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Oak Hill College and church leaders pay tribute to Mike Ovey

The Oak Hill College community has been in shock and mourning
since the news broke on Sunday morning that our greatly-loved
Principal, Mike Ovey, had unexpectedly collapsed and died at home on Saturday night. Mike was 58 years old, and his wife Heather and their three children, Charlie, Harry and Ana, are foremost in our prayers in this profoundly sad time. Please join us in praying for them.

Mike had been the Principal of Oak Hill for the past decade. After
studying law at Balliol College, Oxford, he entered the civil service as a parliamentary lawyer. In 1988, he entered Ridley Hall, Cambridge, to train for the ministry, and at the same time studied theology at Trinity College, Cambridge. After serving as curate of All Saints, Crowborough, from 1991-95, he moved to Moore Theological College, Sydney, where he worked as a junior lecturer and studied for an MTh. Mike joined Oak Hill as a research fellow and doctrine lecturer in 1998. He became Principal in 2007.

Mike was that rare and precious combination: a brilliant academic
theologian with a warm and generously pastoral heart. He was known to a generation of students not only for his passionate and intellectual commitment to the gospel, but also for his huge capacity for friendship, his graciousness in debate, his practical and sacrificial support of students, his servant-heartedness, and his quirky English sense of humour.

The hours after the announcement of Mike’s death saw an outpouring of grief and tribute on blogs and social media, and his gifts of personal humility, humour and kindness were a constant refrain. Chris Stead, a former Oak Hill student, testified to his practical compassion in a blog post: ‘I don’t think I have come across someone who held such esteemed honour amongst so many people, who was at the same time breathtakingly kind and interested in the lives of everyone under his care. If someone was in trouble, Mike would be present and fight for their well-being with all the power he could.’ Another former student tweeted, ‘No other man would set an exam essay question on the Trinity in the style of a P.G. Wodehouse novel.’

Dr Dan Strange, who led closely with Mike on the current curriculum and ethos of the college, says, ‘Mike was an outstanding educator who shaped a whole generation of evangelical pastors, teachers, leaders, missionaries, youth workers and church planters across Britain and around the world. He was insistent that ‘in order to explain the gospel simply, you must understand it deeply’. That is why he was so committed to a rigorous academic training which equips students not just for a few years, but for a whole lifetime of sustained and faithful gospel ministry in a diverse and changing world.’

The many tributes already online have praised Mike’s significant
contribution as an evangelical leader both in the Church of England, the wider Anglican Communion and within Independent churches. He has been particularly lauded for his address to the GAFCON conference in Nairobi in 2013, where he forensically took apart the Western church’s choice of cheap grace over the grace of God. But Oak Hill College was Mike’s chosen centre of operation, and that was because of his passionate conviction that the people of God deserve the best possible pastors and teachers. To that cause he devoted his finest energies and the best years of his life, for which Oak Hill is profoundly grateful to him and his family, and thankful to the Lord he served so well.

Mike’s conviction was powerfully shaped by his reading of verses 11 to 15 in Ephesians chapter 4. Said Mike, ‘There we’re told that the Lord Jesus Christ gives gifts of ministers to his people, so that they can be built up in the unity of the faith, and so that they can be protected from false teaching in its various forms. Now that is huge, to be that kind of gift to God’s people. And we want those people to be the best possible gifts that they can be. That’s where theological education fits in, and that’s why it must be deep and it must be broad.’

Mike’s insight that theological education is not merely a matter of
skills training or personal formation, but has an essential place in
God’s will for his people, was expounded in The Best Possible Gift, a booklet and video produced in 2014 and published on the Oak Hill website.

In spite of seismic shifts in the way training for ministry is now
delivered in the UK, Mike remained convinced that living and learning in community was the best way for students to build up Christian character, and to develop the depth of biblical and theological understanding needed for serving Christ’s church. He was also wholehearted in sustaining a community where Anglican and Independent students study alongside each other, and he worked with others in developing a curriculum at Oak Hill tailored to the needs of both constituencies.

Several evangelical leaders have paid tribute to Mike in the days
since he died.

Don Carson, co-founder of The Gospel Coalition, says: ‘Mike was at home in the councils of the great and the learned, and with first-year students. His theological home was the confessional Anglicanism in which he had been nurtured, but he was brother and friend to all who upheld and proclaimed the gospel in any nation and in any culture. He was an extraordinary Christian academic, leader, and pastor, with gifts and graces that made him much more rounded and capable than most.’

