Garner worked as a "Pioneer Evangelist" for the Wilson Carlile College of Evangelism, a centre for the training of Christian evangelists, run by the Church Army, an organisation within which he held the rank of Captain. In February 2007, he wrote "A Call for Apostles Today" (ISBN 9781851746477), which argues that individual apostles, and groups, working in parallel with churches, are a more effective way of promoting Christianity than are churches alone. He was also the director of the Free Spirit Trust, an organisation promoting Christian missionary work, and jointly ran the "Great APEs" website, a website for "Apostles, Prophets and Evangelists".
Garner was commissioned by George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury in July 1991. He was commissioned as a member of the Church Army and admitted to the office of evangelist (certificate). Garner moved with his wife Sharon to Luton, Bedfordshire, where they began a new Christian community sometimes referred to as a church plant, meeting in a local primary school. Using principles of the pillars, the church grew quite rapidly to a membership of about 80 within 2 years. The principles of the pillars would then have been to send teams out into the community and to the wider community to form new groups. Unfortunately after two years the more traditional incumbent closed the work down and the church plant was unable to continue using the pillars principle. Having been offered several jobs the Garners moved to Northern Ireland to take a position with Lisburn Cathedral. The nature of the work was in an estate on the edge of the city of Lisburn. The estate, known as the Hillhall Estate, was locally familiar as a paramilitary area and one daubed with paramilitary insignia, typical of those in the area.
By then the Garners had two children, Emily and Abigail. The family moved in and offered to continue the mission of the area basically using the pillars style. Again, unfortunately, while a centre was given to the idea, in reality it was difficult to portray full understanding of what was involved. For example, there was high expectation for the Sunday morning service to be run in a culture where such an event would have been an anathema.
Over the five-year period various efforts were made to implement the pillars strategy although there was opposition from the employing church and even some in the local community. Meanwhile quite a dramatic event brought a change of circumstances when the local publican was killed which forced the hand of one of their members who had been mentored by the team. He felt now he needed to get involved as this was his original community. Although initially rejected by the hierarchy, Billy Moore eventually became the bastion for the new work in and from the pub. To this day the work continues on a vibrant footing, mentoring young men and helping them to be released from the systems of low esteem and low expectation. A recent event led by Billy Moore emceed by the Archbishop of Armagh and fully attended and led by members, including a choir, from the local community. Meanwhile the Garners moved to Sheffield, again chasing the dream of the pillars, this time without any guaranteed income. They were able to see simple breakthroughs. One Iranian family that was visited multiplied to over 100 baptisms. In other communities, notably a local so called gang culture community heavily involved in the estate was fully engaged.
Working with the local church at St. Thomas (known as Crookes and Philadelphia) eventually became untenable. Relationships remained good although money was always a presenting issue.
Garner began a charity (Freespirit) which provided a form of transparency and accountability. Three remits were declared that this charity was for the mentoring of other leaders, the continuing of the outreach work in the Sheffield area and the work overseas in central Africa, specifically Rwanda.
Meanwhile to model the lifestyle of not being dependent on others Garner began to build an income stream based on his experience of birdwatching.
This involved nature guiding, writing and advocacy for nature tourism. Subsequent travel included Arctic Norway, Israel and Shetland.
His ornithological writing included articles for British Birds and Birding World magazines. He is credited with discovering the first British records of Caspian gull, in Essex in the 1990s. In 1997, with David Quinn and Bob Glover, Garner published a two-part paper in British Birds covering the identification of yellow-legged and Caspian gulls, which covered the former in far greater detail than any previous published work, and contained the first detailed English-language descriptions of the latter. His first bird-related book, Frontiers in Birding (ISBN 9781898110477), was published by BirdGuides Ltd. in 2008.
He created the very popular Birding Frontiers website.
He also authored and published two further books – The Challenge Series – Autumn and The Challenge Series – Winter.
Martin Garner died on 29 January 2016, aged 52, after a long battle with cancer.
- Grove Books profile of Martin Garner (accessed 22 June 2008)
- Martin Garner's Church Army people directory entry (accessed 22 June 2008)
- Free Spirit Trust website (accessed 22 June 2008)
- Great APES website (accessed 22 June 2008)
- Rogers, M. J. and the Rarities Committee (2003) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 2002 British Birds 96(11): 542–609 (section on Caspian gulls is on pages 575–8)
- What is a Caspian Gull?, Dick Newell, 17 January 2003, Birdguides (accessed 17 August 2008)
- Garner, Martin, illustrated by David Quinn (1997) Identification of Yellow-legged Gulls in Britain British Birds 90(1) 25–62; Garner, Martin, David Quinn and Bob Glover (1997) Identification of Yellow-legged Gulls in Britain, part 2 British Birds 90(9): 369–83
- BirdGuides page describing Frontiers in Birding (accessed 22 June 2008)
- Dean, Alan R. (2007) The British Birds Rarities Committee: a review of its history, publications and procedures British Birds 100(3): 149–176