Jon Cawsey, a church planter in Stockport, tells us how studying in a Union Learning Community wasn't just a luxury, but a necessity. Here he describes his journey including starting out in ministry, recognising the need for formal theological training and his first experience of church planting.

"My name is Jon Cawsey and I am currently the co-planter and executive pastor of Christ Church Stockport. I was born and bred in Stockport, South Manchester and I became a Christian at the age of 16 on a Christian camp. Before embarking on a journey into full-time Christian ministry I worked as an engineer and teacher. During that time, I was part of St Johns Church, Knutsford and was encouraged to preach occasionally in the evening services.

I realised that formal theological training was increasingly becoming a necessity rather than the luxury I had previously presumed.

One time, when I was preparing a sermon on 1 Corinthians 3, I began to question the quality of what I had been building with. I realised that I had a gifting and an opportunity to build with ‘precious stones’ by pursuing full time ministry. St Johns kindly nurtured this initial ‘call’ to ministry and made me their youth and schools worker. Two years later, now married to Kerry, we moved to Harold Hill, a council estate on the edge of London, where I worked as the associate minister with responsibility for youth and schools.

After four years in London, and now with the gift of a daughter to our family, we decided we would like to minister back in the North West. In God’s providence, I reconnected with an old friend who had recently become the pastor of an independent church in Heaton Moor - one of the leafier suburbs of South Manchester - and I joined to become the associate pastor.

It was during this time that I recognised more acutely the gap in my theological training. I had read many books and been to lots of conferences and lectures, but I realised that formal theological training was increasingly becoming a necessity rather than the luxury I had previously presumed.

It was at this point in my journey that I was introduced to Union Learning Communities. Union offered a part-time course that I could do alongside my current ministry role. Even better, it was available through one of the Learning Communities not far away in Liverpool.

Having time to study important theological questions with like-minded people, in a depth that went beyond anything I could have engineered myself was invaluable.

The course was amazing. Having time to study important theological questions with like-minded people, in a depth that went beyond anything I could have engineered myself was invaluable. We had access both to quality materials through the online platforms and to lecturers who were always ready to answer questions and offer advice and help.

Added to that we had our course leader (in our case, Justin Mote) who added their own expertise and interactions which made the whole process more substantial than simply watching a video in a room with other people. The friendships that were forged and the camaraderie has lasted much longer than the course, and again, thanks to modern technology it is easy to stay in touch and see how each other’s ministry is developing.

After completing the course, my colleague Matt Thompson and I began to think carefully and strategically about the gospel gaps in the town of Stockport. Stockport is a town of nearly 300,000 people and yet current estimates would suggest that only around 3% of the town’s population go to a church of any denomination or designation.

Tim Keller has described discerning a ‘call’ to ministry as affinity, ability and opportunity. Concerning affinity, Stockport is my hometown and I am passionate to see its residents come to know Christ.  As for ability, God has thankfully shaped me through the generous teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness of those around me.

As for opportunity - armed with the gospel and very few other resources, in God’s providence we planted an AMiE church (Anglican Mission in England) in the centre of Stockport last February. We are continuing to develop and grow as a church. Both myself and Matt were ordained last winter and now, with our marching orders, we seek to make, teach and send disciples of Jesus into Stockport and beyond for the good of the town and to the glory of God.

John found his experience in a Union Learning Community invaluable for effective church ministry. Click here to find out more about our Learning Communities in locations from Tulsa to Cambridge at our Union School of Theology website.