INTERVIEW WITH JOHN PARTINGTON (PART TWO)
This is the concluding part of our two-part interview with John Partington. In this part, we discuss the practical implementation of the AOG's values, the future, the role of suffering and personal challenges. Part one can be read here.
Of all people, I’m sure you know that the AOG’s vision is to aim to be “apostolically led, relationally connected and missionally focussed”. These are great concepts to aspire to, but I wonder if you could give some examples of how they might look practically?
You can’t really have one without the other[s]. The first thing for me would be to be relationally connected, as everything is done out of relationship. And so if you've got a strong relationship, then you’ll realise that to be apostolically led, that that person isn't going to be dictatorial, they’re not going to be saying something that builds their own kingdom but rather their leadership will be to enhance, recognise and release the other person into their gifting. And that’s a relationship. When trust is low progress is slow; when trust is high… then progress can be sped up a bit. Six years ago, trust was very low in the leadership of the AOG. People were discouraged. There were only 400 [people] at the leadership conference, but this past year  we had over 1600, and with a lower age demographic too. Young people are grasping where we want to go.
How I would see it in operation... the apostolically led AOG value is very much of fathering, recognising gift, raising it up and releasing it. To be relationally connected practically means that we do things out of a love for one another. And to be missionally focused is at the very heart of it -- everything should be about winning the lost. We don’t have a mission department, and we don’t talk about mission as something that’s outside of the main thing that we do -- at the very heart of everything is mission. The church has got to get back to realising that it exists not for those who attend, but for those who don’t. I would see it being outworked by people of particular gifts being recognised by others, submitting to that leadership (because of what they have relationally in recognition), and then being released to get on with the work of the ministry, which is missional -- to win people for Christ.
What do you think is in store for the AOG in the next few years?
I’ve got just over a year left, but I’ve already made it very clear that I’m prepared to stand again, although not for a full term. And my team are all of the opinion… they support me in that. So if health remains, I’ve probably got just over three years left, and then it’ll be up to the next person to actually be leading this great fellowship.
So what do I see? I see me fulfilling my mandate -- I’ll have done ten years then, by the way -- and I want to continue to see the culture changed: a culture of generosity, grace, preferring one another, evangelistic… all of those things I’d like to see continue.
I’d also like there to be a great modelling of transition. I just picked it [the AOG] up from my predecessor, Paul Weaver, who I used to serve as part of his team, but who due to ill health hadn’t been leading the movement, and so it was leaderless for 12-18 months. I had nobody to follow on from in that sense. I picked the thing up and did what I did. I would like there to be a smooth transition and… well obviously I’d like someone considerably younger than me to take it onto the next thing, but still continuing in the direction that has now become very much of a foundation within us, of those three points that we mentioned earlier.
Under your leadership, the AOG exudes an infectiously positive and upbeat tone. Alongside this, I wonder if you think that there’s a place for suffering and weakness at the heart of how we express being church?
I’m going to surprise you and say, “yes I do – absolutely”.
It’s true that my ministry is positive; my wife says that I’m the most positive person she’s ever met. I never see the glass half-empty, and it’s not even half-full – it’s full! I’m positive and believe in a “faith” message of living at that level of seeing God in everything. The tragedy of what happened in Paris [the concert hall attack at the end of 2015] is horrific, apart from if you look at it from a different perspective. If we see that God is still sovereign… the scriptures put it like this: what the devil meant for bad, God can mean for good. So in every aspect I will see the positive. But my greatest growth, and my greatest revelation of God is not when I’m “on top of the mountain”, but rather in the valley. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego went into the fiery furnace, and it was there that they were closest to the Son of God. I actually believe that it’s through our tough times and our hard times (i.e. our “valley” experiences) that we can see and experience the biggest growth of the presence of God and the development of Christ in us.
2015 has been a tough year. In truth, it’s been my toughest year ever: my wife was diagnosed with cancer at the start of the year, and then… I’ve got a daughter in Australia, who’s had a very, very difficult time too. It’s been a tough time. I have to say that quiet meditation and the stillness of resting in God has been very, very precious. So… I welcome times of trial and difficulty -- not from the perspective of, “I like it!” -- but because I believe that God can be about his business in a very deep and wonderful way, and we are the richer for it. I preach a faith message -- remain positive! -- but understand and grasp the work that God does through suffering.
I wonder If you could share some of the personal challenges you think you’ll face in relation to being the leader of the AOG, and also your new position at Bethshan as well.
Time is always a factor, but it’s stupid when people say they haven’t got time: God’s given us 24 hours a day! I work very hard and I play very hard. So what are the challenges? To get a balance between work and home life -- that’s still one that I don’t always get right in this particular role. When I was a pastor in a local church, as I matured, I began to understand to make sure to take a day off, have time with my wife, that sort of thing. But in this role you just can’t have it. For example, recently I was due to be home for two days, but then Gary [Rucci] resigned and I was required to be with him in London and Coventry. And so my wife’s now at home and I’m here, and I won’t be home until a little while longer. I don’t always get that right, but it’s a season, and so even though I don’t get it right and it’s a challenge, I’m aware of it.
My biggest challenge is maintaining that real, deep, one-to-one relationship with Jesus. It’s very, very easy to slip into being “professional”, such as giving you the answers you want. I’ve been a Christian long enough to give you answers that are “great answers”, but I always want to remain authentic and real. I want people to say, “Well, he had his faults and his warts, but he was real.” I’d like that.
The biggest challenge is to remain a good husband, a good dad and a good leader… standard stuff really? Just because I do this role, people often put me on a pedestal -- big mistake! Our function, role and call might be different, but there’s no difference between us. I'm no more important, no more of a minister, no more anointed. It’s a big mistake to put people on pedestals. I don’t fear “man”, but a lot of people do. The only one we need to fear is God. I hate the status thing. It’s a dangerous thing.