From January 25-March 13, my family had the unique opportunity to live (if 7 weeks counts as “living” instead of “visiting”) in another country. Home base was London, but as a family we spent time in Leicester (1 day), Oxford (2 days), Cambridge (3 days), and Edinburgh (7 days). I also traveled to Leyland (Lancashire County), Haywards Heath (Sussex County), Nottingham, Birmingham, Belfast, and Hamburg (Germany).

As I feared, with 38 sermons, 17 panels, and 6 children, I got very little work done on my dissertation, but we did manage to see a lot of great sites, including: London Bridge, Tower Bridge, the Shard, the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater, the Tower of London, Parliament (a personal tour), Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Hamley’s Toy Store (three times!), the changing of the guard, the British Museum, the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, St. Paul’s Cathedral, a walk through Oxford, a tour of Cambridge, Warwick Castle, Edinburgh Castle, The Elephant House (where the first Harry Potter book was written), Greyfriars, St. Giles, St. Columba’s, St. Mary’s, St. Helen’s, Dickens’ church, C.S. Lewis’s boyhood church, and a number of other churches I found more interesting than my children (I should clarify: more interesting than my children found them, not more interesting than I find my children).

So what else? Well, here are a 30 quick thoughts (trust me, they won’t take long).

1. The body of Christ is wonderful. No matter where you are in the world, when you walk into a good, gospel church, you enter a sweet and familiar culture.

2. No one does fast food like America. Sure, they have McDonald’s, Burger King, and KFC. But for fast food that is cheap, easy, and fast, there’s no place like home.

3. Speaking of which, I asked my kids halfway through the trip what store/restaurant they would most like right next to our place in London. They said Little Caesar’s. I agreed. A five dollar Hot N Ready would have been a welcome sight.

4. Oh my, is London expensive. Anytime we sat down to eat somewhere, it was easily $100 for our family. Groceries, gas, housing, land–everything is cheaper in the States, especially in places like Lansing, Michigan.

5. It’s surprising the little things you miss. I couldn’t find root beer anywhere. Ditto for deep dish pizza and good tortilla chips. And Brits don’t do sweets for breakfast. What’s wrong with waffles and maple syrup?

6. Which reminds me: if you’ve ever been to an American summer picnic with rich sausages, potatoes, and heaping piles of baked beans and thought “You know what, this would be perfect immediately after waking up in the morning,” then England is the place for you.

7. I’m a terribly picky eater anyway, so people have asked, “Was there any food in the UK you really liked?” Yes. They have some great cookies (er, biscuits). I had a delicious beef stew in Northern Ireland. And I’m now a fan of banoffee pie.

8. If I was single or married without children, living in a big city like London would be great fun. So much to do and see. So easy to get around without a car. Life is more challenging when you have a gaggle of loud, American children.

9. We were a bit of a freak show. I remember my daughter saying, “Why do they keep staring?” But that was the exception. Even if the presence of six kids was invariably shocking to people, most folks were accommodating, helpful, and curious in a friendly way.

10. I don’t know if public transportation will ever work to the same extent in America (we love our cars), but it works in the UK–very well in my experience. Once you get the hang of it, the country is easily traversable by bus, by Tube, and by train. I’m sure Brits have their stories to tell, but in our 7 weeks, everything was always on time and always dependable. And it still amazes me how little security rigmarole there is getting on and off.

11. For better and worse, I think the preaching in England allows for much less of the man’s personality to come through.

12. I found the preaching to be more reliably expository (I’m comparing reformedish evangelicals in both countries). We talk a lot about expository preaching, but I’m not sure that across the board we’ve been trained to do it very well.

13. I was often told I have a British sense of humor. I took that as a compliment.

14. Even among the Brits, however, there are differences in the humor. The Englishman makes fun of himself, the Irish make fun of each other, and the Scots make fun of the English.

15. Everywhere I went I asked people what they thought of the UK referendum to leave the EU. I found the opinions to be evenly split. If I had to guess, I’d say Brexit happens. I’ll be sure to pray for June 23 (which happens to be my birthday).

16. Everywhere I went–and I mean every single place I visited–people asked me about Donald Trump. They are laughing at us, folks, not with us.

17. Our hosts could not have been more welcoming. Our kids will always remember Mr. William and Mrs. Janet. Thank you!

18. Shrinking our living space down to 700 square feet was much more of a challenge for the parents than for the children.

