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Q&A with Loved author Jonny Gumbel

John Woods fired a few questions to Jonny Gumbel about his forthcoming move to pastor a church in Rio, Brazil, and his new book Loved, based on a sermon series given at St Peter's, Brighton, on Paul's letter to the Romans ...

‘It sounds like all change at St Peter’s what are your feelings about moving to Brazil?

We feel really sad to be leaving Brighton and the wonderful community at St Peter’s, but excited about what is ahead in Rio, which feels like a leap into the unknown. There is lots of uncertainty, but we feel confident that this is something that God has called us to do, and he promises that he will always be with us. 

What will you be doing there?

I will be Rector of Christ Church Rio, an international church in the centre of the city, where we will try to love all those we come across and share something of God’s love for them. 

What has it been like growing up as Nicky Gumbel’s son?

It’s been great! Mum and Dad are incredible church leaders but they are even better parents. They showed us what it was to love Jesus, walk humbly, courageously and obediently. 

Well done on completing the book – are you happy with the finished article?

I think so! My hope is that it will help people to understand more of the love of God and to experience this love for themselves in a way that brings transformation, security, peace and joy. 

If your book had a soundtrack what would it be?

I would love it to be the soundtrack from the films of the Lord of the Rings!

Your Dad said to you that there are a lot of books written on Romans – you admit that you have jumped over lots of bits in your book but have more or less followed the order of the book.

What came first the idea of preaching on love or the idea of preaching through Romans?

My first thought was to do a series of talks on Romans, over the course of the year. The theme of the love of God seemed to force its way in. I recognised that I couldn’t cover everything, and this one theme seemed to the be what God was speaking to me about, and what we needed to hear about as a church and a wider society – that really everyone needed to know more deeply and fully that they were loved by God. 

You say in the book that you have struggled with allowing yourself to be loved – do you see that as a common issue people have? What difference has it made to you to allow yourself to be loved?

I think it is common to feel like we have to do something to be loved. We all want to be loved, but the temptation is to hope that our actions, or wonderful personality, or success, or looks, or money will mean that we will be loved. Simply letting God love us without being able to earn this love or justify this love I think is really difficult. Letting God love me over these years has definitely changed my relationships and given them greater depth. It has allowed people to come closer. 

I am interested in your process of thinking about a sermon series like this. Did it unfold gradually?

Yes. I knew I wanted to speak on Romans, then the theme of the love of God seemed to emerge as the thread that tied it together, and then I began to look at familiar themes like unity, identity, hope, peace, joy, freedom, but from this single perspective of the love of God. 

What are the ingredients you are looking to see included in the ideal sermon?

I think that the ideal sermon combines three things: hearing the voice of God, letting this speak to you personally, and then relating it to the needs and struggles of the congregation and wider society. It starts with what God has said through the Bible and is saying through the Holy Spirit. This is what gives the talk authority. It needs to speak to the preacher personally, making a difference to them. This is what gives a talk authenticity. Then it needs to address what is going on with people’s lives. This is what gives the talk relevance.

How do you go about assembling and preparing that mix of ingredients?

I read the Bible each morning, making notes, writing down what it means for me personally. Then I try to listen to what is going on in people’s lives and in the wider culture, noticing trends and themes. And then I try to work out how these relate to each other. 

How much of the original sermons were kept in the written version?

The sermons provide the basic content and outline, but it has been through several revisions and drafts since then, taking in feedback from lots of people, changing in structure and adding in new chapters and content. 

I was surprised that there were so few references to Brighton in the sermons – in a sense they could have been preached anywhere. Was that the case when you preached the sermons?

The sermons were more focused on us as a community in Brighton, but for the book I wanted it to be something that might work wherever in the world someone might be reading it.

Why should people read you book? How might they best use it?

I hope that this book might be a way of knowing more deeply the love of God for anyone who reads it. It is also written with those who don’t yet have faith and might want to know what Christianity is all about. I had hoped that people might read it slowly, a chapter a day, praying that as they read God might show them more of the wonders of his love.

Read our review of Jonny's book here

John Woods is a writer and Bible teacher based in West Sussex. He is Director of Training at the School of Preachers in Riga, Latvia.

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