This article first appeared in 2016 in the "Heroes of the Christian Faith" series on The Gospel Life blog and then on Fulcrum. It is republished to honour Michael as he meets face to face his "audience of One".
“Excuse me. May I ask you a question? Is that man a preacher?” asked the nurse at the Oxford Radcliffe Hospital.
“Yes. Why do you ask?” I said.
“Well, after a long day, when all visitors have left, he gets out of bed and goes from room to room. I think he is preaching and praying with people. Frankly, we cannot keep him in bed at night. We say, ‘Mr. Green, you must rest and get back into bed.’ He did just have a heart attack you know. He politely agrees but in no more than five minutes he is back up with the IV machine in tow going from room to room. We cannot keep him down.”
I knew what compelled him. He had just called me (along with a stream of students) to his bedside, unsure if he would make it out of hospital this time. He said, “Whatever you do with your life Carrie, share the gospel at every turn. Tell everyone. This is the greatest thing you can do with your life. Follow Jesus, love Him and share Him.”
I went home that night and prayed, “Lord, please heal Michael Green. And if possible, may I please learn from him.” I knew I had met a modern-day Paul. I knew right away Michael Green was a man compelled by life in Jesus Christ! Compelled to share! Compelled by joy!
Two weeks later, Michael Green was back at our theological college, Wycliffe Hall, in perfect health. I knocked on his office door and there opened my soon-to-be mentor. Shorter in stature, eyes piercing and electric, smile wide, and palpable energy seeming about to combust. How to even describe this man… feet steady and deeply rooted in faith like a fully leafed live oak tree planted by streams of living water combined with the courageous, nimble posture of a boxer. A soldier with shoulders back, chin up, ready to defend with a low strong voice alongside a warmth, sense of humor, bubbling laugh that reached high pitch, and abounding joy.
He literally bounces when he walks. He is a man on mission.
I asked him if I could learn from him. Thankfully, he agreed and this began a mentorship that changed my life.
Our first evangelistic outing together was back at the hospital for a praise and worship time with over 60 people who had come to know the Lord or renewed their faith while Green was in the hospital. Nurses, patients, families, and doctors gathered and gave testimony to what the Lord had done the weeks Green was there. Green thought nothing of it. It seemed a natural part of life for him. In fact, what I quickly learned is that it was not about him at all.
It was and is all about his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Born in 1930 in the Depression in Oxfordshire to a country clergyman father of two rural parishes and an Australian mother, Green was an only child. His early life was marked by the opportunity to receive the best education the world has to offer. This continued throughout his life. He received a scholarship to Clifton College, Bristol, where he went on his first Christian house party in Iwerne Minster. It was at school where he encountered the Risen Lord Jesus and had a profound conversion. He went from a “little monster” (as he says) to a follower of Jesus, being nurtured by some of the greatest Christian mentors including the famous “Bash,” the Rev. E.J.H. Nash.
Michael Green is a scholar, receiving First Class Honors from Exeter College, Oxford, on the ‘Greats.’ At Oxford, he was also a top fencer and used these skills in his military service. Green then went on to receive First Class Honors in the Theology Tripos (New Testament) and won the University Carus Prize for New Testament. It was also during this time (1957) when he married the love of his life, mother of his four children, and partner in ministry, Rosemary.
He went on to be awarded the Cambridge BD (1966), a DD (honorary) from University of Toronto, and a DD from Lambeth (1996). This scholarship combined with his love of his Lord, led Green to pen well over 50 books. He is especially known for Evangelism in the Early Church (1970) and Evangelism Through the Local Church (1990), which have served to shape a generation’s thinking about evangelism. Two of my favorites are I Believe in the Holy Spirit, which he had to alter after his encounter with the power of the Holy Spirit and Who Is this Jesus? written with the theological rigor of a scholar and the intimacy of a friend of Jesus.
Michael Green’s scholarship led him to teach as a New Testament tutor at the London College of Divinity (1960), where he also became Principal and oversaw the move to St. John’s Nottingham; Professor of Evangelism and New Testament at Regent College, Vancouver, Canada; and Senior Research Fellow at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.
