2023 is a very important year for Bishop John Francis, one of Britain’s most well-known Black Church leaders. This founder of Ruach City Church, a group of churches with branches in London, Birmingham and the USA, celebrates his 40th anniversary in ministry; 30th anniversary of founding Ruach City Church; and his 25th year serving as Bishop. An in-demand preacher, with a popular TV ministry, Bishop Francis spoke with Keep The Faith about his life, his achievements and exciting ministry plans, which include a conference in Dubai in September.
KEEP THE FAITH (KTF): 2023 is a year of anniversaries for you: 40 years in ministry, 25 years serving as an ordained bishop, and 30 years since starting Ruach City Church (RCC). How do you feel when you look back and reflect on what God has done through you and your church?
BISHOP JOHN FRANCIS (BJF): I’m here at 40 years in ministry, 25 years in the bishopric, and 30 years leading and serving Ruach City Church, following God’s assignment for my life. I can’t say that time has passed quickly, or that it was plain sailing, but I’m glad that, as a pioneer, I have been able to fight for change in the church culture. I am deeply thankful and grateful to God for everything He has done through me, through our church, and through so many individuals over the years who have helped the vision of RCC to continue. The Lord has done great things and I feel honoured to have been entrusted with just a small part of His Kingdom here on earth.
KTF: RCC is one of the most well-known Black Pentecostal churches here in the UK. What have been Ruach’s three greatest achievements over the years?
BJF: I can think of so many great achievements. One was purchasing our first building in Brixton back in 1996. We have purchased other buildings since then: our building in Birmingham; the Gaumont State Theatre in Kilburn; our church in Walthamstow; 24 acres of land in Norbury; and our most recent purchase coming out of the pandemic: the Streatham Hill Theatre. Also, the tent meetings we held across London and the UK. In 2004, we held our ‘Order My Steps’ Conference in Atlanta, USA. It was a phenomenal success. The school we built in Haiti during missions trips… When I look back, there have been so many great achievements, it’s hard to pick just three!
KTF: One of RCC’s highlights is when your church hosted Tony Blair in 2006. He was the first British Prime Minister to attend a Black-majority church event. How do you feel that historic occasion impacted the church?
BJF: We hosted the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, at our ‘Power of One’ Conference, which was a pioneering initiative to encourage voters to register on the electoral roll. The tabloids cited us as the first charismatic church in the UK to host a serving British Prime Minister. I felt so proud of our church! Especially as it was not only our church that was positively impacted but other churches too. I saw members of our church become more purposefully engaged in the voting process. The community was also impacted. Following the Prime Minister’s visit, the community relations we had already established over the years were further solidified.
KTF: What emotions went through your mind when you held the special 30th anniversary services recently, where former members and leaders — plus new ones — were in attendance?
BJF: So many emotions… I felt happy, excited, and thankful to reach this 30-year anniversary milestone, especially coming out of the pandemic. It felt really good to see so many past Ruach partners and friends. There were lots of smiles, tears and hugs, as we shared many memories and looked at old pictures of ourselves back in the day! What was really encouraging was to see how many former Ruach partners are now pastors and leaders of their own churches. It was also a time of healing for many. Walking back through our doors felt like coming home. There were so many particularly moving and touching moments throughout the celebrations.
KTF: You recently announced that RCC will be setting up a housing association and building 264 houses in Norbury for people with low incomes. Can you share a bit more about this exciting initiative?
BJF: The original plan was to build a school and sports complex, but unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, our initial plans were no longer feasible and then we were presented with this great opportunity: a joint venture with Portobello Trust, which means they finance the cost of all building works. It’s exciting to have this opportunity to contribute to our local community in such a tangible way, securing the financial future of Ruach City Church and future generations. We are looking forward to seeing the completion of affordable housing on our land in Norbury and the setting up of the Housing Association. I don’t think we have embarked on a project as big as this one to date, so we feel really blessed.
KTF: You are the son of pioneering church leader, Bishop T G and Mother Elfreda Francis. What was it like growing up in the home of a pioneering church leader, and what role did faith play in your childhood?
BJF: I grew up surrounded by all things ‘old school church’! Old mothers, who loved and reprimanded you like you were their own; and old deacons, who put out the chairs and drove the church van. Church services and prayer meetings, which were sometimes extremely long and boring and, at other times were powerful, anointed and exciting. So, my church and my faith played a major role in my childhood. My mother was a powerful prayer warrior, and my father was an anointed preacher, full of wisdom and biblical revelation. I learned a lot from them. I know that I’m the man I am today because of the legacy they passed on to me.
KTF: How old were you when you became a Christian, and when did you receive the call into ministry? Do you remember your first-ever sermon?
