NOTE: As CBMW President, it’s my pleasure to introduce a brand-new project of the organization: CBMW Longform. We love the current trend of telling great stories at the length needed to get to know a person, and so we’re beginning this exciting initiative to tell the story of complementarianism–and complementarians. Theology, after all, is not made for a holy wax museum. It’s made to be lived, and loved, and embodied. We have future pieces in the works, written by a cadre of talented young journalists–our next one will profile a faithful and gifted young woman–and we’re thrilled at the chance to not only make the case, but share the narrative. Too often debates over gender roles obscure the glorious reality that the gospel and the body of sexual ethics it creates has changed many lives.
In this terrific lead-off piece by Aaron Hanbury, we meet an international soccer star-turned-BBC-broadcaster who gave it all up to preach Christ and train men. Meet Gavin Peacock of beautiful, wintry Alberta, and enjoy the debut of CBMW Longform. – Owen Strachan
The Peacock family uprooted their lives and moved in order to study the Bible and prepare for ministry. All of the sudden, the family traded a glittery, global city, for the cold, rocky Northern Exposure-reminiscent town of Canmore, AB, Canada. Early in the morning, Gavin Peacock would drive from Canmore to nearby Calgary, AB, in order to attend classes at a little seminary. As an older student, he first needed — like an every-day dad — to ensure his two kids arrived at school on time. As a minister, this husband and father preached an unpopular message in a hard, dark place.
Several years earlier, and nearly 4,500 miles across the Atlantic in another geographic and cultural world, Peacock appeared anything but an everyday dad. On a given weekend, three or four million people across the United Kingdom viewed him discussing football (American soccer) on the BBC. He appeared widely in the BBC’s coverage of the country’s favorite sport, including the 2006 World Cup in Berlin, which broadcasted his personality across the English-speaking world. Commentating, too, was a second career for Peacock. Prior to his life as a pundit, he played in the British Premier League for 18 years and appeared in more than 600 games. At one point, Peacock was the most popular player for Chelsea Football Club, and, in the 1980s and 90s, perhaps the most famous Christian professional footballer in the United Kingdom. In a 2010 interview with the Independent, Peacock said, “I left England after Euro 2008, when I had been working as part of the TV team for the BBC. And not long after, I was living in a small town in a strange country, getting up at seven in the morning to study Hebrew at eight, followed by ancient Greek at 10. And I wondered, ‘What have I got myself into?'”
A few weeks ago, I talked with Peacock about his two lives, one in the limelight of the U.K.’s sport of choice and the other under the shadowy mountains of west Canada.
Gavin Peacock’s Big Moment
In 1994, Peacock rode around Newcastle sitting on top of a bus with hundreds of thousands of fans cheering from the sidewalks. He had earned a promotion as captain for the Newcastle United Football Club — a massive accomplishment in and of itself — and was weeks away from signing with the Blues for a then-staggering transfer fee of £1.25 million. With Chelsea, Peacock reached the peak of his playing career. Most notably, he scored two goals — one at home, one away — against the ever-dominant Manchester United Football Club. His goals gave Chelsea the only winning record against Manchester United since the start of the Premier League. The Blues met the Reds a third time in the 1993-94 season, this time in the 1994 FA Cup final, which the biggest domestic cup competition in the world. The game provided everything fans want in a final: 100,000 fans in attendance, blue versus red, north versus south, David versus Goliath. There on the sport’s biggest annual stage, Peacock was the main attraction.
His big moment arrived just before the half. Peacock shot from about 25 yards. United’s six-foot-four, Danish goalkeeper backpedaled but the ball beat him. “It’s in; it’s a goal; we’ll win,” thought Peacock, during the hour-seeming seconds while the ball was in flight. But his attempt struck the crossbar of the goal, inches away from putting Chelsea on top of Manchester United in the cup final. In the end, United won. Still, even though he shot high in that moment, the season as a whole — especially those two league-play goals — proved to be his moment, placing him in an elite category. This year, even, a sports writer discussed Peacock’s place in the folklore of Chelsea football, now 20 years later. “In the 1993-94 season, [Peacock] was the creative outlet for [Chelsea manager and future hall-of-famer] Glenn Hoddle’s side and the scourge of Manchester United,” writes Charlie Skillen of the Daily Mail.