19. Feel free to write me off as hopelessly American and too worldly, but churches in the UK (especially non-state churches) do not pay their pastors enough.

20. Almost everywhere you look in London, you’ll find a beautiful building, a piece of very old history, a stunning work of art or architecture, and a Pret a Manger. (“Why are there so many Pret Managers?!” my kids often asked.)

21. America is so young and has so much space.

22. And faster and more reliable wifi. That’s what Lee Greenwood is talking about.

23. I was caught once during a conference texting on my phone. This would have been completely normal at a Christian conference in the States. People here are constantly monkeying with their phones while people are singing or someone is preaching. I saw this much, much less in the UK and in Germany. Phones everywhere, but not during a sermon.

24. I think I could get into rugby. Cricket? Sorry, it still seems boring (which, I know, is how you feel about baseball).

25. As a student at the University of Leicester, I feel it is entirely my right to jump on the Leicester City bandwagon. Five points clear with eight games to play.

26. The reformedish evangelicals in the UK are Bible people. Everything is about the Bible–their training, their preaching, their discipleship, their small groups, their internships. I don’t think the fired-up Christian reads as much, and he or she is probably less conversant with systematic theology, but they are constantly in the word.

27. Every time I travel overseas I come home recommitted to writing books. It’s hard to exaggerate the strategic global importance of Christian publishing in the States–the way in which good books do so much good (and bad books can do so much harm).

28. The corporate worship was familiar, but with a few noticeable differences. In the English speaking world, and even in Germany, Christians are singing the Gettys and Sovereign Grace (plus a few homegrown songs I hadn’t heard). The church services I attended were simple and straightforward. There was less fuss about style (which was refreshing), but also less attention to liturgy (perhaps swinging the pendulum a bit too far in the direction of informality). One of my favorite things: there was always a long, thoughtful prayer full of rich (but never pretentious) intercession.

29. What a run along the Thames! I never post workouts online, but I was tempted by the 10k I did which took me past the Globe, past the Millennium Bridge, past The Eye, over the Westminster Bridge (wave to Parliament and Big Ben), down along the north bank, past St. Paul’s, around the Tower of London, over the Tower Bridge, past the Shard, and back home.

30. I saw wonderful gospel work happening across the UK and in Germany. Christians across denominational boundaries are working together (but not ignoring theological distinctives) to plant churches and train workers. The work was sometimes big and obviously impressive, but often small and slow (which makes it even more impressive). It was a blessing to see the word and work in another part of the world. The cultural context may have been different, but the state of lost people is still the same, the gospel is still the same, and the ways in which God uses good leaders, good churches, good preaching, good books, and vibrant prayer is the same there as it is here.

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19 thoughts on “30 Thoughts on Our 50 Days Overseas”

  1. Ken Abbott says:

    [Sigh] Now you make me long to go back! I had the great privilege (at the behest of the US Air Force) to reside in the UK for a total of six years of my life–first as a small boy, then again as an adult. England has seeped deep into my bones.

  2. Ron says:

    What? We can’t even get a link to a bonoffee pie recipe or Wikipedia Link! Let me help a brother out.

    Welcome back Pastor Kevin. Looking forward to seeing you next month at T4G.

  3. Mark says:

    “Why are there so many Pret a Mangers in London” is a question that regularly plagues me as well and I’ve lived here ten years.

  4. Phil S says:

    Fascinating perspective – thank you. We’re about to experience it the other way round so looking forward to seeing some of the opposites!

  5. Jim says:

    As best I can tell, the unending search for good food is what drove the expansion of the British empire.

  6. Sally says:

    Good article,
    You mentioned the UK as England ,Scotland and Ireland but you forgot Wales! We are next door to England ..
    And as a Brit, yes we truly are flabagarsted about Mr Trump..

  7. Dean says:

    Cricket seems to have rubbed off on the Asian Indians & the English seem to like their curries. To think you were just so close to the Netherlands from either side with all its culinary creations.

  8. Neil says:

    So interesting to read your observations, I have been in the UK since 1997 originally from South Africa, and I share your views largely, I think really the standard of preaching has improved in the UK over the time I have been here.

  9. Josh D says:

    I’m a Grand Rapids guy currently studying abroad in Oxford for the year (I was blessed by your preaching at St. Ebbes) and I agree with everything on this list (Except I think I could get used to cricket). That comment about their focus on The Bible and less emphasis on systematic theology is certainly what I’ve found to be the case. I’ve really been blessed by that style of discipleship and preaching in Oxford. It complements my more systematic upbringing.
    I think I might just be lazy and share this article with family and friends if they ask me for my thoughts on living in England. Very perceptive and well-written.

