Gerald Coates’ biographer picks out five life lessons from the Pioneer founder who went to glory at the weekend
It’s hard to be neutral when it comes to Gerald. Unafraid and unapologetic, there is no doubt he could cause one listener to become apoplectic over his apparent criticisms, whilst another would be on their feet applauding.
As Gerald’s biographer I learned to appreciate a man who gave everything to the cause of Christ, uncompromising and generous hearted in equal measure.
What can we learn from his life? Here are five lessons from the life of Gerald Coates.
1. It’s all about Kingdom
Gerald was spoilt for anything else. As a young man, leading what was one of the first modern-day house churches, he met with many fellow travellers. Their influence on his theology was considerable. The Church was not to cower in the corner, waiting for some kind of secret rapture. They were called to be a radical people, influencing every area of society. To be God’s people, speaking and prophesying into a broken world.
It was this clear understanding of reaching every area of society that caused him unashamedly to pursue friendships with the rich and famous. He was criticised for this, but lives were changed because of his persistence. That same ‘never say no’ attitude brought him to worldwide influence, particularly with March for Jesus.
He was extremely prophetic, both at national events and in the lives of individuals. He had an expectation that God would speak.
2. Avoid religion
There is a difference between Christianity and religion, and Gerald was hot on this. Spotting religious pretence at a hundred paces, he dealt with it ruthlessly.
Noel Richards, the worship leader and Gerald’s travelling companion for many years, recalls a meeting in New Zealand. The Saturday night had been glorious. The Holy Spirit moved, lives were changed. But come Sunday morning, things got very religious. Smart dress, whispered greetings and a Lord’s Table ornate in its arrangement.
Part way through his preach, continuing as if nothing untoward was happening, Gerald threw off the white sheet from the bread and wine, and began to eat the bread as he spoke. People were offended of course. But that was the point. Traditionalists hated it. A whole new generation of young Christians loved it.
3. It’s only noise
How did Gerald deal with the inevitable criticism? He pretty much ignored it!
In all my interviews for the book, I never came across a single time when he expresses a dislike for someone. A dislike for their religious practices, sure, but Gerald’s spirit was always pure as regarded the person themselves.
Remembering that criticism is only noise is a great way to keep the main thing the main thing, avoid hurt and bitterness and maintain a clean heart.
A beautiful example of this emerged yesterday when, as tributes to Gerald poured in on the Premier Christianity Facebook page, Andy Dempsey from Freedom Church in Glasgow remembered, ”A few years ago Gerald posted something a little bit controversial on Facebook. (Not like him.) I posted a few comments in response to which some others piled on in a very ungracious way. About 8pm that night my phone rang and the person on the other end introduced himself as Gerald Coates. I thought it was a wind up but it was in fact Gerald Coates. He did not know me but he took the time to track down my phone number in order to call and apologise for his over zealous followers and in the process convinced me he was right. There is much I might have disagreed with Gerald Coates on but that was the actions of a man of God!”
There is a bit of a downside though – and maybe another learning here. Gerald was largely unaware as to how upset others were with his seeming criticism of their traditions and practices. But this certainly affected others around him. Friends and fellow leaders were left to deal with denominational executives accusing them of error or exaggeration.
4. Tell the stories
Gerald was a storyteller. Never a theologian, though widely read, it’s important to record that his seemingly off-the-cuff preaches were laboured over, well prepared and prayed through. Often hilarious and many times at his own expense, he captured the listener.
Later in life, Gerald would forget in conversation the stories he had previously told. And if you dared to interrupt, he’d start again!
5. Love well
Gerald leaves behind the love of his life, Anona, along with three sons and their families. He loved well. In an age when leaders fall, Gerald stayed faithful.
He loved his friends well too. The door was always open. The bottle of red wine was always available. Until his final illness, he would always reply to emails, always answer the phone: “Gerald here.”
Not everything Gerald did should be copied. (That canary yellow suit. Really?) But we would do well to remember it is God’s Kingdom, and as his children we have the authority to bring change to the world we live in. Gerald did just that.