Mike Ovey, one of the great Christian leaders in our time: 1958-2017
Andrea Williams reflects on the sudden passing of her friend and Christian leader Mike Ovey.
Death is hard. It is not welcome.
I have lived with a subdued heart since I heard news of the sudden death of Mike Ovey. I cannot begin to imagine how it must feel for his wife and children.
Mike's death is hard to fathom because he was one the great and faithful leaders of our times. I am not sure that I have ever met someone with such intellectual, legal and theological brilliance.
He stood out for this when I first met him in my twenties at St Helen's – at that time we were both aspiring lawyers. We have known one another ever since and although we did not see one another often, Mike was someone that I would call a few times every year and ask for critical help. Without fail, he would take my call, respond, and sometimes he would work through the night to help me with legal drafting, response to a parliamentary consultation or assistance in a campaign.
Mike was always kind and patient with me. He was a comfort to me. I felt that he understood me and was on my side. So precious, because leadership is all too often the loneliest of places. He always knew how to think about and solve the problem.
As tributes pour in to him, I realise that this humanity was expressed by him universally.
His death has left me utterly perplexed. Why would the Lord permit this? Why are we robbed of his intellect and insight at a time in our history when it feels as if we need it more than ever? Why were we robbed of at least a decade of some of the best preaching and historical insight into our times possibly imaginable?
I find Mike's death so very hard to accept but know that I must accept what cannot be changed. As Dan Strange, Vice Principal of Oakhill has said "'The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.' (Deut 29:29). It's going to continue to be hard in the next few days, weeks and months but we are thankful to God for the time we had Mike with us and are resolved to build on the massive legacy he leaves us."
I must remember that Mike's death is not the end of the story; the story of his work. God is never content to end the story in ashes. He will bring beauty from ashes. And somehow we have to trust God to open the way forward.
As to his influence on our work, it was Mike Ovey's brilliance that was a core component of the preservation of our freedom to preach the gospel during the passage of the Religious Hatred legislation through parliament in 2006. Drafting, lobbying, leading, cajoling. He has been brought in to look over legal drafting on amendments to bills and responses to consultations; to help to brief members of parliament; to assist in lobbying them for Kingdom purposes.
Mike was a leader who had a holy discontentment with the status quo. His heart was to change, to move, to reach out, to grow, and to take the next generation of gospel preachers, local church leaders, the training institutions to new dimensions of ministry in our times; understanding our times. Mike lived Philippians 3:13–14: "Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."
Mike poured himself into raising up the next generation of ministers to live and speak the gospel and see society and all its institutions changed by the gospel.
Mike was rational and optimistic because he lived and preached that God is in control. He persevered no matter what was thrown at him and did not let restlessness become despair.
Mike was wonderfully and appropriately intense - full of the zeal of the lord for the things of Him.
Romans 12:11: "Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit." But just as he was serious so he had a joie de vivre. I never failed to feel that when I was with him and have very fond memories of spending several weeks with him and Tony Jones lobbying in parliament – there was a serious job to do but we were also able to rest and laugh with one another.
Mike was energetic. He delivered. I never heard him boast or condescend when his great intellect was evident to everyone else in the room.
He was a hard thinker and knew that careful and rigorous thought was not contrary to a reliance on prayer and divine revelation. He instilled this in his students. Mike understood the times but held fast to the gospel. He was critical in the best sense of the word; not gullible or faddish or trendy but speaking forcefully into the times. He was not afraid to speak the truth or expose those within the church that are peddling a false gospel.
Mike was a great communicator; he was articulate and taught clearly and forcefully. His words and his writing will live on. His understanding of being made in the image of God; of Genesis 1 resonates hard in our times and will be read and studied in perpetuity.
He was clear like the apostle Paul Colossians 4:4: "that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak."
Mike had a vision and that was for the future of the church in our nation. He could see the power of God overshadowing the problems of the future in the midst of seemingly overwhelming opposition. And he made a plan to counter it. Every new church, every agency, every new ministry, every institution, every endeavour, is the result of someone having a vision and setting it out - many churches, ministries, endeavours have been started; sustained; encouraged because of Mike.
Of course, I and many of his legal generation wanted him to be a lawyer – but he had a vision to train and raise up the next generation; to build the local church. He sacrificed much for this and was in it for the long haul. He has not lived to see the fruits of his labour. But the Lord knows and He sees and as Mike would tell us all HE is in control.
Thank you Mike - for your great example. I, amongst the many, am greatly affected by your life, greatly thankful to our God, and greatly saddened by your passing.