For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord;
and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.
2 Corinthians 4:5
‘I knew his father, his grandfather, his great-grandfather, and his great-great-grandfather.’ These were the words spoken with great gusto by Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones at the ordination of Gwynn Williams in Bethlehem, Sandfields, Aberavon in 1977. Gwynn’s father, Rev J. D. Williams of Bethany, Ammanford, came from the same area of mid-Wales in which Dr Lloyd-Jones had been raised.
Dr Lloyd-Jones’ sermon on that occasion was taken from 2 Corinthians 4:5: ‘For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.’ In many ways, these words are definitive of Gwynn’s life and ministry, demonstrated by the fact he requested the same text to be preached at his funeral.
The call to minister in Sandfields was somewhat unexpected. While studying Mathematics at Cambridge University, with countless possibilities ahead of him, Gwynn increasingly felt a call to full-time Christian ministry, and a particular burden to minister through the medium of Welsh. However, having returned to Wales to study Theology at Aberystwyth, fully expecting to serve within a Welsh-language congregation, the door which opened was in an English-language church.
Gwynn would later refer to his time in Sandfields as his ‘finishing school’. While serving this well-established church of 230 members, he learnt many valuable lessons which would be formative for his later ministry. For many years, he gave himself to the preaching of God’s Word, to prayer and shepherding the flock in Sandfields.
In 1983, Gwynn accepted a call to a very different situation at the Welsh Evangelical Church in Cardiff. This newly-established church, with a membership at the time of 14, is where Gwynn would minister faithfully for the next 30 years. However, while the church was different in many ways, Gwynn dedicated himself to the same priorities as before. His clearest strength was his gift of preaching – authoritative and tender, logical and impassioned, biblical and contemporary.
Over the years Gwynn refused many approaches from other churches, feeling that God had called him to this place. And the Lord blessed his ministry with steady growth. He had confidence in the God-ordained role of preaching, and the ability of God’s Word, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to transform lives and situations. By the grace of God, he had a strong influence on the lives of many, including those who would themselves go on to serve, preaching not themselves but Christ Jesus the Lord.
Evangelical Movement of Wales
Gwynn’s link with the Evangelical Movement of Wales (EMW), or Y Mudiad (the Movement) as he would refer to it in Welsh, stretch from the days of his youth until his final days on earth. In 1969, when the Welsh Evangelical Magazine (Y Cylchgrawn Efengylaidd) — the publication which had led to the formation of the Movement — was celebrating 21 years, two articles appeared. One by Gwynn’s father, entitled Looking Back and one by Gwynn with the title, Looking to the Future.
For Gwynn, that future meant a long association with the work of the EMW. In the 1980s and 1990s, he was a staff member working as a part-time assistant to the long-serving General Secretary, the Rev Elwyn Davies.
He served at camps as an officer and as chaplain. I recall that it was in one such camp that he and Lis began a serious courtship leading to their long marriage. Gwynn served for several years as chaplain of Camu ’Mlaen, a retreat for young people, where his warm teaching and fellowship were particularly appreciated.
He was a conference speaker at Welsh and English Conferences, and he preached a memorable sermon at the Welsh Conference of 2017 in spite of being very ill. When working for the EMW I saw his ability, as Chair of the Management Committee, to allow debate, minimise division and ensure that all had their say. He also regularly contributed to the Cylchgrawn and served for many years in various editorial roles.
Even during his last days, as Gwynn suffered the ravages of cancer, he was at his laptop almost every day preparing booklets of his sermons for publication, some of which have also been translated into English. He was busy emailing his editor and great friend, Gwyn Davies, and ensuring that Steffan Job in the North Wales office was continuing with getting the works published.
Gwynn’s contribution to the Mudiad could only have been possible through the support and care of Lis over many years. We thank God for Gwynn and for his personal and church family in Cardiff which allowed this link and contribution to the EMW to be a reality.
It was perhaps inevitable that Gwynn would be a keen supporter of student outreach. His father came to a deep assurance of faith during a student mission to Ammanford in 1946, and Gwynn himself experienced much blessing during his student days in Cambridge and Aberystwyth. Many students came to faith in Aberystwyth amid a passion for evangelism, especially in 1972-1973. Gwynn was at the heart of it as the president of the English-language Christian Union (CU) and co-founder of the Welsh-language CU. He saw the power of prayer and personal witness.
As a pastor in a university city, Gwynn’s ministry shaped generations of students. He believed in biblical preaching. Students grew in their love for Jesus and their confidence in the gospel. He also believed in prayer. He publicly prayed for the work of the CU and encouraged us to pray for our friends and to be salt and light in our courses and societies.
Gwynn made a significant contribution to the work of UCCF. He spoke at numerous team days and conferences, influencing hundreds of students and UCCF workers. I will always remember his meditation on the Lamb on the Throne and his exposition of the glory of Jesus in Colossians 1. He served on the UCCF Board, and, as chairman of the UCCF Welsh Council from 2001-2007, he helped UCCF maintain its biblical vision and principles in Wales. His wisdom and prayerful spirit will be missed by everyone.
Steffan Jones is a former UCCF staff worker in mid-Wales. As a student in Cardiff, he enjoyed the privilege of sitting under Gwynn’s ministry.
A godly servant
My personal experience of Gwynn reflects who he was and what was important to him. Before my appointment as General Secretary of the EMW, Gwynn had to carry much of the burden of running the organisation. He was a man under pressure, yet focused on the gospel and extending God’s kingdom in Wales at great personal cost. He continued as Chair of Management Committee and Management Board for some years following my appointment. In many meetings, conversations, emails and interactions he maintained his humble, godly, prayerful, wise and graciously balanced views of situations and people. He had the amazing gift of knowing, from a myriad of options, what was important. He cared deeply about people across Wales. He longed for revival. He had the utmost integrity and reliability. His final sermon at the Aber Welsh Conference was unforgettable.
Three personal memories stand out. Firstly his great love of and thankfulness for his wife, Lis, regularly acknowledging her quiet, godly life and influence on him. Secondly his appeal at the 50th Anniversary of Bryn y Groes: ‘What we are celebrating is the fact that so many of us met God here…wonderfully. What we pray now is that many more will meet him here.’ My final memory of him was when he retired from Management Board after many years of faithful service. He made no fuss. He said only a few words. He held back his tears. He knew his time here was short. The work would continue. He had invested, trained and prepared others to carry the burdens. Humble, godly, loving, gentle, kind and still longing and expecting God to come to his people — what a legacy! Thank you, Lord, for your servant.