His theological work also led him to serve and lead as a member of the Doctrinal Commission for the Church of England, Consultant at Lambeth Conference, Canon Theologian of Coventry. In addition, he has served as Rector of St. Aldate’s Church in Oxford known as a lively flagship evangelical church filled with students. He also led the Archbishop of Canterbury’s George Carey’ Decade of Evangelism Springboard Initiative alongside Bishop Michael Marshall.
Above all, Green is a passionate follower of Jesus who has been given the gift of evangelism. His entire being is permeated with an unstoppable desire to see people come to know the Living Lord Jesus Christ. In every role, degree, book, adventure, and relationship, his heart beats with the missional pulse of Jesus.
He taught me more than I can share in a short blog, but these are just a few of the numerous things I learned during my years with Michael Green:
- Pray without ceasing. Prayer is as natural as breathing for Green. Countless times in his office, while sipping coffee, holding his mug talking, I realized he was not talking to me; he was talking to the Lord. This happened time and again: in the car, walking down the street, anywhere and everywhere. Green was in frequent communication with his Lord. On a daily basis I had to watch and listen closely to see if he was talking to me or Jesus at any given time. He and Rosemary never say, “We will keep you in prayer.” They always pray right then and there. Prayer is not something to be postponed. It is a real-time communication with Jesus. It is a privilege to be relished.
- Never miss an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus. Green brims with the good news and it flows out of his life. From world leaders to everyday people, I watched him take time for people, listen to people, and share the treasure He had found in Christ.I will never forget when his tire went flat on his car when we were on mission. As the tow truck approached, I, along with a group of students, watched through the window knowing what was coming. Soon, he was praying with the tow truck man leading him to Jesus. Evangelism for Green is ALWAYS about offering the opportunity to respond to Jesus’ invitation. He is like a bird dog, with a keen ability to sniff people who don’t know Jesus. He goes straight to them and shares Jesus winsomely, boldly, and clearly. From a waiter at a restaurant to an atheist in a public debate to a person at the grocery to people on airplanes, he is always sharing the best treasure he has found.And he does this with urgency. I can remember watching him offer life with Jesus at the end of one of his talks. A few came forward and he began to plead with people with arms wide open, “This is for you. A gift. Won’t you say yes?” His plea did not come as a call for numbers of converts, but a deep desire to see all people come to know the loving, living Lord.
- Fear not and know your help comes from the Lord. Green said, “Evangelism is not for wimps. Evangelists are on the front lines for the Lord, so naturally the enemy does not like us much. I just say, ‘Back off, ol’ Nick, in the name of Jesus,’ and I keep going.” He said we are to expect persecution but to take heart because Jesus has overcome the world. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. The same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead fuels Green and he knows it. Some of my favorite times were his many stories he shared with me how the Lord overcame seemingly impossible situations in his life and ministry.
- Work with a team and raise up the next generation of evangelists. Green is never a one-man show. He is always raising up the next generation and giving as many as possible an opportunity to learn how to share Jesus. I cannot count how many times I knew a church had looked forward to hearing Green preach and he always put his students first and had us share. I will never forget when he said to me, “Carrie, I must decrease and you must increase.” He always prepared and equipped the next generation in sharing the gospel. As his students, we never quite knew when he might call on us to get up and speak on a mission. Even in the middle of his talk, he would stop and say, “Now I am going to ask my friend to come share.” We had to be at the ready.
- Stay in scripture, study, and give your best. Green is rigorous in study and demands the best. All the time I knew him he was studying scripture and spent hours writing and preparing for evangelistic materials. I have a picture of him in my mind as he opened scripture with me in tutorials. He opened the Bible like he was about to devour a great feast. He was never lazy in preparation. He prepared laboriously for his talks. Jesus gave His all for us and we are to give our all to Him.Recently, I wrote to Green and asked him what he would want to say to evangelists today. His response was, “Ensure you have one foot in the Bible and the other in the culture. Go deep into what scripture meant, when it was written, and only then to what it means to us today. In that way, you will avoid misusing scripture. Understand how much the culture has changed and use drama, music, pop songs, film clips as appropriate in your presentations, remembering how people’s attention span has shrunk. And do not be afraid to call for response: that is what makes an evangelistic sermon different from a lecture.”
