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01 September 2008

Pens Down

Pens Down

General Director Joel Edwards prepares for his next challenge...

I can hardly believe it, but this is my final last word. It was 20 years ago when I first entered the orbit of the Evangelical Alliance. In 1988 I was appointed as general secretary of the African and Caribbean Alliance. From there I went on to become the UK director before my appointment as general director in 1997.

So much has changed over two decades. My first mobile phone did not fit properly in my briefcase; today you wouldn't know it was in my inside jacket pocket.

When I first walked through the front door, Spring Harvest was an infant idea and Word Alive did not exist. I still remember Nicky Gumbel telling me about a new project called Alpha. In the intervening years the evangelical world has exploded into action: Care for the Family, Soul Survivor, Christianity Explored, On the Move, RUN, Faithworks, Global Day of Prayer, 24/7, Theos - I could go on, but these are all byproducts of our burgeoning evangelical confidence.

And I hope that we will keep our eye on what God is doing in his world. I know all about the statistics of falling church numbers, but they don't worry me that much. Pluralism and the attacks on Biblical truth will be more challenging than most of us yet imagine.

Unity in diversity will continue to be hard work. Our debate about the atonement was the dark night of my soul. I feared losing a friend with whom I disagreed but whom I still love and admire. I was terrified that my decision to hold public debates about the cross would be our undoing. And I have been saddened to watch the quiet drift taking place between progressive and conservative evangelicals.

We've come a long way

But as I head for the door I have a lot to be grateful for. Frankly, I have never known so much evangelical confidence in prayer, evangelism and political and social action. We have come a long way since the Alliance's groundbreaking Salt and Light consultation and our leadership conferences in the 1980s. Those events raised the bar on evangelical mission in the world, and I suspect spawned fresh confidence in social engagement.

Pluralism and the attacks on Biblical truth will be more challenging than most of us yet imagine

I am pleased to see the rich and unprecedented levels of networks of missional relationships across the UK and the US. There is a flavour of the Spirit as God spawns big transformational ideas over cappuccinos. I suspect it will keep happening. And it's been great to see the cross-fertilisation of cultures and friendships without feeling it was all my responsibility to get black Christians to talk to white ones.

A lot of people have asked me about my best achievements. I find this really hard to evaluate. But if I have helped to reposition evangelical witness to be better understood and Christ as more accessible I will be pleased. I hope I have helped to re-brand and re-position the Alliance.

I have collected a few honorary tokens over the years and I am in no doubt that this has had a lot to do with the fact that through our staff teams in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, as well as Whitefield House, we have served the Christian witness in the public square. There is absolutely no way I would end up as a Radio 4 broadcaster or a member of the Equality and Human Rights Commission if those bodies did not have confidence in the balanced professionalism of the Alliance. Being a nice guy would not be enough.

God's timing

But I also know I am leaving a lot of room for improvement. I wish I had done a much better job in executing some of the new ideas I initiated over the last decade. And I wish that I had done much more to contemporise our work during my time at the helm. Actually, I had anticipated another stretch to do precisely that, but there was no mistaking it: like a judicious and perfectly responsible examination invigilator, it was very clear that God was telling me, "Pens down!" And I have always found His timing very good.

It occurs to me that very few students take the time to say "thank you" to the people who got them to the examination room. I mustn't be guilty of that.

Beyond my family who gave me away to evangelicalism, I also owe a great debt of gratitude to my predecessor, Clive Calver, whose genius left me a very secure platform on which to build. I hope I did justice to Clive and all those who led before me. And I need to say a huge thank you to the Alliance board and council who trusted me with the task and to all my colleagues over the years who let me learn on the job.

And of course a massive thanks to the members and friends from beyond evangelicalism who have been such an enormous encouragement to me over the years.

Finally, thanks to God, who gently told me that the time was up and to put my pen down.

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