The Uniting Church is grieving the sudden death of the Rev. Dr John Mallison.
Dr Mallison, Moderator of the Synod of New South Wales from 1983 to 1984, died on Thursday morning March 29 after collapsing during his morning walk.
The current Moderator of the Synod of New South Wales and the ACT, the Rev. Dr Brian Brown, said, “We remember him as a warm, compassionate and energetic minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ who served the Uniting Church and, formerly, the Methodist Church, in New South Wales and beyond.
“In addition to his extensive congregational ministry, he made a major contribution to the Small Group Movement across Australia and internationally. His vision and contribution to the wider community found practical expression in the establishment of the Port Kembla Blue Nursing Service, The Newcastle Youth Service, and the Newcastle Drug Abuse Prevention Committee.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife June, his children and his extended family. At his funeral service we will celebrate the abundant life of a deeply committed servant of God whose love of Jesus Christ motivated him to work tirelessly for the common good.”
John Mallison was born on May 15, 1929. He was ordained on May 6, 1958, and retired on December 31, 1995.
As an internationally known Christian educator, mentor and author, he was a specialist in enabling mainly Christian leaders to develop personally and spiritually, equipping them for service and helping them to finish well.
A key aspect of this was mentoring, about which he was passionate. He mentored a cross-section of Christian leaders nationally and internationally. For eight years, he was the National Director for Mentoring for the Australian Arrow Leadership Program.
Mallison’s broad parish ministry in Australia spanned 17 years full-time, first with the Methodist Church and then the Uniting Church in rural, industrial, developing urban areas (with the North West Mission, Port Kembla, Hamilton Wesley, and Liverpool) and three years part-time in an experimental inner-city parish.
His ministry balanced evangelism, disciple-making and social concern.
In an interview for Uniting in 1985 he said, “I consider myself to be a parish minister. I really love parish work. And I think it was my parish ministry that attracted the attention of the church and pulled me into Christian education.”
For 14 years he was a full-time Christian educator for the Uniting Church in New South Wales, commencing as State Youth Director for five years and then appointed as Director of Adult Education. During his last four years he founded and directed the Uniting Church’s lay training centre in Sydney.
In his local church, state-level, national and international ministry he was involved extensively in work across all denominations and para-church organisations.
For 22 years Mallison directed his own Christian leadership development organisation, John Mallison Ministries Inc., serving all sections of the Christian Church both nationally and internationally. Mentoring, equipping others to mentor, teaching and the preparation of resources were the main thrusts of this ministry.
He had special skills and wide experience in cross-cultural ministry, conducting leadership-training events in 30 different countries.
Mallison was a pioneer in the Small Group Movement across Australia through his own extensive and creative use of small groups, his writings and training of thousands of leaders from all sections of the church.
He said his vision for small groups started in the Hamilton Wesley Parish, which sent him to America, England, Europe and Israel, which “completely changed the direction of my ministry”.
“It opened up new horizons for me. I began to understand something of the world as a global village and see some of the interests and diversity of the Christian community. I saw new directions for the church and met people who were leaders in various significant areas of ministry.”
He became a world authority on small group ministry. He recognised the significance of the small group in church history and its increasing relevance as the church entered the 21 century.
He saw increasing secularisation as leading to the marginalising of the church from the mainstream of life. “As a consequence of this social dynamic the old methods employed by the church, of advertising worship services and developing on-campus programs and activities to which people are invited, become less and less effective. There has to be a switch from a stance of inviting to one of infiltrating. That is where the small group plays such a significant role.”
Small groups were key components of the lay witness teams that Mallison initiated and led, taking teams of lay people to various churches to share personal testimony to their conversion or other significant experiences in their “growth in grace”.
“We first used this method in our local churches to reach the unchurched. Later we gathered teams of up to 50 people to conduct weekend evangelistic events, sometimes long distances from our parish.”
Usually this outreach was conducted over a weekend, commencing with a combined evening meeting of praise and witness, or a dinner. This was followed by small groups in homes during which lay people spoke of their faith. A low-key invitation to commitment was also given during these home groups.
Educator and writer
Nearly 30 years ago a future President of the Uniting Church, John Mavor, said Mallison had a tremendous capacity to link people to truths as he perceived them.