  10. Mark Carter says:

    Would anyone have a link to a list of reformist, Biblically based churches in the UK. Every time I go all I can find are charasmatic churches full of people looking for an experience.

  11. Susan Thompson says:

    Hi Mark, try the FIEC; Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches The clue is in the name. Not charismatic, not mega; but local, biblical church families where you’d be made very welcome, brother.

  12. Hi Mark Carter. If you’re after those type of churches with a more anglican flavour, check out

  13. I’m from Northern Ireland currently living in the Republic of Ireland (although been to London quite a few times) and I had to Google ‘pret-a manger’. We’re always learning Kev. Thanks for your teaching and fellowship with Crosslinks in Armagh

  14. Derek Rishmawy says:

    Biggest takeaway? We have the same birthday. That explains a lot.

  15. neville briggs says:

    When I look around, it appears that there are a lot of Christians who are struggling just to make enough to live on, let alone travel around the world to sample exotic food. They are not very educated and don’t know how to make sermons that could be admired far and wide. I have seen them just sit by the bed of the dying down the road and pray, just help to minister to the broken hearted around the corner, and offer a helping hand as they go along the local street.
    A pat on the back and word of encouragement is all they can manage sometimes out of meagre resources.
    They couldn’t pass a theological quiz if they tried. All they know, is to do what they see Jesus doing, binding the wounds and reconciling the estranged.

    ” But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first ”

  16. Ben Thorp says:

    It’s worth pointing out that London is *by far* the most expensive place to live in the UK, so of course it’s expensive to eat out.

    Additionally, whilst I’m glad you’re wanting to write more books, I hope your time here has helped you understand how vastly different the culture is in the UK compared to the US, and that we could maybe do with some more UK writing ;) Whilst the US is still struggling with an element of “cultural” Christianity, and the shift into a more “post-Christian” culture, we’re way ‘ahead’ of you – in Scotland (where I live) we’re talking 2% evangelical Christians, and within my context we’re talking 3rd or 4th generation of non-church goers.

  17. Christian says:

    London is indeed very expensive! I’m Dutch and we went on vacation to London a few years ago and it was also our experience. But is one of the most beautiful cities I know. Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s are just magnificent!

    Also in the Netherlands people are flabbergasted about Trump, but that is the case in most European countries. The reason why he is taken seriously is a complete mystery to European people. Ofcourse whe can think of reasons as that he speaks the language of the average American etc. and give voice to the distrust of people in politics and politicians. But even then…

    One of the great things of America is, as Kevin writes, the space you have in America. In the Netherlands we live with so many people in such a small space. Certainly the cities are so densed and crowded. I went to America in 2004 and I’ve seen different places and cities (Washington D.C., Denver, Las Vegas, but also smaller towns in Colorado, Arizona, Utah), but all the space is so wonderful! The cities have far more space, because the old citycenters of Europe are not build on large houses and modern traffic. It such a good thing when you have that amount of space! But the great advantage of European cities are the old buildings and the history of ages. That is really lacking in America, logically.

  18. neville briggs says:

    Ben tells us that in Scotland there is 2% evangelical Christians and 3rd and 4th generation non-church goers. Is this where the ” leadership” of the church has taken the UK. All those years of sermons in lavish buildings, lovely choirs, shelves full of books by learned doctors, bishops sitting in the House of Lords, professional vicars in every town and village and the end result is a wasting away of the church.
    Why would that be ??
    Are all those authorities and leaders going to take responsibility, they led, they gave the orders, they made the policies, they said, follow us, do what we say.
    Why did Jesus depict Himself outside the Laodicean church seeking admission.

  19. Dave says:

    We appreciate your visits over here – though sadly I didn’t make it to your talks this time. So come back soon. Interesting to see how we are seen. I wonder though whether what you saw was primarily a reflection of for want if a better term the proc trust stream of reformed evangelicalism. I would say I’m defence of our interest in doctrine that the principals at two of our key seminaries are systematic I and reflecting a strong emphasis in the syllabus. Preaching is pro ably more variable for better or worse across wider evangelicalism and even the reformed bit. And sometimes the approach restricts the exposition not just the personality. Also I think that reformed influence does still to some extent overflow so it’s not just the official reformed tribe churches where you’ll find people who know & appreciate the doctrines of grace.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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