John Breen on evangelism and teaching people the gospel

For John Breen, recently graduated MTS apprentice and current Moore Theological College student, teaching the gospel to young people is on his heart.

John was first exposed to the gospel as a high school student attending Cranbrook School in Bellevue Hill. Having come from a non-Christian family, he hadn’t thought too much about faith at school, but he says, “I thought [Christianity] was something important and that Jesus was someone who had some good things to say. But I didn’t think any of it mattered that much and maybe it was something I could just come back to later on in life to think about more – maybe when, naive teenage brain thinking, I had more time to do so.”

Coming to know Christ personally

At the end of year 12, John started dating a Christian girl from a nearby school, Philippa, who is now his wife. After they’d been dating for some time, Philippa came to John and said she couldn’t continue dating him because she was a Christian and they didn’t share the same worldview. John shares, “For me, it was kind of a shock. I didn’t realise this Christian thing meant that much to people – and I wanted to know why it did.”

Somewhat “clutching at straws” John asked Philippa to share her faith with him before breaking up, which she graciously did – and so John went home that day to begin reading the Bible for himself for the first time. After coming back to Philippa with a long list of questions, and Philippa knowing that her church, St Matthias Anglican Church, was running a Christianity Explored course at the time, Philippa invited him to come along.

John went along, but after Week 1, found it was only him and the minister attending! He says, “[Week 1] I got to meet the minister and his wife and some other people at the church. But then for the next eight weeks, it was just me and the minister, everyone else had dropped out.” Despite the potential that this would have to scare John off, God was working in him and kept him attending for the whole 8 weeks.

For John, the dedication of the then assistant minister Joshua Kuswadi spoke volumes. He says, “Josh and his wife Jo were really gracious in opening up their home to me as a complete stranger to them and were also very patient and faithful in opening up the Bible with me each week.” During the time doing Christianity Explored, John experienced some challenges in his personal life with his sister being diagnosed with cancer and Philippa’s mum passing away in a very short period of time also from cancer. John began to wrestle with whether there was any hope in the midst of sickness and death that surrounded him.

But, in God’s grace, John’s eyes were opened to see the brokenness of the world because of sin and that the only sure hope beyond the grave is through faith in Jesus – and by the end of the course he had given his life to Jesus.

The tap on the shoulder for MTS

After becoming a Christian, John settled at St Matthias, and in 2013 started leading youth group. He says, “I saw the value in young people coming to know Jesus, as it was something I hadn’t experienced obviously. And I really missed that opportunity and saw the need to keep training the next generation of people to come to faith in Jesus and share the gospel themselves.”

John continued leading youth group and getting more involved in other church ministry alongside working as a lawyer in corporate law. He says, “I was talked to by a bunch of people, including my rector James Harricks, assistant minister at the time Rhys Duggan [now at St Barnabas Broadway], and Marcelo Morbelli [now assistant minister at All Saints Woollahra] and was given opportunities to give talks and mentor the boys that I led.”

During this period, John started considering the future for him. He shares, “I thought actually I need to think about whether ministry is something I’d be suited to, because I really see the need for people to know who Jesus is. It was probably through seeing God grow the boys in their faith that I began to think maybe I should think more seriously about being better equipped to tell people about Jesus.”

In 2019 John’s wife Philippa was sent to the USA for 3 months for training, so John decided to take this time to seriously consider MTS. He says, “I quit my job and joined her in Minneapolis! It was great! I read Passing the Baton by Colin Marshall and some other books about the role of Christians in workplaces, which really helped me to wrestle with whether I just stay as a Christian in a secular workplace, which I still think is incredibly valuable to the spread of the gospel and we need Christians to be there, or actually I consider going into full-time paid ministry.”

“I also had lots of discussions with my peers and others that James put me in contact with, in order to help me make the best informed decision I could. I decided at the end of the day, I want to be better equipped to tell people about Jesus and MTS was going to help me get the practical experience I needed to see whether that would be the right next step for myself and Philippa.”

The journey to vocational ministry

In 2020 John started his MTS apprenticeship under James, with his primary responsibilities being under the pillar of ‘Connect’ at St Matthias. John says, “We mainly looked at how to integrate newcomers well into the church family and help existing members to love new members well.”

As well as working alongside James in this ministry and doing some work evangelising to workers in Sydney’s CBD alongside Mark Leong and Peter Wrench at City Bible Forum, John also did training at Cornhill Sydney run out of Moore Theological College. He says, “During MTS I did Cornhill which was really great. [I got to] get my head around the Bible a lot better and I learnt skills in preparing faithful bible talks that are also engaging and relevant for people wherever stage they are at with Jesus through the many opportunities I had to preach there”.

At the end of his two-year apprenticeship, amidst COVID lockdowns and changing restrictions, John saw that the path to continue in vocational ministry was clear. He says, “I was convicted from talking to James and different people [to consider doing] full-time paid ministry. [It was apparent] I had some gifts for it, and God had opened doors to make it possible for me to be further trained.”

Now John is studying at Moore Theological College, and working as a student minister at All Saints Woollahra where he’s been involved in preaching, leading services and various outreach ministries. About his ministry at All Saints he says, “One of the things that I’ve been encouraged by is that more and more people have started to realise that the gospel needs to be shared. It can’t just stay ‘my’ faith that I don’t talk to anyone about. If we’re serious about the gospel, it needs to spread.”

A challenge for all Christians

For John, MTS really taught him to trust in God. It showed John the need to rely on God’s wisdom and strength, and to ask Him for opportunities to share the Gospel.

For others considering MTS, John says it is an invaluable experience. He shares, “Just prayerfully consider if you’re able to take a couple of years off from whatever you are doing to do it. It will set you up really well for whatever you do after it, whether you then go into full-time paid ministry or you go back in the workforce. You will learn invaluable skills that will help you as a Christian better share the gospel with people wherever you are and be better at loving others as you stop and intentionally spend time thinking about things such as listening well, managing conflicts, and the need to keep entrusting your plans into God’s hands and not rely only on yourself and your own strengths.”

John also highly recommends doing study at Cornhill with Peter Ryan, even if you don’t do MTS. The need for people to be better equipped to know and communicate God’s word is crucial. John says, “the Cornhill course with Peter Ryan has just completely changed how I read the Bible and how I would tell someone about who Jesus is from a passage of Scripture. Peter is incredibly approachable, humble and gracious in the way he teaches and the fruit that comes from the course is a testament to God’s work in his life. Even if you’re never going to give a talk, being a better reader of God’s word will help you to be able to better share it with people.”