Rod Thomas, Bishop of Maidstone, says, ‘Not only has Mike been an outstanding Principal at Oak Hill, but he has given himself
unstintingly to the evangelical cause within the Church of England
and indeed within the worldwide Anglican Communion. His brilliant mind has been greatly used in the service of the Gospel. Mike wore his gifts and accomplishments lightly: he was humble, very funny, and always on your side. These characteristics, coupled with a forensic intelligence, also made him a good pastor and I for one am very grateful for the encouragement he gave me.’

John Stevens, National Director of Fellowship of Independent
Evangelical Churches, says, ‘The FIEC is hugely thankful for the life and ministry of Mike, and the very real partnership in the gospel we shared. He contended for the gospel doctrines that we hold so dear, especially Biblical authority and penal substitutionary atonement. His commitment to the importance of theology resonated with our constituency, and the unwavering faithfulness of Oak Hill Theological College to historic evangelicalism did much to overcome any residual prejudice against formal theological education. Above all he worked with us to ensure that Oak Hill met the needs of Independent students training for ministry in our churches, which was reflected in staff appointments and the shape of the curriculum. In consequence many of the younger generation of FIEC pastors are alumni of Oak
Hill and have been equipped by Mike’s inspirational teaching to preach the apostolic gospel faithfully and to meet the ministry challenges presented by contemporary culture.’

William Taylor, Rector of St Helen’s Bishopsgate, says: ‘Mike was one of the foremost evangelical thinkers and leaders of my generation in England. His razor intellect and godly faithfulness to God’s truth gave him the ability to analyse and get to the very heart of an issue. Not only did he commend the truth, he also contended for it fearlessly. His contributions at the ReNew conference and GAFCON were magisterial. Alongside his Biblical faithfulness, Mike was also a model of godly living and a warm, loyal and wonderful friend.’

Richard Coekin, Director of Co-Mission, says, ‘He saw his role, and
that of Oak Hill, as serving local churches – by providing outstanding confessional Reformed Evangelical theological training for pastors – and we loved him for it. Most of our Co-Mission pastors were taught by him at Oak Hill; all of us have benefited from countless talks and articles, and especially his brilliant defence of core Biblical doctrines… Our mighty brother is fallen: we salute his courage for Christ.’

Steve Smith, Director of Serving in Mission (SIM UK) says, ‘Mike
Ovey gave to so many a deeper knowledge of the God we love and a determination to serve and guard the gospel from the Scriptures. So many grew in Christ through Mike’s ministry at Oak Hill. His teaching and leadership have impacted many in mission and, through their ministries, countless more. Mike set the bar high and plotted the course for Oak Hill to have an ongoing and lasting global impact.’

Neil Powell, Pastor of City Church Birmingham, Director of
2020 birmingham and Chair of City to City UK says, ‘Leaders make
leaders and that is why Mike Ovey’s ministry has had an impact that is hard to exaggerate. The fruit of his leadership of Oak Hill College has been the raising up of a new generation of church-planters: those of biblical convictions with an equal concern for Christ-like character, passionate and equipped to go and make Christ known in our city and beyond. We remain eternally grateful for his life so well-lived in the cause of Christ and the gospel.’

Peter Jensen, General Secretary of GAFCON, says, ‘He was a dear
brother in Christ, a good friend of GAFCON and a great theologian
who will be sorely missed. His address on ‘cheap grace’ at GAFCON’s second international conference in Nairobi in 2013 is an outstanding example of his clarity and insightfulness.’

In addition, the tributes to Mike on social media were led by
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who said, ‘So sad to hear of the death of Mike Ovey of Oak Hill College. Please pray for family & friends and for the College. Great loss to church.’

At an ordination service last year, with a mixture of personal humility and spiritual ambition which was utterly characteristic, Mike passed on the baton to the next generation of pastors and teachers with these words: ‘We want you to be better than us, we want you to be more faithful than us – we want you, spiritually speaking, to tower above us so that the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ stands high in this land and that men and women may know the blessings of eternal life.

That is our dream for you, that is our prayer for you, not that you are as we are, but that you are better.’

Dr Dan Strange, who has now been appointed Acting Principal of Oak Hill, says, ‘We are resolved more than ever to build on Mike’s huge legacy in the training of men and women to be servant leaders who can be the best possible gift to Christ’s church.’

We give heartfelt thanks to God for blessing us so richly with Mike Ovey: a godly, faithful and self-denying servant of Christ.

Rev’d Dr Michael J Ovey, theologian, pastor and teacher, born 9
December 1958; died 7 January 2017


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