The Norfolk and Norwich Christian community website

Steve Chalke learns his lessons the hard way

2008: SteveChalkeNorWebBaptist minister Steve Chalke is a world record holder, UN special advisor, head of Oasis Trust, Academy provider, church leader, TV presenter and controversial author. But he found time to give an exclusive interview to Network Norwich when he was in Norwich last week promoting his new book Change Agents. Keith Morris reports.
It is difficult to know where to start when interviewing Steve Chalke as there are so many subjects he is the master of.
He is no stranger to Norwich and was a regular visitor when working for Anglia TV making a series of regional TV shows and standing in for John Stapleton on the ITV morning chat show The Time, The Place.
He also opened the Catton Grove community hub hall, where Oak Grove Chapel now meet, last year and was there again on March 13 speaking to church leaders about his book Change Agents: 25 hard-learned lessons in the art of getting things done.
Steve could certainly be described as a Change Agent and the book is full of strategic management lessons for church, or any other sort of leader, written in an easy popular style.
The lessons are ones that Steve has learned the hard way over the last four years and a half years since he was invited to take on Christ Church and Upton Chapel in London. The church has an illustrious history and was known as The Nonconformist Cathedral with a one-time congregation of 2500 people and speakers such as William Wilberforce and Roland Hill.
But when Steve took it on, it had a congregation of just 20 and was open for one single hour each week. Today, the church is called church.co.uk, with a very successful coffee bar and a real community focus and an aim to be open and available 24-hours a day.
The congregation now numbers around 400 and some of the lessons Steve has learnt so far include: “you can’t be everyone’s best mate”, “vision and frustration are the same things”, “people follow people not disembodied principles” and “you can’t do what you can’t imagine”.
Steve is probably best known for leading the Christian Oasis Trust which now works on five continents and in 10 countries around the world, to deliver housing, education, training, youth work and healthcare.
In Britain, Oasis is the second largest provider of the new government educational academies with three open and ten being built.
Steve said he has spoken to Norwich Open Academy sponsor Graham Dacre about academies, when they met at a government event. He strongly believes that Christians should be involved in running academies but, he said: “We need to remember that we are being trusted with public money to provide education not indoctrination.” A sentiment with which Graham, and his co-sponsor the Bishop of Norwich, certainly agree.
“We enjoy a good relationship with the local authorities with which we work,” said Steve. “Every one of them has invited us back to build another academy and Oasis has just been approved by the Government to build up to 25 academies
“Our schools are inclusive, we do not select by faith and accept people of all faiths or no faith, nor do we select by ability. We teach the National Curriculum. Our schools are community ones and we provide a huge array of youth clubs, health services, community cafes and community centres alongside them.
“I think that the Academies scheme is a fantastic one and brings opportunities where there were none before. Our schools were empty before and now they are full, staff turnover was high now it is low, attainment levels were low but now they are above the national average and the youngsters are passing exams. They have become schools of first choice not last choice. It is a huge responsibility and we must be accountable for what we deliver.”
Steve is also leading the way in the campaign against human trafficking. As chairman of the Stop The Traffik coalition, Steve has now been made United Nations Special Advisor on Community Action against Human Trafficking.
“Stop the Traffik is a coalition of 1000 organisations across 52 countries,” said Steve. “We presented a petition of 1.5 milllion people to the UN calling for victims of trafficking to be protected, trafficking to be prevented and the traffickers to be prosecuted. I delivered the petition before 192 nations at the UN itself.
“Five jumbo jet loads of people go missing every day across the world, 80% are female and 50% are children. It is the fastest rising crime in the world and is bigger than drugs. The profits from people trafficking are bigger than those of Microsoft and twice that of Coca Cola.
“People are trafficked for sex, domestic service, for body parts such as livers, kidneys and hearts and even for human sacrifice. And it is even happening in Britain: a few years ago the torso of an African boy was found in the River Thames with no arms or legs,” said Steve.
Steve is no stranger to controversy and his 2003 book The Lost Message of Jesus provoked considerable debate and opposition within evangelical Christian circles because of his rejection of a conventional evangelical theological understanding of the atonement, known as penal substitution.
But Steve does not regret writing the book and says: “I have no regrets as it is what I believe; it is good theology. It has also opened up enormous opportunities and the chance to speak at churches all over the world. I am glad that the church is debating this important issue.
“What we believe about God and what happened on the cross is fundamental to what we believe about our mission in the world. I believe that the cross was the act of a loving God not an angry God. What we believe is fundamentally important to the way we behave and reach out and the role we take in society. The Christian faith is an invitation to participate in life before death.
“I am really pleased to have written about it. I would just ask people to read the book and find out what I actually said before coming to a judgement.”
Prayer is another subject close to Steve’s heart: “It is deeply misunderstood,” he said. “Prayer is a longing. You do not say it, you long it, dream it, imagine it, give your life for it, weep over it. It keeps you up late at night, it is your soul crying out and not just neat words with an amen at the end. If you mean it you will live it. The words rest on your soul and grip you.”
As if all his commitments, writing and preaching were not enough, Steve has also found time to not only run the London Marathon a couple of times, but become a world record holder in the process.
Steve ran in aid of Oasis' work with schools in disadvantaged communities in 2005 and became the official holder of the Guinness World Record for the largest amount of sponsorship money ever raised by an individual through a single event, raising £1.25 million.
His record was beaten the following year by Sir Steve Redgrave, who officially raised over £1.785 million. However, in 2007, Steve recaptured his title, as well as becoming the fastest money-generating sports person in history, by raising over £1.855 million in 3 hours 58 minutes 40 seconds.
This year, Steve will be taking a well-earned rest and leaving the field open for his illustrious rival. I am sure he will somehow manage to find something to do with all his spare time.

Change Agents: 25 hard-learned lessons in the art of getting things done, is published by Zondervan at £6.99.
Pictured above is Steve Chalke while in Norwich.


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