“I love Kiwis,” he smiles.
While an answer perhaps elicited thanks to a somewhat leading opening question, it’s an effective icebreaker as I ask former Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) managing director Martyn Iles how he’s finding New Zealand.
In September, we caught up with Martyn in Auckland as he spoke at Family First New Zealand’s sold out Forum on the Family.
He was last there three years ago.
“Honestly, it’s encouraging knowing the work we do resonates with people, and makes a difference, in New Zealand.”
In late February, Martyn announced that after five years as ACL managing director, overseeing about 40 staff, he wouldn’t continue in the role.
The ACL board, he said,“…reviewed its strategic direction, deciding I’m not the right person to lead the revised strategy…”
The focus, he said, would be more on political tactics and less on the gospel.
“Having heard this, I absolutely agree I’m not the right person.”
Calling the role the “…privilege of my life”, Martyn thanked God for blessing ACL’s work, ultimately trusting Him to open the right doors in this new chapter.
“The gospel has been declared to the nation, in mainstream and alternative media, and through the distribution of millions of gospels by volunteers. In my view, this is our greatest achievement.”
Founded in 1995, the ACL is a non-party partisan, non-denominational grassroots movement based in Canberra.
Motivated by faith, its simply-stated aim is to make Godly truth public.
Authentic attended the Forum thanks to Bob McCoskrie and Family First. After listening to Martyn’s session – Stepping Into The Crosshairs: Answering Secular Culture Through Courage – we sat down to chat.
Combining notes from his Forum session, and our chat, Martyn – whose background is in youth work and as a lawyer – and I discuss faith, the importance of having Christian voices in society, sharing Jesus authentically and having “courage in the crosshairs”.
Firstly, you grew up in a Christian home, and were involved in youth ministry for six years. What’s something you’ve learned walking with Jesus you can share with readers?
I did. God was graciously at work in my life from a young age. Our only hope – the ultimate Truth – is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To anyone who – as a Christian – looks at the world feeling downcast about what we see around us, be encouraged. Be grounded in an eternal perspective. God’s in control, bringing all things under submission as part of His ultimate plan. Every amazing story – or testimony – is forged through lows and highs, defeats and victories. If – at times – the lows are as low as they are, then Jesus’ redemptive plan is an amazing story. We’ll rejoice one day we were part of it.
I love mountain biking. When you’re off-road, it’s important to keep your eyes on the right thing. If you’re worried about hitting something, don’t look at it! The more you do, the more you’re likely to do just that. Look to Jesus, never losing sight of His ‘big picture’.
Can you describe the work – and role – God has called ACL to?
ACL is a grassroots movement motivated by faith, seeking to make truth public. The key burden is to intercede for the cause of Godly, Biblical truth, righteousness and justice in public places and spheres. Through being a politically effective voice, ACL wants to see Christian principles and ethics accepted, and influencing, the way we’re governed, do business and relate to each other as a society. Over 220,000 individuals now share that vision to be a voice for Godly truth in the world we live in.
Can you reflect on your five years as ACL managing director?
ACL isn’t just me – our team is amazing. We’re only here today because God brought key moments across our path. In seeking to be obedient, we responded. Those sorts of things propel us forward, but we never take credit. It’s God. Thinking about past grace from Him gives me enormous confidence for whatever the future holds.
What have you most enjoyed about your role? It undoubtedly brings with it a level of scrutiny – what sustains you despite that?
I often reiterate in several contexts, including ACL’s ‘The Download’ programme – which is run for 18-25 year olds – that persecution is an inescapable feature of the life of whoever seeks to serve God, standing for what’s true, good and right. “…everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” – 2 Timothy 3:12 (NIV).
Personally, a key is knowing that while I’ve been here, this is where God’s called me. He uses us as we carry out our work. I probably find speaking publicly the hardest part! And yet – for example – after I spoke here at the Forum, two people told me the content pointed them to Jesus. As He leads, I get that regularly. I have to accept that’s a signal of effectiveness where He’s placed me. It’s as though those conversations are often also confirmations. When we face the ‘slings and arrows’ from a hostile society, that’s also, ultimately, God’s power at work, and on display, in the world.
Walking through those experiences – just as Jesus did – points people to the Father, God works through us. He’ll use every ‘arrow’. Your testimony is a witness for His glory.
At the Forum, you said, “…what we do through our courage is directly downstream from who we are in character…” How important is it to have Christian voices represented in our world, despite society often wanting us to be silent?
I’ve heard it said we ‘live for an audience of one’. That audience is God. Yes, there’re a lot of potential audiences looking on. But, in my own walk, I’ve found it’s incredibly freeing to realise God’s, ultimately, the only one we serve. Joseph’s response, for example, when tempted was based on knowing he only served God. “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” Genesis 39:9 (NIV).
