Former London chief exec named Free Church Moderator Designate

October 8, 2015

A former chief executive of one of London’s largest Christian organisations has been appointed as Moderator Designate of the 2016 General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland.

Rev Dr John Nicholls, who also served in Lochaber and Inverness in a ministry spanning 40 years, will take up the role at the General Assembly in May.

Dr Nicholls, 66, is widely respected as one of the most gentle and gracious ministers in the denomination.

On his appointment the former London City Mission chief executive said: “Although most of my years of ministry have been spent outside Scotland, the Free Church has been my spiritual home for over 40 years.  

“It is a great honour to be asked to serve as moderator of the next General Assembly.

“Having seen much evidence of the vitality and growth of evangelical Presbyterian Churches around the world, it is exciting to see signs of similar growth and renewal in Scotland, with the Free Church growing in membership and in the number of its congregations. 

“With record numbers of students enrolled at the Edinburgh Theological Seminary, these are days of renewed hope and expectation across the Free Church.

“In such a climate, the General Assembly becomes far more than a mere talking shop or business meeting.”

Dr Nicholls added: “And yet, the work and witness of the Free Church will only truly prosper if there is a strong and healthy passion for prayer and for the Word of God, and a genuine love to Jesus Christ, among its ministers and members.  

“That must be the most important concern of any Moderator and any Assembly.” 

Born in London in 1949, John studied at Bradford and Leeds Universities before coming to what was then the Free Church College in 1972 as a private student.

He decided to join the Free Church in 1974 and was accepted as a candidate for the ministry.

The following year he was ordained and inducted as minister in Ardnamurchan, Lochaber, before being called to the London congregation of the Free Church in 1979.

During his ministry, the congregation leased a building from the Church of England, and as Cole Abbey Presbyterian Church grew into a fellowship of over 100 members from many countries.

In 1993 John joined London City Mission as director of training and recruitment, before becoming chief executive in 2004.   Under his leadership,  the Mission’s  team of more than 100 ministry staff became more closely involved with London’s churches, initiating and supporting new ministries to the marginalised, to immigrants, and to the wider non-Christian population.  

John retired in 2013, and since then has been associate minister of the 400-strong Smithton Free Church in Inverness, as well as serving as a visiting lecturer at Edinburgh Theological Seminary. 

John has served on the Boards of various missionary organisations, including Christian Witness to Israel, Unevangelised Fields Mission, and the European Association of City Missions, and has visited ministries and taught in many countries.

He has been on the Board of the World Reformed Fellowship since 2007, and has a doctorate in practical theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. 

John co-authored ‘Streets Paved with Gold’ – a history of the London City Mission – and is a keen reader.

Married to Sarah, they have two children and four grandchildren.

He will succeed Rev David Robertson, minister of St Peter’s in Dundee, at May’s General Assembly.