This rather fresh-faced young man has received endorsements from comedy professionals such as Miranda Hart and Christian author Adrian Plass. He is on a mission to help your church make communicating the Gospel message easier. Through his creative one-man show which combines elements of magic and comedy Tom can make your guests feel comfortable, laugh and also communicate something of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
We recently had the pleasure of a wide-ranging chat which included a laugh or two along the way, whilst also talking about some serious matters like why we don't invite our friends to church and the value of sponsoring a child through the work of Compassion.
I'm here with Tom Elliott, apparently he's a comedian. So say something funny. That's normally the first thing isn't it?
All my comedy comes in within my magic, so I'm not a stand-up comedian. I don't do 'jokes', jokes.
You do magic tricks and humour for churches and for Christian events at the moment. What is the point behind those things?
I use comedy and illusion as a way of breaking down barriers and building relationships and rapport and then opening hearts to the message of Jesus.
You're moving your focus away from church events and more into what people might call a more 'secular' environment. Is that correct?
Yes. What people have realised is that actually Church so often in itself, the building, can be a barrier to some people in terms of accessing events where we can share faith with them. So I am on a bit of a mission to take the gospel into a mainstream space.
When I was deciding which route to take people would say to me, "Tom, why don't you go and be a mainstream comedian or be a mainstream magician. Do the clubs, do the circuit, you never know where things this could go, and then in interviews and things you can share your faith." That's great there's lots of attractive benefits to that, but I felt, I am called to be an evangelist, to be a Christian communicator. Part of that is inviting people to respond to God.
So what I'm trying to do is do comedy and illusion in the mainstream space trying to get churches to work together in unity. To hire a local theatre and bring me in. We'll do an evening of comedy. It's really lighthearted, quite theatrical, but at the same time share the gospel without any compromise.
So how did you start on this path of comedy and magic. Did you just wake up one day and think I will try and escape from a straitjacket today?
I started doing it in school with a friend of mine, at the time we were just doing kids parties, don't do them any more, he wasn't a Christian and he went and get proper job and I, at that point, felt God say to me "I want to use what you do for a bigger purpose for His Kingdom.
So that set you down that path. Did you work with organisations or were you always going it alone?
No it was just me, over time I have connected with different organizations and things. We did a big fundraising giveaway project for my DVD with Urban Saints. We raised five thousand pounds to give away seventeen hundred copies of my DVD to young people from non-Christian backgrounds. I'm also an ambassador for Compassion, so I do a lot for them. This year I am on a mission to see 200 children sponsored and lifted out of poverty. I sponsor a child myself you can tell from the letters from the child the impact that the work of Compassion has.
How old is your child that you sponsor?
He's nine now.
So there is some real interaction coming back from the child? I sponsor a little boy who is four and a half, so obviously it's his teacher that writes and it's not got that personal touch yet. As the child gets older and you see the child's progression it becomes more personal, how does that make you feel as you see those letters coming in?
I tell a story when I'm sharing on stage. One of the first letters I received from my child from Nusra who was seven years old at the time, it was two years ago. He said "Tom I want to encourage you with a Psalm." It was a Psalm about God's provision and as I was sat in my living room I was moved because I read this letter. It's a letter from a 7 year old in poverty writing to me about God's provision, and I'm in my living room with everything I need to hand, a car outside and an easy life in comparison. I feel challenged and moved, it drives me to see more kids sponsored lifted out of property.
It's a great organisation! I love working with them, we've done it! What you are giving isn't in a lot of money - especially not a rich comedian like you!
I'm certainly not rich! I think it's less than 83 pence a day, it's £25 a month essentially, but that changes their lives. That gives them nutrition, health care, education, absolutely transformed. Do you know I think it change takes two lives actually. I don't think it just changes the life of the child, I think it changes the life of the sponsor as well. As I said I was moved and challenged as I read those letters and I continue to be so.
What I love about Compassion particularly is, and this is what stands out for me about Compassion as opposed to other great charities doing great work, is that they are Christ centered, they're all about showing Jesus' compassion to the poor and love for the poor. If you follow Jesus you can't ignore the fact that Jesus was passionate about helping poor people not only poor in poverty but in spirit as well.
But then they are child focused as well, they are all about that child developing and that child knowing that he or she is loved and cared.
It is the fact that money goes to that child via a church which is distributed to that family. The priority is the child that you sponsor but the whole family benefits from it. Then they are able to not only buy food for one child but the other children in the family and the people benefit.
