“Deregistered, but not defeated.”
Four words immediately on Bob McCoskrie’s lips as a nearly $750,000, decade-long, four-court case journey came to an end tell you almost everything you need to know.
The Supreme Court’s recent decision which saw Family First lose its charitable status in New Zealand was, of course, hugely disappointing for Family First’s founder and national director – and not just because of the ramifications for him and his team.
There’s a potential precedent the ruling sets, he says.
In chatting with Bob though, you immediately sense a broader picture – it’s foundationally anchored him to this point, and will continue to do so into the future.
It’s likely the grounding from which that rather profound opening statement came.
“Ultimately, we’re here because the Lord called us to this work – He’s the one who is in control, we’ll continue to be here for as long as this is where He’d have us be.”
I had the chance to sit down with Bob for an insightful chat, in which we covered family, faith, some of the key challenges facing New Zealand and what it means to boldly and authentically display the truth of Jesus Christ in a day and age when the ‘cultural flames’ are heating up.
Amongst it all was a key reflection.
“When you pull up the anchor of Biblical truth, you’ll simply float around the sea at the whim of every wave.”
Firstly, so much of your work is centred around family. Tell me about yours…
My wife, Tina, is half Niuean and a part-time nurse. She’s been my biggest supporter many times as I crazily stepped out into various ministries. We have three children – Nicole, 24, Stephen, 21, and Katie, 18. They’re all still living at home! We often joke that three young people that age discussing topics with their ‘boomer’ dad can get pretty lively!
Previously, we ran a piece you wrote about the importance – and benefits – of family dinners. What’s the most important thing to you as a husband and father?
That our children haven’t had to go elsewhere looking for love, acceptance, value, or commitment. That they know Tina and I are whole-heartedly committed to them, even when they mess up. We’ve intentionally cultivated that openness between us – when it comes to those communication channels, they are – of course – anchored by our shared faith in Jesus. I decided early on that, in the majority of cases, I’m unavailable for weekend speaking engagements.
Instead, I’m committed to being with my family at my home church as many weekends as possible. It’d be disingenuous if I was out there preaching ‘family first’, yet not actually putting my own family first. Tina’s wonderful, she gently reminds me what it is to genuinely live out messages I’m sharing. I’m hugely passionate about family dinners. They’re not based on having lots of money, making special trips, or having certain skills. It’s simply a consistent commitment to spend time together. Based on the research indicators, I’d go as far as saying that, in many cases, family dinners are one of the defining factors regarding the way in which families navigate tough times.
What’s an ideal day spent together as the McCoskrie family?
Something like some exercise, getting coffee together and maybe playing some fun board game. And, we love family holidays – which, by the way, also often involve ‘afternoon nap time’! Those key times are really important. As the kids get older, and navigate different seasons of life, there’s of course an understanding that – at times – they want to spread their wings a bit and be part of their friend groups. Which is normal. But we often invite their friends along too!
That’s the environment I grew up in – knowing that no matter the season of life, family time is precious and to be protected. We remain committed to it, so far the kids seem on board too!
I have to ask, because Dave – our CEO here at Authentic – will be delighted. I heard you’re a Liverpool supporter?
Absolutely! Actually, I was playing football up until about two years ago. I didn’t want to give up, but my body did! Now, I’m refereeing, and Stephen is playing – so, I go and watch games. For me, Saturday means sport, chauffeur driving and cheering on the sidelines.
Your ‘story’ is made up of many ‘chapters’, and God has used them all. How did you come to know Christ?
I was born and raised in Papatoetoe in South Auckland. My parents were Christians, so my two older brothers and I grew up in church. When I was about 14 or 15, I realised the importance of cultivating a personal relationship with Jesus, rather than simply ‘relying’ on my parents’ faith. My upbringing meant I understood the need for God’s grace, that Jesus died on the cross and that I needed that personal relationship with Him. Following Him has, of course, been an ongoing journey and decision to submit to Him. I’ve ‘wandered off the track’ at times and been reminded of the story of the prodigal son as I’ve returned and asked for the Lord’s forgiveness.
Speaking of those ‘chapters’, tell me about your involvement with Youth For Christ (YFC)…
As I came to a stage in life when I felt it was time to give back, Youth For Christ (YFC) – a worldwide movement working with young people – was really strong. YFC’s heart was to give every young person the opportunity to follow Jesus. I initially got involved with a YFC programme called Campus Life, helping students journey through issues with which they were wrestling. I was involved with youth leadership at church, and that grew into wanting to be involved in discipleship and evangelism opportunities through YFC. It’s amazing looking back – the Family First work God has called me to really just grew as He led me step by step, opened doors and has proven Himself faithful.
