Introducing gospelthread contributor
When someone says “the 1 percent,” your first thought will depend on where you’re from. If you’re camped out in a park near Wall Street in 2011, the 1 percent are the powerfully wealthy people in the gleaming towers of the Financial District.
If you’re Mike Neglia in modern-day Ireland, they are the hospitable, thickly-accented people you’ve been called to serve—people of the evangelical church.
Per capita, the Land of Saints and Scholars has the fewest evangelical Christians of any country in the English-speaking world. And that is where gospelthread’s newest contributor was sent to preach the gospel 11 years ago.
On the morning of Mike’s first Sunday as Lead Pastor of Calvary Cork, a church plant in Ireland’s second-largest city, five people showed up, including himself, his wife Rachel, the worship leader, and “a random Italian lady on holiday.”
That was October 2005. The following month, Rachel gave birth to their first child, Eoin, “and we had church growth,” he recalls in a well-oiled line that explains how far the church has come since then.
Today, well over 100 adults, plus children, call Mike their pastor and Calvary Cork their church home—a sanctuary of gospel-centered teaching in this drizzly city near the southern tip of Ireland.
To Americans living in the land of megachurches, that may not sound like much, but it makes Mike the pastor of the second-largest evangelical congregation in Cork. And it represents a bastion of bible teaching where Jesus is exalted week after week.
Originally from Fallbrook, Calif., Mike is blunt about the challenges of doing ministry in Ireland, which, in his words, is a country “racing toward secularism as fast as it can.”
Last year, Ireland became the first nation to legalize gay marriage by popular vote, with more than 62 percent of Irish people voting to amend their constitution. Mike tells us, “The current move is toward a vote (to overturn) the Eighth Amendment, which would legalize abortion, and everyone expects that to be brought in by popular vote very soon. It’s kind of a rush to catch up with the rest of secular Europe.”
In that already tricky context, matters of religion come with extra baggage for a country that has endured centuries of conflict and oppression, often at the hands of religious officials.
“The Catholic Church has done some terrible things in this country, and let terrible things happen, so there’s a rejection of that,” Mike explains. “But if you go further back into Ireland’s history, you see the Church of England, and British Protestants doing terrible things in the country, as well. So neither of them have really done the people of Ireland any favors, I feel.
“That’s why, when people ask me, ‘Are you Protestant?’ the answer in my heart is, ‘Of course.’ I affirm all of the Solas of the Reformation, and I thank God for what he’s done through men like Luther and Calvin and Zwingli. But here, I don’t identify as Protestant, because ‘Protestant’ means ‘British,’ and it has to do with conflict in Northern Ireland or a history of oppression. That word has ceased to be useful here. So we use words like ‘evangelical’.”
All of that is to explain that evangelical Christians represent close to 1 percent of the Irish population, with a large portion of them having immigrated from Africa or Eastern Europe.
Mike’s labor for the gospel, you start to see, is sorely needed in Ireland.
That’s why we are so excited to bring his teaching here to gospelthread. Mike is starting his gospelthread contribution in the book of Jonah, a part of the bible where the gospel absolutely shines in the narrative.
Mike and Rachel have two children: Eoin, who turns 11 in November, and 2-year-old Rosie. We at gospelthread would be humbled if you would join us in praying for their ministry in Cork.
Specifically, Mike requests that we ask for grace to keep up with the recent church growth: “We’ve grown by about 30 or 40 people in the last 12 months, so the way the church has had to run has shifted. I’m trying to keep up with all of it and be wise, as an administrator.”
Meanwhile, Calvary Cork is getting ready to unveil a new skate park in the warehouse adjacent to the sanctuary. They’re calling it “The Ark,” and it’s apparently the largest indoor skate park in Cork.
“During the warm days, Cork is a great place to skate, but it rains 200 and some odd days during the year,” Mike explains. “So we’re hoping to be a place of hospitality and outreach to that community.”
- Current City: Cork, Ireland
- Home Church: Calvary Cork
- Job Title: Lead Pastor
- What was your introduction to the gospel-centered movement?
The first, or at least the clearest, presentation of how and why the gospel ought to be central and at the forefront of Christian preaching was Tim Keller’s message at a 2006 pastors conference.
I had certainly heard gospel-centered preaching before, and there would be parts where I felt like I was being lifted out of my seat and just overjoyed to be loved by God and rescued by the death and life of His Son and empowered for life and service by His Spirit. But Dr. Keller was the first person who told me why that was happening, and that those moments of gospel centrality ought not to be occasional bonuses but an essential ingredient in sermon preparation and delivery.
- Tell us about someone who has been influential in your Christian life and what you learned from them.
I’ve been influenced by so many women and men over my Christian life, but if I were to highlight one, it would be Andrew Stopyra, the man whom I had the privilege of serving under in ministry when I first arrived in Cork. He is a man of staggering intelligence (he speaks 5 ancient languages and currently volunteers time at a museum translating Cuneiform tablets!) and an amazingly rich devotional and prayer life. He modelled for me the importance quiet, unhurried prayer and the necessity of obtaining God’s guidance before rushing into action or service. In Andrew’s mind, there was always time to pray “a little longer” before he rushed into decision making.
- What challenges has the gospel overcome in your ministry?
The message of the gospel has given me confidence to overcome my insecurities about my youth and my “foreignness”—remembering that God has called me to this ministry at this time and in this place. He didn’t call me in the beginning because of my experience or expertise, but it was an act of His equipping and empowering grace, and He will continue to give it to me for as long as it is needed.
- What part of the gospel message and its implications are dearest to your heart?
That 2 Corinthians 5:17 is true because of 5:21.
- What do you see God doing in the gospel-centered movement that is exciting?
People are “getting” the fact that God loves them, and is for them. That Jesus loves them to the grave and back. That is thrilling to me.