Dr Peter Ryan was a missionary with Pioneers in Namibia teaching at NETS (the Namibia Evangelical Theological Seminary). He and his wife Paula returned to Australia in 2017. Peter has completed his doctoral studies in Mark’s Gospel at Moore College and now serves as the (very able) director of Cornhill: a “Bible handling” course to help people prepare for ministry – especially in communicating God’s word. Cornhill has two centres – one at Moore College on a Tuesday and one in Rooty Hill on a Thursday. Peter and his wife Paula have two children. He talks to SIMON MANCHESTER, who is also one of Cornhill’s visiting teachers.


Peter, do you miss the work in Namibia? What was great and what was difficult?

Serving in Namibia was an immense privilege. We met some wonderful Christian brothers and sisters and had the opportunity to share life with them. We learned a lot about life and cross-cultural ministry and had the joy of helping train people for ministry. There were also some significant challenges: health issues, opposition to gospel-shaped ministry, and shared grief. We do miss Namibia. Our son Ethan was born there, and our daughter Imogen has great memories of living there and we all talk often about going back to visit. 


Does the seminary in Namibia provide students with real depth in their theology and ministry potential?

NETS is the only evangelical seminary in Namibia. It is a small and developing institution offering a variety of levels of training in residential and distance programs. It was exciting to be involved in curriculum review and development and in teaching students from many parts of Africa. In my time there I witnessed students growing in their love and knowledge of God and in their skills for ministry.  


Have you always had a special interest in training people, and for what in particular?

I have had a passion for training others for ministry for a long time. It began more than 25 years ago at my home church where I was involved in training young adults for youth and young adult ministry. It was what took me to Namibia, and now to Cornhill. It continues to be a great joy for me to be involved in training others.


Coming back to studies in Mark – a foundational book for Christians – did you find yourself discovering new riches that surprised you?

Yes! I learned an enormous amount from closely studying Mark’s Gospel and I was constantly struck afresh by what a wonderful king Jesus is. I explored the motif of proclamation in Mark and discovered that while the Gospel of Mark lacks an explicit commissioning statement (such as is found in Matthew and Luke), the call to involvement in the task of proclaiming the gospel throughout the world permeates the book. Mark remains my favourite book of the Bible! 


Was the invitation to lead the Cornhill Sydney work a perfect opportunity for your love of teaching and training?

When we came back from Namibia I was not expecting to find myself at Cornhill, and I am just so thankful to be serving there now. It is a unique and exciting ministry setting. The students at Cornhill are an eclectic mix of ages and ministry backgrounds, but they all share a passion for digging into God’s word and thinking hard about how to teach it to others. 


Why is the training program called “Cornhill”?

It started in England in 1991 at a place called Cornhill in London. It was founded by David Jackman under the leadership and influence of Dick Lucas (the then rector of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate). The Cornhill program began in Sydney in 2011, and in 2021 we started a second cohort of the course at Rooty Hill, in Sydney’s west.


Can you explain the usefulness of Cornhill in a city that already has excellent theological colleges?

Sydney is blessed with some wonderful Bible colleges (our time in Africa helped us to appreciate this even more). Despite this, I think Cornhill serves an important purpose in Sydney for people either preparing for college or getting better equipped for a role in their church. Our motto is “Getting the Word right and getting it across”. We have a particular focus on practical training to teach God’s word to others. Cornhill provides an opportunity to learn from experienced preachers, give numerous talks and receive feedback in a supportive environment. The program is only one day a week during term time and so fits well alongside ministry service, ministry apprenticeships, or for those taking a day out from their work to study. 


What does a Tuesday or Thursday look like – the program, but also the students who take part?

In 2023 we have just over 50 students studying with us. The students at Cornhill include both men and women and range from young adults doing MTS apprenticeships or Cru internships to people preparing for mission, people already serving in parish ministry who want to work on their preaching, and lay and retired people who serve in various ways in their churches. They come from different denominations and backgrounds and have a range of ministry experience. This mix is one of the real delights of Cornhill and helps ensure that talk feedback is rich and stretching. It is such a joy to see younger and older Christians spurring each other on to serve Jesus!

A regular Cornhill day involves a mix of subjects. Our program includes foundational subjects (such as Old Testament Overview and our Introduction to Teaching the Bible), as well as some subjects focused on learning to read and teach different genres in the Bible, and text-to-sermon subjects where we focus on a particular book of the Bible and work on how to teach that well. We have some very experienced Bible teachers such as David Cook, David Peterson, yourself and Luke Tattersall, who model how they teach particular sections of Scripture and oversee our preaching groups. 

We also do a number of occasional workshops on topics such as writing and leading Bible studies, giving a wedding talk and teaching the Bible to older people. We share morning tea and lunch together and have a lot of fun. I love my Tuesdays and Thursdays at Cornhill.


How have students responded to what you offer?

The students are incredibly enthusiastic about digging into the Bible and spurring each other on in their service of Jesus. It is such a privilege to see students growing in their love for God’s word, their understanding of it and their ability to pass it on to others. 


How many students would normally go on to theological training and what would others use Cornhill for?

Over the past 10 years more than 40 of our students have gone on from Cornhill into further theological training. Others have already done theological training, are in ministry and looking to sharpen their preaching. Others have continued in various word ministries at their churches or in schools or chaplaincy or on the mission field.  


Has there been a wider interest in Cornhill – students online, for example, or people wanting it in their own town?

Last year we started Cornhill Distance for students outside Sydney. We have a small and enthusiastic cohort who join us online each Thursday from Victoria, as well as students in Queensland, Canberra and regional NSW. By God’s grace it has been a wonderful encouragement, and we are planning to continue it this year.


What would you suggest to those who want to give a day each week to growing through Cornhill?

Come and join us! Again, I absolutely love my Tuesdays and Thursdays at Cornhill. It is such a joy to spend time with others who want to look intently into Scripture and grow in their ability to teach it to others. The culture and community of Cornhill is a delight, and the opportunity for practical feedback is incredibly valuable. If you are involved in any sort of word ministry (or thinking about preparing yourself for such ministry in the future), it’s a great place to be equipped and encouraged.