You also set up the Papatoetoe Adolescent Christian Trust (PACT) didn’t you?
Yes. I had a heart for my local community – Papatoetoe – and to expand beyond just youth evangelism into working with at-risk families. PACT started in January 1995, and it’s still running more than 25 years later – aiming to transform Papatoetoe by mentoring and investing in rangatahi, or children, and strengthening whānau. It’s a journey of supporting rangatahi using preventative and mana-enhancing approaches which encourage and empower them and their whānau.
In the eight years I was there, the work was about simply serving Papatoetoe through things like parenting programmes, camps and after school programmes, chaplaincy in schools and cafe gatherings. I’m still involved on the board.
What was it like being on the breakfast show on Rhema?
Radio was one of my first loves. I think I’ve always realised the power of communication. From a young age, I’d spin the same 45RPM record and practice being a DJ by ‘reading’ a few ads. My big break was as Paradice Ice Skating’s Friday night DJ in Glen Innes. When I mention that now, so many people still say, “I heard you there!”
I was at Rhema from 2002-2006 – just like all my other experiences up to that point, it was a fantastic training ground. One of our aims was to facilitate a talk back and discussion format with a Christian worldview. Whenever we’d have discussions around issues, we’d intentionally find people representing both sides of the conversation.
People still tell me they’d tune in every Tuesday morning for my weekly interview with then Prime Minister Helen Clark. To her credit, she did constantly show up. Whatever discussion we were having, both sides of the ‘argument’ needed to be represented. I’ve said, even recently, that if your own argument can’t stand up to a level of scrutiny, perhaps you need to work on your argument. One of my key learnings from school came from my time in the debating team as the first speaker. The role was not to simply reiterate the ideology of what I’d already said. I had to listen to the other three speakers on the opposing side, reflect on their argument and process how to respond.
Isn’t it cool how – in walking with Jesus – God uses all of our experiences in the outworking of His purposes?
Absolutely! Looking back, I can see there was a lot of groundwork going on even then. His hand was in everything. After I left school, I nearly signed up for a Bachelor of Music. Instead, I studied a Bachelor of Accounting, then a teaching degree. I got my Master’s Degree in accounting and lectured in commercial law and accounting at Manukau Institute of Technology for four years.
When I felt God calling me to YFC, I left that well-paying job, raised my own support and set out, living by faith. I ran YFC South Auckland when Ian Grant was overseeing YFC Auckland. It was a full-on ministry season. All that to say I love encouraging young people now that, no matter what situation you’re currently in, wherever the Lord has you, you never know what groundwork He’s already doing in your life as He prepares you for the next season. Be faithful with what’s at hand, working as unto Him, not man.
Was your time at Rhema – at least in part – where initial thoughts towards Family First began to stir?
That’s fair. As we facilitated debates on issues, I never really had trouble finding people representing the more ‘liberal’ view, if you will. It was a lot harder finding conservative voices though. One of the few groups around was Maxim Institute, and there were a few politicians we’d call on. When the Rhema season closed, I realised that not only was God calling me into that space, but my on-air experience had been great preparation. Family First began in 2006 and it’s been an amazing 16-year ride during which I’ve been humbled by people’s support. It seems like Family First has filled a role that was needed. In that time, not only have we felt called, but the Lord has continually equipped us.
What’s the heart behind Family First’s work?
Initially, it was to be a voice in the media presenting a counter balance to the prevailing narrative. That’s still the case today – although we’ve noticed a trend. As we’ve entered into a few ‘controversial’ debates, perhaps especially discussions around the Definition of Marriage Ammendment Bill, the Abortion Legislation Act 2020, the cannabis law reform and the End of Life Choice referendum regarding euthanasia, we’ve been slowly shunned by the media. Our media coverage has slowly declined since around 2012, I’d say. As our ability to speak into the media debate has decreased, our role in and around the area of education has grown.
I love Billy Graham’s quote, “…when a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.” That’s our heart, essentially – to help people understand the issues, give them the tools required to enter the public debate – be that among friends, community leaders, church leaders, or whoever – and give them the confidence to say, “…this is what I believe and why.” Honestly, I know there are times we’re a bit nervous to share our views – we don’t want to get ‘shot down’. Maybe that’s, in part, because we don’t know the reasoning behind some of those views. When people say to me, “…we should know those reasons…”, they make a good point. So, essentially, Family First is trying to do some ‘homework’ for people as they seek to understand what’s happening. We’ve called ourselves a ‘watchdog’, other people call us a ‘watchman on the wall’. We’re simply trying to use Godly wisdom regarding what’s really at play in and around some of the issues being discussed in the public domain. One of my encouragements for people is to ‘lift their eyes’ – be aware of some of the things at play and the long term agenda, or ramifications. With every decision, there’ll always be a flow-on effect.
