Dave Gobbett has recently become lead minister at Highfields, Cardiff, one of the largest churches in Wales. en interviews him
Dave is married to Sally and they have three young children.
He grew up in the East End of London, his father being the pastor of a Grace Baptist church. Dave says: ‘I was probably in my early teens when I was struck by the need for Jesus to be my Lord as well as my Saviour’. Leaving home and studying engineering at Cambridge was a time of spiritual challenge and growth. He reflects: ‘I repeatedly examined the historical basis for the New Testament and consistently found the gospel to be not only profoundly beautiful but utterly trustworthy’. He got involved in the CU, serving as CICCU president in the late 1990s and fairly quickly fell in love with gospel ministry. He went on to serve as associate pastor at Eden Baptist Church, Cambridge.
en: What are the differences between Eden and Highfields?
DG: In many respects the churches are very similar. Both are largish, city-centre churches, with a happy mixture of students and recent graduates, families, singles, internationals and older folk. Both churches are committed to Reformed, expository Bible ministry, contemporary corporate worship, engaging evangelism and apologetics, world mission and church-planting. And we’re both in the FIEC!
Obviously Eden Baptist is a baptist church, whereas Highfields has members who believe and wish to practice both adult and infant baptism. Out of conscience, I personally will only conduct believer baptisms, but a fellow minister is happy to perform infant baptisms if ever they’re requested.
Another difference is in our Sunday services. Highfields is a busy operation with three morning services – 9.30am and 11.15am at our main centre in Cathays, and 10am at a satellite congregation in nearby Pontprennau – along with our 6.30pm evening service.
The particular challenges that this leads to include ensuring everyone feels part of the one same local church, helping people to integrate into the church family – moving from fringe attender to committed member – and prioritising our spiritual health over numeric growth.
en: How does it feel to be the main man rather than an assistant?
DG: The buck now stops with me, so that’s a difference for a start. It’s been less stressful than I thought it would be. That’s partly because my previous boss (Julian Hardyman) has modelled being a senior pastor so well to me, and partly because my new team here (the Highfields staff, especially my fellow minister, Phil Jenkins, along with the elders) are a fantastic group of men and women to work with.
Actually the buck doesn’t stop with me. It stops with Jesus Christ, the head of the church, and he’s promised the gates of hell won’t prevail against the building of his church. This is a great comfort as I step into this new sphere of leadership which God has opened up. Not even Satan and his powers can derail God’s work. It’s also a great challenge, as one day the risen Lord Jesus Christ will walk me through the Highfields membership directory and hold me to account for every single one of his sheep. Who is equal to such a task?
en: How did you come to your decision to move? Was there a fear of being like David Moyes following Sir Alex?
DG: I spent five and a half extremely happy years at Eden, and it was a wrench to move our family away,
In the summer of 2012, Sally and I began deliberately praying about our future and where we might serve God long term, and around Christmas of that year we heard that Peter Baker was looking to leave Highfields Church. I’d visited Highfields in the 1990s and knew of its significance in Cardiff and South Wales, so I was immediately intrigued.
As far as the Moyes/Ferguson thing goes, I hope I spend more than ten months at Highfields! Peter Baker’s last weeks here actually coincided with Sir Alex’s at Old Trafford, so a few people were suggesting Fergie threw his hat into the ring to take over at the church! There are huge shoes to fill here. Under God, Peter was used massively to grow Highfields into the thriving gospel-driven community hub in the centre of Cardiff it is today. We all stand on the shoulders of his commitment to ‘keeping the main thing the main thing’, to relevantly applied Bible exposition, to ministry amongst students and internationals, to passionate involvement in world mission, not to mention his vision and drive to develop the wonderful church facilities we have today.
And the fact is that I’ve not been a senior minister before – and I’m not Welsh! – so for a while I assumed that probably ruled me out. But having spoken both to Julian Hardyman and to my good friend (and fellow Eden church member) Elizabeth Catherwood, I felt encouraged to apply. I was eventually called by the church in October 2013.
en: When a pastor takes on a little church the way forward is obvious. Where do you go with a church that already has hundreds of regulars involved?
DG: Ultimately, all churches share the same fundamental needs: regular exposure to God’s Word, faithfully preached week by week; a growing dependence on God in prayer, corporately and individually; a reliance on God’s Spirit to change our stubborn hearts, as well as those around us; and, perhaps most fundamentally, a resolve to centre everything we do and are on the gospel.
In a larger church like Highfields it’s relatively easy to rest on our laurels and assume that because of the numbers then God must be blessing us. I believe he is blessing us. But we continually need to submit our visions, programmes and strategies to God’s Word so that we are as deep as we are wide. It’s my prayer that we do God’s work God’s way here.
en: Peter Baker was pastor at Highfields for nearly two decades. Do you have any insights into what challenges might face evangelicals in the next two decades?
DG: Big question! Right now, the hot issue has to be how gospel churches respond to the equality agenda. Both at the level of navigating the new legislation in regards to same sex marriage, but also more broadly in terms of dealing with low-grade accusations of homophobia. It is going to take real nerve on the part of evangelical pastors and churches not to bow to the increasing pressure to toe the line. Being people of both grace and truth will prove costly.
Of course one’s stance on the issue of homosexuality is in a sense a case study of the more fundamental question of where we’ll stand in regard to Scripture itself. Will we continue to sit underneath the Word, submitting our principles and practice to it, or will we join the ranks of those who sit above the Word, picking and choosing at will (conveniently in line with where our culture happens to be that moment).
Standing firm on Scripture means we’ll keep standing among God’s giants of the past, but we’ll also need each other more and more if we’re going to withstand the barrage coming our way. Genuine gospel partnerships, within churches and across churches, are going to be crucial. I’m keen for Highfields to play our part in the wider gospel landscape in South Wales and beyond.
en: How can our readers be praying for you and your family?
DG: Please pray for a close walk with the Lord. I’m convinced Robert Murray McCheyne was right when he said that his people’s greatest need was his own holiness.
Pray too for the family. We’re so grateful to God that the children have settled so quickly and if the children are happy, then we’re happy! But we are a long way from the grandparents. Pray for energy for Sally: in her nurture of the kids and in her support of me.
In these early days please pray that I’d be able to prioritise what I should be focussing on. There are so many plates spinning and knowing which things to give my attention to requires wisdom. I’m in no rush though – God is a God from eternity, to eternity – and I’m convinced that if a work is worth building, it’s worth taking time over.