We must approach situations and conversations ‘in Christ’, with His heart, right?
Absolutely. Isaiah 6:8 says, “I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (NIV).
Isaiah’s response is, in essence, an acknowledgement he can’t go in his own strength. He needs God. Similarly, we can’t do anything in our own strength. Christ in us is the beginning of the type of character we must have to be effective in today’s world.
I believe God’s still asking the same question He had for Isaiah. I’ve often asked myself why I get involved in the ‘public square’, so to speak. The ultimate answer, for any of us, has to be we want to point people to God – and be an authentic reflection of His truth. He alone is the truth, and the world needs that.
Also during the Forum, you unpacked some great truths from Matthew 5. Jesus calls us to be salt and light in the world. How do we effectively do that?
Jesus Christ’s rule must begin in our own heart and mind. Then, the outflow will be His character produced in our lives. John 11:35 says, “Jesus wept”. Why? Because of the impact of sin and death. If Jesus was compelled to act – displaying the Father – to a world trapped in sin and evil, then we His followers – as His hands and feet – must never lose sight of that as our motivating force. Christ’s heart in us for people who don’t know Him means that in observing a world trapped by darkness and sin, we too are grieved. Jesus’ example is that we don’t see anyone as an enemy to be destroyed, but a soul to be saved.
We’re called to share Jesus, but the fear of man often stops us. How can we overcome that and boldly speak Godly truth? What steps can we take to be more effective in sharing our faith?
The key to being ‘salt’ is to not compromise – in the sense of holding fast to Godly truth. Being ‘light’ in the world – as Jesus intends – means to be visible, known for Who it is we believe in and standing on His truth. Said another way, sharing our faith. It takes practice. Ultimately Jesus’ visibility in and through us – like a lamp on a stand – is what will change the world around us. Find ways to make Him known – ‘practice’ sharing Jesus. The first time your voice might shake, or you might feel you made mistakes. Keep going. You learn by doing – God will equip you. Just start. If you trip and fall, get up and keep going.
Regarding stepping into the crosshairs and answering secular culture courageously, how should we, as Christians, boldly live life authenticity displaying Jesus Christ?
Colossians 1:20 says, “…through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in Heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.” (NIV). Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is the ultimate peace, pointing us to God. Therefore, that’s our starting point. Our most important calling is – first and foremost – to share the gospel, pointing people towards Jesus’ sacrifice for us.
Whatever our sphere of influence, our great charge from God is to share Christ. We’re to be people who – through being salt and light in the world – initiate the question ‘why?’. Christians living in such a way in our world means the answer becomes visible like light. That answer is Jesus.
You can authentically ‘wear’ your faith on your sleeve. Jesus is the answer to ‘real world’ questions being asked. The best starting point, as you look to feel equipped, is always the Bible. Charles Spurgeon said, “…live in the Bible, visit good books often…”. We must know our bedrock. God’s Word. You’ll only start to apply Biblical principles as you read them. If you need to, find other books which help you systematically study His Word. For me, clarity – and what it is to live in authenticity – comes from intentionally reading the Bible, praying and keeping short accounts with the Lord.
How do you ensure a healthy ‘balance’ in life and how important is it to have Godly influences who point us to Jesus?
Good question. Actually, another of those ‘bedrock’ spiritual disciplines, I believe, is accountability. Yes, we’re called to be accountable! In a work sense, as much as I have my role, as a CEO if you will, I need people in my own life whose authority I come under. My dad is one of those people. He’s a wise, Godly man. I ring him every Sunday night. He always knows when something’s not right. I also have a couple of other people I can go to.
Paul says to pray without ceasing. So, that’s one discipline also I’m implementing – filling each day with a constant attitude of prayer. Balance wise, I think it’s important we realise that if we need to rest, we can. Jesus is a great example of that intentionality. I build into my schedule a good rhythm of breaks. There never seems to be the perfect time, but it’s okay to turn your phone off!
Martyn, thank you. Any final encouragement?
Rejoice. Great is your reward in Heaven. That’s our joy when we seek Christ over comfort. Think eternally, always being aware of God’s ‘big picture’. Whenever we do lose that sense of eternity, we’re prone to lose our joy. That’s often when we feel discouraged and defeated. When Jesus returns, only those things we did with an eternal perspective will last. And, we’ll be so grateful we did those as unto the Lord. Watch for opportunities He provides to display the Father-heart of God, and live with purpose – the intentional perspective that our treasure is, ultimately, in the Lord.
Is there any hope? Yes. Jesus. The gospel continues to spread world-wide. And, God’s at work and in control.
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About the author
Jeremy Smith is editor of, and one of the writers for, Authentic Magazine.
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