After 18 years of football, Peacock entered the world of sports broadcasting, which he’d done with success as a player. He began with brief radio commentary spots for the BBC, and quickly became a go-to football pundit on BBC television. With his depth of commentating — detailed, experience-heavy analysis of players’ thought processes — Peacock developed, perhaps, into a better-known pundit than player. He told me what he tells reporters often: he was a better broadcaster than player.
Gavin Peacock’s Bare Moment
Peacock also told me that “all [he] could ever dream was becoming a professional footballer.” Born in Kent, just outside of London, Peacock grew up in a football family. His dad, Keith Peacock, played 17 years with Charlton Athletic — interestingly, the last club for which the junior Peacock played. After his dad took a coaching job with the Tampa Bay Rowdies, 11-year-old Peacock spent two years playing with teams on the west coast of Florida. Because of his dad’s work, he interacted with world-class professional footballers such as George Best and Johan Cruyff. When he returned to the United Kingdom in 1982, his career progressed rapidly. Two years later, he achieved the highest honor for a footballer his age: he made England’s under -15 national team. He was one of the top 20 players in the U.K. So in one moment, he played football in front of 60,000 people, then in another he attended school like any other 15-year-old the next day. On the cusp of his 17th birthday, Peacock signed with a professional club. “That’s what every boy wants to be: a professional footballer,” he told me. “So I’d achieved the goal. And, it didn’t quite satisfy.”
Typically, Sundays in the Peacock home centered about football — a day to play for him and a day off for his dad. But one Sunday night, for no apparent reason, Peacock went along with his mother to church. She was not a Christian but had been along to church a few times. Nonetheless, they went that night. And, afterward, the preacher invited Peacock over to his house for a meeting of the church’s youth. He accepted. “I walked into that youth meeting at his house as someone who the world says has got everything: I had money in my pocket. I had the career. I had fame and reputation. I had wealth. I had a nice car. … I had everything the world says is success, but inside there was this turmoil.”
At the preacher’s house, six students — “None of them were the ‘in’ crowd,” Peacock told me — gathered to study the Bible and pray. “They started to speak about Christ. And they started to pray. And there was reality and joy in what they were saying.” Peacock realized that those students had something that he didn’t. The pastor taught the gospel. “And then my eyes were opened, I realized I was a sinner, I was in need of a savior, and God, in his grace had provided that in Jesus Christ, and I repented and believed.” And in that moment, Peacock told me, “football just fell into its right place,” he said. “And suddenly, though there were still the difficulties, I was able to move on and had a career with the right perspective on God and sport. Christ was my surpassing worth and I played football, I hope, to the glory of God.”
Once his faith became public, Peacock endured seemingly requisite hazing from teammates — they called it “mickey-taking” — and some teammates outright opposed his Christianity. “It’s difficult to be a Christian in every profession and wherever you are, because the nature of man is the same,” he said. “There is always opposition and persecution and your own sin to deal with. The difference in the world of professional sport is that it is so public.” But he remained open, speaking at evangelistic rallies and events, and telling the gospel to as many people as he could during his 18 years as a professional footballer.
Gavin Peacock’s Manly Moment
Peacock said that during his time as a TV pundit, the church of which he and his family were members began to shift theologically away from the Bible. Around the same time, he started reading through the Pastoral Epistles in the New Testament, where the apostle Paul, in 2 Timothy 4, calls church leaders to preach the Word. Peacock said that, through his church experience and readings in the Bible, he increasingly felt a desire to preach. A few years ago, he explained his desires to the Independent: “When I was called by God to enter the ministry I knew that’s what I was meant to do. I felt compelled to do it. I was in my study reading my Bible when it seemed someone had highlighted the words on the pages. I suddenly felt the urge to preach.” He spoke with the leaders of his local church and he began preaching as occasion allowed, which confirmed for him — along with the affirmation of those around him — this new calling. “Not only do I get joy from doing this; but I must do it,” he told me. Because he was too high profile of a personality to study quietly in London, Peacock and his wife decided to move in order to prepare to preach and work in ministry.