- Be quick to ask for forgiveness. Green first and foremost sees himself as a sinner saved by grace. Indeed, Green has an intensity that flared into a Pauline impatience from time to time. I think part of his frustration at times came from when he thought his students were slacking off and not making the most of evangelistic opportunities.I never blamed him for his demand for excellence. His love for Jesus made him want his students to offer our best. When we fell short, he could become a little edgy. He was always quick to ask for forgiveness and even when he didn’t need to, he did. He knew his imperfections and would seek reconciliation quickly so we could get on with the task of loving our Lord and sharing Him.
- Be a person of hope and see God’s vision for His Body, the Church. We would visit churches that were dwindling in size and I knew were about to die and Green would say, “Carrie, just watch… when a church even puts its pinky toe in the waters of evangelism and reaches beyond itself, the Holy Spirit moves.” Time and again, I saw churches come back to life as they engaged in mission.
- Love your spouse and partner in mission. Green loves his wife, Rosemary, and always thought of her when he was away. I remember him telling seminarians, “You have been on a great adventure in mission while your spouse is at home taking care of the children, laboring for your family. Bring them flowers or a gift. Ask them first about their week before going on what the Lord has done in yours. Appreciate your partner. You would not be able to do what you do without them.” Rosemary is Green’s teammate in every way and has been for their 60 years of marriage. I watched how he listened to her on mission, realizing that her gifts of discernment were totally different from his. They are a great team I will never forget watching.
- Be humble and serve. I watched time and again as Green would be the first one to serve while on mission. As the keynote speaker, he would be the first one to serve food, clean rooms, offer coffee, and demand nothing. When people would ask him what food he would like, he would frequently say, “Oh, just a scrap of bread will do. Thank you.” This was not false humility; it struck to the core of who he is. Green never demanded a fee for his speaking. In fact, he emphasized that we, the evangelists, should bring a gift when staying at someone’s home on mission. He was always serving and giving.
- Be a chameleon for Christ. Green does whatever he can so that some might be saved. He is always current. He was always looking for innovative ways to share the gospel. When we went to a new city, he would study it—its language, customs, and above all, people. He was steadfast in the message and flexible in the means of communication. From drama to music to debates to all kinds of home meetings to big events, Green was all things to all people so that some might be won for Jesus. I watched him seamlessly go from a university debate at Oxford University to the Halls of Congress to an inner-city housing project to a prison to a person’s home. He moved with the strategic acumen of a military general and the tenderness of a hen caring for new chicks.
Michael Green is now 86 years old and is still going on mission. He continues to preach and even does multiple university missions a year. His love for Jesus has not waned. I remember asking him how I did on a talk after he had trained me for three years. He said, “My dear, I am no longer your teacher. Focusing too much on yourself will lead to two responses—despair or pride, and both take your eyes off Jesus. Stay focused on Jesus and the rest will fall into place.”
Green has shaped a generation for Jesus Christ. I thank God daily for him. He has certainly changed my life in profound ways. I miss long car rides on missions when he shared stories of God’s faithfulness. I can hear his crisp British accent even now. Although a pond separates us—he in England and me in Texas—I take him everywhere with me and seek to pass on what he passed on to me.
One day, I asked him how he kept going in the faith. His reply sums up his life: “I have an audience of One.”
Carrie Boren Headington (@CBHeadington) is an evangelist and apologist who communicates the good news of Jesus locally, nationally, and internationally. Carrie founded the Good News Initiative helping people meet God, know God, and share God. She is adjunct professor in evangelism at Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelist in the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, the wider Episcopal/ Anglican Church, and an occasional guest on Daystar Christian Television.