kept from Collins after his night of prayer. Eventually he ended up in a small parish in Canford (Dorset), which again, after struggles, headed into explosive growth. John Mumford (UK Vineyard) was one of his curates there, and Paul Perkin was mentored into ministry.
“From where I stand, the best parish priest in the post-war era” Justin Welby
Then, having been part of the team that saw the explosive growth of All Souls Langham Place in the 1950s, Collins was reluctantly persuaded to return to London in the 1980s, where he became Vicar and then Curate of HTB as that church also exploded into life. The Wimber visits and first church plants happened on his watch, and his teaching on the Holy Spirit was incorporated into the Alpha Course. Justin Welby who was a member of the church then described him ‘as, from where I stand, the best parish priest in the post-war era’. Nicky Gumbel recalls John not just as an amazing preacher, and wonderful story-teller, but also full of vision. He recalls Collins looked up at the balconies and said: ‘Imagine – exercise faith – imagine one day there could be people in all those balconies’. It was through Collins that Gumbel went to ordination training in 1983
Collins’ ministry continued and perhaps even expanded in retirement, through mentoring students in Oxford, including Jonathan Aitken.
So after three years of investigation, regular interviews with John and his friends, and reading through many of his old papers, I am today beginning a series of blogs, out each Saturday, walking through some of the amazing things in his life.
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