What’s the best, and the hardest, aspect of your role?
It’s important I say here we haven’t always got everything right – be that even in the tone with which we’ve attempted to communicate things. Though, the intention has always been to speak truth with both love and grace. I’m very aware that, personally, I’m a sinner saved by grace. Sometimes, Family First has also been a sinner saved by grace. And, there’s certainly no finger pointing. Every day, I’m committed to walking with Jesus in His strength, not my own, understanding I need Him just as much as the person next to me.
One thing that’s perhaps troubled me is that people – some, not all – have judged Family First based solely on what they’ve heard about us in the media, or elsewhere. That misrepresentation by ‘the other side’ tends to label us negatively – and that’s fine. That’s one of the hardest things though. Honestly, the ‘friendly fire’ can be tough to take too – from people who you thought were perhaps with us – as they’re influenced by some of the ‘narrative’ they hear in and around Family First.
Most recently, during the process through which we were deregistered, one of the five judges said we weren’t respectful. That actually hurt, because it’s something we pride ourselves on. We can discuss the issues without being disrespectful to others, or attacking people.
I was encouraged by the fact that, after they heard that in the ruling, so many of our supporters got in touch with us to say they wholeheartedly disagreed with that sentiment. I’m really grateful to them – they’re not afraid to keep us accountable. If we were actually disrespectful with things we’re doing and saying, our supporters would be among the first to tell us!
One of the nicest compliments is people telling us they can trust and rely on the reports, releases and information we put out – and that our work is credible. At its core, that’s our aim. When people actually take time to read the reports – even those being slammed by the media or in the public domain – ultimately we hope credibility is what they find.
We live in an incredibly ‘noisy’ culture – so many ‘voices’ and messages vie for our attention purporting to be truth. How would you encourage people to listen to the right influences and hold on to Godly truth?
We go through that process ourselves here at Family First. In terms of our work, as we aim to build that credibility, we’re looking for trustworthy voices. There are plenty of occasions on which I have to pause and ask, “… hang on, is this actually true and credible?”
Foundationally, the answer comes down to this – test everything against God’s Word. Don’t believe everything you hear just because you heard it, it’s in the media, or wherever else. Dare I say it too, but just because it’s on our website, doesn’t automatically mean it’s true either! Hopefully our processes mean you won’t find anything false there, but we should all test everything. The Word of God is truth and our benchmark. Be discerning about ideology, or agendas, behind what’s being shared – as you’re prayerful, you’ll soon discover how much something does, or doesn’t, stack up against His Word.
Scripture says David “…strengthened himself in the Lord his God…” At times, it seems you’re under quite intense scrutiny as you do the work you do. How do you go about ‘strengthening yourself in the Lord’ and what sustains you despite that pressure?
It’s a combination of listening to and trusting the Holy Spirit’s voice, and having key people around you. Accountability is key. I’ve tried to surround myself with people I trust who aren’t simply ‘yes men’ – they’re men and women I truly believe are Godly people, who are discerning and whose judgement I trust. Not only do I give them permission, but I ask them to speak into my life and correct me if and when I need it. Whenever I send out a media release, I also run it past a group of about 15 people for feedback. And, I regularly visit key people who I’ve given permission to speak into my life.
Absolutely anybody in Christian leadership needs accountability of some sort. You obviously can’t give everybody permission to speak into your life, but you have to give it to some people you trust. You’ll quickly know if what they’re saying is coming from a spirit of correction and love, or from a place of negativity and criticism. I absolutely value that and I’ve purposed to never shy away from it. I’ve observed several leaders who haven’t lasted, and – in part – I’d suggest it’s because maybe they haven’t quite had that structure around them. We should never ignore the internal prompts of the Holy Spirit, or the external prompts of people around us who keep us accountable.
Speaking of cultural ‘noise’ – which very often it seems would like Christian voices to be quiet – what’s the biggest thing walking with Jesus has taught you about authentically and boldly living out our faith?