Because of some familiarity with the area, they chose Ambrose Seminary in Calgary. So, in 2008, the Peacock family moved to rural, western Canada. One headline in the Telegraph announced, “Gavin Peacock departs for religious journey.” Looking back, Peacock described the move as the hardest decision of his life — he was 40 years old, moving countries with two kids and lives tightly sewn into London. In another interview a few years ago, Peacock said, “I could have studied in England but we had been out here on holiday a few times and we thought, What would it look like if we made a real break away from everything?’” he said “Coming to Canada was like stripping things back. In leaving home, family and career God squeezed us to rely upon him alone”
In 2011, after completing a master’s degree at the seminary, Peacock joined the pastoral team of a 180-person church in Calgary, Calvary Grace Church, where he is one of five pastors — each of whom preach and teach — and particularly leads ministries for men, missions and marriage. These three areas reflect Peacock’s particular burdens for manhood, particularly how biblical structures play out in day-to-day life. Football, Peacock told me, is a microcosm of culture. And so his years playing and working around the sport showed him shifts in manhood that, he thinks, reflect shifts in culture at-large. “I saw from the 80s to the 2000s, a difference in men,” he told me. “When I came in as younger player, it was: ‘I’m the new guy; I have to earn my stripes.’” He remembers cleaning out senior players’ sweaty, bloody equipment. “Men were men at a younger age then,” he said. Conversely, Peacock sees many of today’s footballers carrying a sense of entitlement and a lack of respect for teammates and for the process of developing. These young footballers, for Peacock, are paradigmatic of a broader phenomenon. He sees a “lack, too, of men in the church, a lack of men who know what it is to be a man of God and a pillar of the local church.”
Peacock told me he learned on the pitch the unifying power of a common goal among men. “There something about men being together, fighting for a greater cause,” he said. And, like the problematic shifts in manhood, he wants to connect this sport-reality to men in the church and foster it in his ministry. “We need divines, not dudes,” he told me. “We need men of weight like the divines of old, not light-weight men.” According to Peacock, weighty men look beyond — but not over — horizontal realities like manliness in family and work to a manhood in the created order, to living as God’s image in the world.
In his (rapidly growing) ministry, he regularly teaches on biblical manhood and preaches the gospel outside of his church in Canada and abroad all around the UK. And he emphasizes structures and relationships among the godhead that overflow into church leadership that, in turn, overflow into and men leading families and homes — what Peacock calls a “rigorous view” of a “consistent complementarianism.” In his teaching, Peacock makes the “connection between manhood and the authority and glory of God, which finds its apex in the gospel of Christ,” he told me. “When men get gripped by that vision and what they have been redeemed for, then, we must help them to see what this actually looks like on the ground in the home, church and workplace. Manhood is not about being macho its about being mature; it’s for sportsmen but it’s for all men in any walk of life. And it’s those kind of Christlike men that God will use to further his mission in the world.”
I could think that Peacock’s trajectory is away from manhood, somehow decreasing from the Gillette-commercial manliness of high-dollar spots on London television and the bloody-grass toughness of the Premier League. But, listening to him tell his story and discuss his passions, I actually think his quieter steps are his strongest. And maybe, now, his would-be trading card pictures manhood clearer than ever. Perhaps now is Gavin Peacock’s manliest moment.
Aaron Cline Hanbury is a writer based in the Tampa Bay area. And he is engaged to be married. Eavesdrop on his random bouts of social media on Twitter: @achanbury.
Also, connect on Twitter with Gavin Peacock using @GPeacock8 and Calvary Grace Church using @Calvary_Grace. Gavin has been married to Amanda for 24 years and they have two children, Jake (21) and Ava (18).
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