BJF: I became a Christian when I was very young and was baptised when I was seven years old. I can’t say I recall being called. I do remember being told my first steps were taken with a Bible in my hands! So, I think I would say that I’ve been receiving prophetic words since birth, as I was born after my mother was healed from cancer. I suppose I stepped into my calling which God confirmed through various preachers who visited my father’s church over the years. I can remember giving my first exhortation in my teens. My subject was from Psalm 37, ‘Delight thyself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart’.
KTF: Many people are unaware that you have played a pivotal role in the UK gospel scene through leading the Inspirational Choir, recording albums for CBS (now Sony Music), co-presenting legendary gospel show, People Get Ready, and even being a founding member of LCGC. What do you remember about the UK gospel scene in the 80s and 90s, and what are your views on the current scene?
BJF: The gospel scene back then was exciting, with many talented singers and musicians, but the Church in general wasn’t always very accommodating, which forced our singers and musicians out to secular music companies who were always coming to our churches looking for talent. Sadly, we lost many. I’m not so involved in the gospel music scene nowadays and, to be honest, I don’t think we really experience gospel music as I knew it back then, with numerous choirs and groups. What I see is what I would call a different expression of gospel music, which focuses more on praise & worship songs — which I love — but every now and then I do miss the gospel music of the 80s and 90s. Timeless!
KTF: Aside from your work here in the UK, you have a TV ministry, and you’re regularly invited to preach across the UK and abroad. What do you enjoy most about your work as a preacher and speaker?
BJF: When I preach at home, I know I’m loved, and people appreciate the power of God working through my life. They know and trust me, and they’ve seen me minister consistently over the years. When I travel to other churches and ministries in the UK and abroad, I love to see the almost immediate transformation of people in the services, as they receive the Word I’m preaching or teaching and experience the power of God moving in their lives. I also love experiencing different cultures when I travel, which often exposes me to new and innovative ways of ‘doing church’. The other thing I love about travelling to minister is the opportunity to share with other leaders, which is always encouraging.
KTF: You’ve been in ministry for 40 years. Your wife Penny has been by your side for most of that. How have you both dealt with the highs, lows and challenges that come with being church leaders?
BJF: Penny has been a tower of strength in our 34 years of marriage. A lot has happened in ministry over the years that she wasn’t prepared for, but you would never know! In the difficult and challenging times, we stand together and always remember RCC is God’s church, and that He will bring us through and give us His wisdom for that season. The highs feel good, when they happen, so we make a point of thanking God in good times. Remembering the good times helps us get through the bad times, along with a lot of prayer and a very supportive leadership team.
KTF: It’s become evident, that Millennials and Gen Z within the Black community are losing interest in Christianity. What do you think the wider Church can do to see spiritual revival in our youth?
BJF: This is a subject that’s on my heart. As leaders in the wider Church and the Black community, we have to be intentional when thinking about what it means to be a young Christian in our times and involves having conversations and listening properly to our youth and young adults. It’s important to not get offended by what they may say, but to work towards where we can find common ground and also explore how we make church more appealing and interesting to our young people. This doesn’t mean we have to compromise, but we do need to find out how to make our churches more relevant, so that all generations will be interested in Christianity. Let’s be intentional.
KTF: In recent years, there’s been a rise in entrepreneurship within the Black Christian community. Why do you think this is, and what is your church doing to encourage it?
BJF: I didn’t see many Christian businesspeople in my youth — not as many as we see today — but there are more entrepreneurs in the Church. Perhaps because more opportunities are available to upcoming young professionals, resulting in more Black business owners and CEOs, which encourages the younger generation to know they can achieve more and aim high. Some pastors of Black churches are teaching and preaching about excelling not just in ministry callings but also in areas of business and commerce. At Ruach, we have a Business Club which was set up several years ago, so that our business owners could connect and network with like-minded and aspiring individuals. We also held our first ‘Steps2Me’ Conference which specifically catered to aspiring leaders.
KTF: Should we expect any new initiatives from Ruach City Church this year (hint, hint), like planting a church in Dubai?
BJF: We have been exploring where the next Ruach location will be. We’re looking forward to hosting our first conference in Dubai in September this year, so who knows? Perhaps the next location will be Ruach Dubai or Ruach Nigeria or Ruach Canada or Ruach Atlanta, USA… You’ll have to wait and see!
KTF: Finally, what message of hope would you like to leave with Keep The Faith readers?
BJF: We are living in uncertain times and, if we pay attention to trends, we can feel discouraged and struggle to keep going, but I’ve learnt over the years that no matter what we see happening in the communities where our churches are located, God’s Word still stands true and is the key to staying strong in our faith. So, to all Keep The Faith readers, be true to who you are and who God has called you to be. We have enough copycats! I believe what the world needs is Christians who are authentic and who stay consistently true to their faith.