Can I maybe challenge us, in a good way, that if we’re not getting at least some level of push back for our faith in Christ and speaking His truth in today’s culture, perhaps we’re not actually speaking truth and authentically living our faith. In Matthew 5:14-15, Jesus tells us, simply, we’re not to hide our faith. Truthfully, these days – even if we were trying to hide it – I don’t think we can any longer. That’s simply because to be a Christian, live a Biblically-based life and to make moral decisions based solely on His Word runs counter-culturally to our society and the world.
But, there is a yard-stick – a measuring tool I believe should be central to our approach and focus. It’s the combination of both grace, or love, and truth. If we just speak love without truth, we’re missing the mark. If we just speak truth without love, we can come across as harsh and judgemental. One without the other is problematic. Speak the truth in love. People need to know we have their best interests at heart, that we love, receive and accept them and that we don’t think we’re ‘better’ than them. At YFC, I heard the saying, “…people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care…”
We should always strive to have respectful relationships with those around us. And yes, even those who disagree with us. You can absolutely be respectful at the same time as hearing and receiving their points of view, holding your ground and speaking the truth. Love and respect are inseparable ingredients when it comes to sharing the truth. And yes, we absolutely need to speak it. At the end of the day, it’s the truth which sets us free, isn’t it? Even if you feel like the truth is becoming unpopular, if you’ve got good news, shouldn’t you share it? I want people to know Jesus and live in the freedom He has made possible for us.
We really need to approach situations and conversations ‘in Christ’, and with His heart don’t we?
Deep down, I actually think many people are seeking truth. They may not like hearing it, but they’re looking for it. So, yes there’s no doubt we need to be bold and speak up.
Oftentimes, we lean, and rely on, how God has spoken to another person through scripture, or how they interpret things. And, hear my heart in this, there’s nothing wrong with that. But, we also need to return to the Word of God individually and read it ourselves. Go back to what He says, because from that comes Godly wisdom.
Aren’t we oftentimes prone to spending more time reading books about the Bible, or Jesus, than we do actually reading His word, the Bible?
What, in your view, is the biggest challenge facing our nation today? How do we – as Christians – navigate that?
It’s simply the rejection of Judeo-Christian values. This ultimately results in a culture more interested in worshipping ‘causes’ – human rights, the environment, sexuality and many others.
Other ‘gods’ have been put before the one true God. And, we’re absolutely seeing the fruit of that rejection reflected in things like increased stress levels, more instances of family breakdown and increased crime and violence.
One of my concerns is also that we’ve given too much power to the state, whereas we need to be equipping families. A nation with strong families is a strong nation. But, where you have the breakdown of families and marriages occurring, you’ll have resulting societal breakdown. Our kids are growing up in a completely sexualised society in which they’re being confused about their gender and being told marriage doesn’t matter. To my mind, it’s little wonder our poor kids are walking around stressed.
Bob, as we begin to wrap up, how would you encourage Christians in New Zealand and what’s the key message you’d like readers to take away?
I heard a statement recently which resonated with me, “…attack is the proof your enemy believes in you…”. That’s quite deep, but of course, the enemy isn’t interested in you unless you’re stepping out. George Orwell said “…the further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it”.
One of my favourite stories from scripture is Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When instructed to bow down to the culture of their day, they wouldn’t.
“…the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and He will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if He does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” – Daniel 3:17-18 (NIV).
A message I keep repeating at the moment is that the ‘cultural fire’ is getting hotter, and there’s hostility towards the Christian faith and Biblical truth. Let’s decide now – are we going to be ‘even if’ Christians who stand up for, defend and speak truth ‘even if’?
We might get blasted on social media, lose a few Facebook friends, get negative mainstream media coverage, or people may even confront or challenge the views we hold. But, be bold and be strong, “…for the Lord your God will be with you…” Joshua 1:9 (NIV).
Looking ahead, what can we as Christians do to support Family First?
One of my goals is to get me off the ‘front page’ a little bit and start to see other conservative-thinking communicators there. So, you’ll notice other faces fronting our videos. In terms of support, the primary way is through praying for us. We’re blessed to have a wide-ranging prayer support network of people all around New Zealand. They regularly pray not only for Family First, but for our nation – for leaders and politicians and for the policy and decision makers in our land.
For those who feel led, financial support is an option, and we’d love to hear from those who have skills and resources they can share. If you believe in Family First’s work, speak well of us and share the resources, fact sheets and reports we put out with others and help us spread the word.
- For more on Family First, visit www.familyfirst.org.nz
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About the author
Jeremy Smith is editor of, and one of the writers for, Authentic Magazine.
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