I interviewed a former sponsor child recently called Roni and he now lives in England he works as a teacher or teaching assistant and he was saying "Tom, you'll never know the impact on the wider family that one sponsor has." He said "I was sponsored, but he said that impacted on my family, even on the first day I came home and I was able to give a bit of hope to the family that I had been sponsored." That grew because he then went on to get a job, he now provides for his family, brothers and sisters have been sponsored. The whole family in a sense have been saved just by one person choosing to sponsor Roni.
Going back to what we were talking about earlier, you said you were doing some childrens parties and things like that which you don't do now. You said you were a Christian and he wasn't, how did you come to that place of faith and decided that that was for you?
I was privileged to be brought up in a Christian family. My parents belonged to the salvation army in Gloucester, and still do. At the age of about 17 I went to a youth camp and I remember particularly towards the end of the week and kind of brought together the whole theme was "purpose driven life." Little did I know that John 10:10 "The fullness of life" would become my life verse a few years later and that was the verse that God wants me to use to speak on.
I remember just encountering God at that camp and being inspired by that book "Purpose Driven Life" in different ways, and just really sensing a God of joy. A God who wants us not to live boring standard life, but we serve God who invites us onto an adventure. Sometimes that adventure is great, sometimes it's challenging, but it is an adventure all the way.
I did notice that you have a few books on your stall. You have your DVD on there but there are also a couple of books as well. Are these ones that you've written and what's the purpose behind them?
I participated in a book called "Does God LOL?" It's compiled by a guy called Frankie Mulgrew who is Jimmy Cricket's son. If you know Jimmy Cricket the comedian from the 70s, 80s, I barely existed. It was his son that compiled this book, and he basically compiled a load of comedians, some Christian, some not, answering the question does God laugh out loud. Mostly it's famous comedians and then you’ve got me. So they are basically answering that question.
The other book is about sharing Jesus which has nothing to do with me. I have it as a resource from my friends at Share Jesus International, Andy Frost heads that up. It's just a bunch of creative resources. The reason I've got it is that I am all about encouraging Christians to be creative about the way they share their faith.
I think it's something that we need to do more in the church. So let's find find new avenues to find new venues and kind of get out there with our faith.
How would you encourage somebody who was maybe a little bit shy, not quite so outgoing as you are, to maybe make small steps to kind of be able to share their story in some way?
I think the easiest way possible really is, and it still requires a little bit of bravery but then whenever you talk about faith it's going to require a little bit of bravery, so for that you just need to pray. The easiest way I think is... Monday mornings are a great evangelistic opportunity because you can say to your friends "how was your weekend?" And if they are a good friend they will ask you about yours, and you can ask them what they did and they'll ask you what you did. You can talk to them about that you did on Saturday and then the brave bit is to talk about you did on Sunday. You don't have to say much, just the beginnings of a conversation that might start them saying "here's a Christian, what does church look like for you?" "What is your experience of God?" You can begin to open up the dialogue.
It's funny because I know lots of people who are into football, but I like Formula One. So people ask did you see the game, so I say "No, did you watch the race?" I'm not scared to say "Did you watch the Formula One race?" but I am scared to say "I went to church."
I totally empathise with that. I have been there in that place as well but more and more I am convinced that we live in a society that is more spiritual than ever. They just don't want to label it with Christianity our job is to change perceptions of what people think about church. Do you know I've been talking to someone I know called Michael Harvey, and Mike has done extensive research on invitation to church on a global scale. He believes that 85% of Christians have no intention of ever inviting a friend to church. He said it's not that they don't want to share the gospel with friend but they have no intention of acting upon it in terms of the invitation to church.
Do you think we are embarrassed by our churches?
I think so and part of this research is that there is a fear of the unknown. People think oh what if I invite them to church and is the one Sunday I preach on hell or money or something awkward like that. But what if this is the Sunday that actually they'll enjoy? Sometime you just have to trust God in that. Sometimes God works in the most unlikely, where we think it's all going to go potholed and wrong, God works through.
Yes. I mean the church is an alien environment if you are not used to it, isn't it? You come in and people are standing up and sitting at certain times. Sometimes you stand up to pray and sometimes you sit down and bow you head, the same with songs. We all sing from a projector, some people wave their arms in the air, it's not an easy environment to walk into. I think we feel more uneasy about it than the people that we invite in!
Absolutely. I think you are absolutely right, and that's why I do what I do. That's why I am talking about going into the mainstream space. I will make it easier both for the Christians in terms of invitation, but also for the non-christian, if church is too big a step, I just want them to know Jesus and church will follow.
If you would like to organise an event with Tom Elliott sharing the message of Jesus for your Church or churches in your area then please contact him through his website at https://tom-elliott.org
If you want to know more about the work of Compassion or help Tom towards his goal of seeing 200 lives changed this year then visit this page http://www.tom-elliott.org/compassion