School teacher and singer/songwriter JOHN PICKERING is a long way from Christian music stardom. But he's still a powerful musical evangelist, as Tony Cummings reports.
In a Christian music culture which sometimes apes the world with its banal personality cults and backslapping awards ceremonies, it's heartening to learn about the unassuming but spiritually powerful ministry of John Pickering. Since the '80s he's been singing performing and recording evangelistic songs and his gutsy folk style music has down the years touched many lives. John has recorded a string of albums, 'The Father's Family' (1982), 'We Want An Answer' (1987), 'Angel Delight' (1991), 'You Cannot Have Revival (And Your Television)' (1992), 'Terraced Row' (1997), 'You Don't Have To Wait Till Christmas' (2004) and his latest offering 'Sands Of Time'. Said John, "If God keeps giving me songs then I'll carry on recording and sharing them with others. As I young man I wanted to be famous, but I'm not concerned with that now. I just want to do God's will and reach people at a grassroots level. I teach at a local school, and the teenagers there love me to share my songs with them. In this way I am sharing the Gospel with far more un-churched kids than many full time musicians."
John was born and bred in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. He spoke his early years,"I grew up in a loving Christian family. My parents taught me about the Gospel and took me to a very working class Baptist chapel (a "Tin Tabernacle"). At the age of 11 a friend gave me a guitar, but I had no idea how to play it. My brother David, who is nine years older than me, learnt how to play a few chords and then taught me how to play a simple rock and roll song. I really caught the bug, and I've been playing ever since. I drifted away from God in my late teens, but at the age of 20 I had a real conversion experience. I decided to follow Christ with all my heart, and that's when I started writing Christian songs. I started doing small concerts and people asked if I had any recordings of the songs. None of the Christian labels showed any interest in my songs, so I financed my own album 'The Father's Family'."
Although John has penned some hard hitting songs accurately pinpointing the lukewarmness that exists in some church circles. His main thrust is very much taking the Gospel to the unsaved. "My main ministry has been evangelism, and I spent 25 years as a street preacher outside the pubs and clubs of Chesterfield. Talking to thousands of non-Christians really challenged my own faith and I share my ideas with other Christians through my music. The world needs a radical Christianity and my songs challenge Christians to stop play acting and offer a real solution to the people around."
There is a strong folk music element in John's music. He commented, "My early influences were Dylan, Donovan and a few other contemporary folk singers. I prefer a style that can get the lyrics across. I also like to think that my style varies a little and that I can use other genres to get the message across."
John sells his CDs at a bargain price. There is a strong rationale to
this. "I have never relied on my music to earn a living. I feel that I
have a message to give and I want as many people as possible to hear
my songs. I therefore sell the albums for a minimal price and hope I
break even. Lots of non-Christians buy the CDs - this would not be the
case if I was charging the usual price for a Christian album."