“John is one of those great educators who can take hold of the ideas, of those who went a bit ahead as educators, the people who developed the thoughts, but John has the ability to take those ideas and make them available to the whole mass of people.”
But Mallison told Uniting, “I am a very ordinary person. As a child I was a very shy little boy and that is something still inside of me. In the early years it was a real struggle with my self-image and self-acceptance but I have worked through that and now I feel comfortable living with myself.
“Once you come to accept yourself and really understand the fact that God accepts you then that gives you the ability to accept other people. I think it is very sad, especially in the church, that people are too quick to put other people down.”
Mallison was a prolific writer, having 23 published books and numerous articles that aimed to equip Christian disciples and leaders. A number of those were published in various languages.
A recent bestselling book, Mentoring to Develop Disciples and Leaders, had a UK edition, and Polish and Cambodian (abridged) translations. He also prepared a comprehensive CD-ROM Mentoring Trainer’s Pack containing all his training and mentoring resources to accompany the text.
His popular training manual to equip small group leaders, The Small Group Leader (a revision and expansion of Growing Christians in Small Groups) has been widely used, with translations in French, Polish, Korean, Portuguese and Indonesian. Special editions were published in the UK and Malaysia.
In 2007’s Postcards on a Journey: Reflections of a Christ Follower he reflected upon stories from his remarkable life and ministry.
John Mallison received an honorary Doctorate of Theology from the Australian College of Theology for “a substantial contribution to theological learning and for a notable contribution to the life and work of the church”.
In 2003 he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal by the Australian government for his services to the community, including the founding and directing of the original Newcastle Youth Service, street work with anti-social youth (commenced in the early 1960s) and the Port Kembla Blue Nursing Service, a mobile domiciliary service.
For 12 years he was National Chair of LinC, an agency of World Vision Australia, equipping nonprofessional carers to serve in their local communities. He was also involved in numerous other community movements.
Mallison believed that the secret of his ministry was the amazing grace of God, the health and opportunities God had given him, a godly wife and family and the support of a large number of prayer partners.
He said, “The key to Christian ministry is our relationship with God. The secret of my life is that God is at the centre. I really shudder to think what would have become of my life if I hadn’t had a personal experience of Christ. After that my life started to shape up. If it hadn’t happened, I’m sure I would have been a disaster.”
At the closure of ELM Centre last year Mallison recalled its beginnings:
While I was State Director for Adult Education in the Board of Education … I was sent overseas to gather insights from innovative lay education centres and retreat centres in the USA, Canada, Europe and the UK …
My vision … emerged from reflection on the extensive experiences I had in my ministry in parishes over 17 years, my roles in the Board of Education and the above overseas observations and previous overseas research.
- I strongly affirmed that there is only one ministry in the Christian Church and that is the ministry of Jesus Christ and all members of his body are variously gifted by the Holy Spirit and therefore have a responsible role to honour Christ by extending and strengthening his kingdom;
- I wanted the ELM programs to be Christ-centred;
- I had proved the power of prayer and planned a prayer network for ELM;
- We would seek to provide balanced programs each including knowledge and understanding of Christian resources (theology, Bible and Church history), personal and spiritual development and acquisition of appropriate skills;
- I was hopeful that those who led the events would not only be knowledgeable regarding their respective subjects but have wide practical experience in those areas, have a gift of encouragement and be Christ-centred …
My blessing is in the form of a prayer:
Gracious God, together with all present today, I praise you for the way you have guided and empowered this ministry over these many years.
I pray that all involved in the future equipping of followers of Jesus Christ for their respective ministries will not overlook the lessons of the past 30 years and that they will be guided by those aspects which have made ELM such a dynamic aspect of our church.
I especially pray that all that is done in the future will be clearly directed by the Holy Spirit, that it will be Christ-centred and built upon a foundation of consistent faithful prayer.
More information about John Mallison (including some of the biographical information above) and John Mallison Ministries can be found here.
A celebration and thanksgiving for the life and ministry of John Mallison was held at St Paul’s Anglican Church, 421 Old Northern Road, Castle Hill, New South Wales, on Wednesday April 11.