Church has always featured in my life. My parents loved their local church and laid the foundations for being planted in church for our family. In fact, my dad Peter Dooley (affectionately known as Big Pete) loved few things more than singing in church, usually at the top of his lungs. Standing next to Dad in a Sunday service was quite the experience. He gave his all, belting out the hymns with gusto, oblivious to what anyone else thought because he was so caught up in the moment.
However, I was bored with church by my mid-teens and more interested in riding my BMX bike on Sunday mornings. Around this time, my parents decided to move our family to a more lively and contemporary church that was described as ‘Spirit-filled’. This was a gamechanger for me. In our new church, I saw God move in ways I’d never known before. Sick people were prayed for and got healed, and people gave their lives to Jesus every Sunday. I’ve written a bit about this previously, but I’d like to pick up the thread and expand on this incredibly impactful chapter of my youth. Not only did I make great friends in the youth ministry, but I had a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit in youth group. As a result, I became passionate about living for Jesus and believed that God could use me.
This led me to start praying for my high school when I was in Grade 10, because I wanted all my school friends to experience the wonder of a personal relationship with Jesus, fuelled by being planted in an awesome church. I’d get up early every morning, go down to the basement of our house and pray for my school. There wasn’t much going on in my school in terms of Christian fellowship at the time. I was part of a small Christian group – about nine of us in total – meeting at lunch time, and that was the height of Christian activity there. But I started praying that Jesus would do something in my high school and in the lives of my friends. I wish I could tell you that a great revival burst forth during my time there, but the truth is that, even though I kept praying, nothing much changed as far as I could see.
Fast forward several years. In the interim, our family had moved into the Hills district in Sydney and joined Hills Christian Life Centre, which later became Hillsong Church. I’d become a youth pastor and was involved with Youth Alive, which gathered youth groups from across New South Wales at events aimed at reaching high school students with the good news of Jesus and raising up young leaders. At one such event, some young people sought me out to share the amazing news that a revival had broken out at my alma mater. ‘We used to have a lunch-time group that outgrew the school classroom,’ they said. ‘Now that group has moved into the school sports hall because there are so many students who come. We wanted to tell you about it because we know you went to our school.’ In that moment, I heard the Holy Spirit say, ‘Your prayers are part of what’s happening in your old high school today.’
Yet my conviction to pray for my school was seeded in the youth group at my local church, where I found a faith community that welcomed me, loved me, and pointed me to Jesus. It never ceases to amaze me how the life-giving impact of a healthy church is felt far beyond its walls, often reaching much further than we know.