This Easter, about 20 years after the first time I heard him preach, I was privileged to be able to listen once again to Tony Campolo. Along with thousands of others at a Spring Harvest Big Top Celebration in Minehead, I was captivated. Tony is a fantastic communicator. His driving, gravelly voice sounds like it belongs to someone you might meet selling you a steak sandwich on your way into a New York Yankee's baseball game. But Campolo doesn't sell junk food, his passion is following Jesus and challenging others to do the same, whatever the cost.
A professor of Sociology at Eastern College in Pennsylvania, he leads an organisation which works with 'at risk' children in cities across North America and has helped establish schools and universities in several developing countries. He has a track record of empowering social justice ministries. Preacher? Yes. Evangelist? Definitely. He is also a masterful teller of stories and a great writer - check out his latest Christianity column on page 45. And he is a whole lot besides. Tony Campolo is passionately involved in overseas development and aid projects that aim to feed the hungry, tend the sick, build low cost housing, and give back people's dignity through sustainable employment and wealth creation - all in places where there are none.
Listening to him at Spring Harvest 2005, two decades on from the first hearing, I was struck by just how little about this man and his message had changed. Of course physically he has aged, three years ago he suffered a stroke. In its aftermath he was supposed to cut down on his punishing speaking schedule taking only 350 engagements in a year! But apart from looking older, he was the same. As I looked past the deeper lines on his face and focused on his words and considered his works, I could hear the same strong heartbeat from decades ago.
As I have dwelt on that mild spring night from three months ago, my respect has deepened even more as I have considered the continuity of his words and deeds over many years - the way he has kept the faith.
Rick Warren, the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in California and author of the best-seller The Purpose Driven Life, recently wrote a powerful and deeply challenging declaration that expressed how he and his church felt about keeping the faith and pushing on. At the church's recent 25th anniversary - 30,000 members of the Saddleback Family affirmed to this declaration - part of which is printed below
(I encourage you to visit www.PurposeDriven.com for the full text).
I won't be captivated by culture, manipulated by critics, motivated by praise, frustrated by problems, debilitated by temptation, or intimidated by the devil. I'll keep running my race with my eyes on the goal, not the sidelines or those running by me. When times get tough, and I get tired, I won't back up, back off, back down, back out, or backslide. I'll just keep moving forward by God's grace. I'm Spirit-led, purpose-driven and mission-focused, so I cannot be bought, I will not be compromised, and I shall not quit until I finish the race.
Anticipating his own death, the apostle Paul wrote to his good friend Timothy: 'I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith' (2 Timothy 4:7). That's what l aspire to. Starting well is not enough; continuing well - through good times and bad - and finishing well is what we need to ask God's grace for.
Extract from The Purpose Driven Covenant is printed from the website www.PurposeDriven.com. Copyright 2005 by Rick Warren. Used by permission. All rights reserved. To read more about the life and ministry of Tony Campolo visit www.christianitytoday.com and read their article 'The Positive Prophet', also visit www.tonycampolo.org.