Les Yates – Reflections on my eldership

Milestone moments on the way.

In 1962 I heard the true gospel for the first time from a faithful brother in Christ. Over the following two and half years I was to hear that same gospel time and time again from the same faithful brother and on the 16th October 1964 after much stubborn resistance became a follower of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

In 1965 I was appointed as a deacon joining Jim Hoyle, Ernie Westwell, Fred Thompson and Lilian, who was a deaconess. In 1966 I was recommended for the eldership by Raymond and Edna Tagg, Edna was a godly lady who had been appointed elder earlier on account of there being few men around. Jean Wilson seconded the proposal and I was accepted by the fellowship.

Being single with no ties was probably the reason why I was appointed elder which allowed me to be completely involved in all aspects of Christian service within the local church. The first couple years I worked very closely with Raymond who recognised in me the potential to useful service within the fellowship. Raymond was an excellent mentor to me and I was soon involved in all aspects of Christian service: Sunday school teacher, youth leader, church evangelist, caretaker, choir, brass band, campaigners and anything else that was going. I also took the opportunity to study theology using the church premises.

Bible College

We were very fortunate in those early days to have a Pastor in Raymond Gregory committed to the doctrines of Calvinism. In those days good Christian literature was not readily available as much as it is today. The first Christian books to come into my possession were the first two volumes of Calvin’s ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’ which Ray and I came across in a second hand book shop in Manchester. My desire to study prompted Raymond to encourage me to spend a couple of years in Bible College of which I was in agreement, I think Glasgow Bible Institute was suggested at the time. Though I spent a lot of time studying, even spending time on a Saturday in the Central library in Manchester, my doctrinal understanding of the Bible was quite limited although I did not fully realise this at the time.

Reformed theology

IN 1966 the film ‘The sound of Music’ was quite popular which prompted Fred Thompson and I to book a holiday for Austria with a Christian holiday company. We were going to Austria by train which entailed a stopover in London where we stayed overnight with a friend of Fred’s whom he had met at Teacher training college. Neil Richards was an assistant pastor at a reformed church in Camberwell and during the evening we discussed theology which resulted in Neil giving me a copy of Thomas Watson’s ‘Body of Divinity’. Later my love for reformed theology was confirmed when I was introduced to two books which became priceless possessions: Berkof’s Systematic Theology and Lorraine Boettner’s ‘Inspiration of the Bible.’ I spent hours and hours reading these books and my understanding of the Bible deepened immensely, question marks in my mind were now all being answered, gaps in my knowledge of doctrine were now filled. This convinced me that the church needed to follow this path if we were going to have any stability and growth. Many churches at that time lacked good sound teaching and many were led later into the charismatic camp and other weird and wonderful doctrines.

Marriage, Skelmersdale, New pastor, London Bible College

In 1967 I met and married Ann. Ann accepted the fact that I was still determined to go to Bible College. However, a change in circumstances meant that Bible College was no longer the best way forward. Raymond had decided to take up a position with FIEC Home Mission based in Skelmersdale. We had a new pastor and things were not going as well as we had hoped, so Bible College began to be an unlikely option. It was then that I decided to take a correspondence course with London Bible College recommended by FIEC which would have allowed me to go on FIEC’s accredited ministers list; I still have the certificates. Raymond had done the same course earlier.

LDOS, Lilian’s house

After a rocky start to Robert MacDonald’s pastorate things settled down in church. Later Robert informed me of a vacancy in the LDOS who needed a full time Divisional Organiser for the North West of England. Much to my surprise I got the job and at the time thought it would be good for me and for the church. I must confess, looking back, that there was a certain amount of ambition involved in this venture. However, the Lord used my five years with the LDOS for the furtherance of His purposes. I learned a great deal about how the various churches functioned ministering in most denominations. My area covered the Northwest of England, North Wales and the Isle of Man. Later due to financial constraints within the Society, Northumbria and the whole of Yorkshire were added to my itinerary. About 3 years into my work with the LDOS we lost our building and eventually our Pastor, leaving me the only elder. Jim Hoyle, Ernie Westwell, John Hannot and others did a great job in keeping the meetings going which were then held in Lilian’s house. I was also able to arrange for visiting speakers through my many contacts. My preaching in the fellowship was limited on account of my work taking me away from the fellowship most Sundays.
Return of Ray Gregory, brethren holding the fort.

Things could not go on as they were and about this time, fortunately for us, Raymond was having problems in Skelmersdale, it was then that I asked him if he would consider coming back to us. Raymond did come, under the umbrella of Home missions round about 1975; he was allocated two areas, Walkden and our own area. We owe a lot to those who remained faithful during the times we were without a pastor and building, Jim, Lilian, Jean Wild, Ernie, Charles, Gary Hilton, Maurice and others. Later men like Gary and Rob Stredder and Jeff, Peter, Martin and of course the ladies took us on to greater things.
Oliver and Tony.

Since the arrival of Oliver and later Tony we have seen the Lord’s blessing on the fellowship bringing the work on a greater and sounder footing, and with the addition to the eldership of Jeff and Rob we have been given extra wisdom and sharing of responsibilities. As you are aware most of my time is taken up with caring for Ann. God has been good to us and it is only through His grace that I have been able to continue in the eldership for so long. However, for me to continue as elder is no longer as vital and necessary as it was in the past as we now have a strong, dedicated and gifted eldership. Stepping down from the eldership is perhaps not the best way to describe my intention, but more like ‘stepping aside’ would be a better phrase. I am not going anywhere and I hope to still be a committed member of this fellowship whom I love dearly in the Lord.

Pray for your elders

In the meantime I urge all the members of Trinity Grace Church to pray and support the elders. A united and supported eldership means a united and stable fellowship, they need your prayers. One of the main reasons for outlining these milestones in my ministry of elder is to encourage those who think that they are not good enough or gifted enough to serve the Lord. If God can take a man at 24 years of age, one who was a complete loser with no academic qualifications and, prior to becoming a Christian, spending most of his time in public houses and casinos; if God can then place him in the eldership and keep him there for 48 years, then he can do it with anyone. All God requires of us is to offer Him what we have in commitment and faith.

A glorious future

One final thought. It was a winter’s night sometime in 1972, I had just taken my first meeting for the LDOS at a Baptist church in Morcambe. The pastor had said to me as I was leaving the church premises that it was the best exposition on the subject of the Lord’s Day that he had ever heard. As I thought and rejoiced on this compliment, driving down the M6, some words came to me from John 1: 50 “You will see greater things than these!” I did see greater things and one of the greatest things was to see this fellowship grow under the blessing of God. I have spent some time looking into the past this evening, but building God’s kingdom is all about the future. We do not dwell on the past we just learn from the past. We as a fellowship have yet to see greater things, this is absolutely certain simply because we have a great God and a glorious Saviour. Brothers and sisters ‘we shall see greater things than these.’ Thank you for all your support and prayers over these many years.

My position as elder will terminate on the 31st March 2014.