Leaders need to look after themselves too!

Earlier this month my husband and I were able to enjoy a weekend with the other leaders from the network of churches we are affiliated to. It was a great time catching up with those we know but don’t often get to see. But the thing that struck me most was what a privilege it is to be led by such honest, trustworthy and transparent leaders.

The first session covered something the speaker said isn’t often spoken about in conferences: a leader’s health. He talked about the fact we have a responsibility to ensure we are spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically fit so that we can continue being passionate as we work out our calling throughout life’s seasons.

Obvious huh? But actually we don’t talk about it much – although I think he probably got every leader’s attention when he said that very few leaders finish the race stronger than when they started.

This is actually taken from my latest Help! I’m now a pastor’s wife! column for Christian Today. To read the rest please click here.

A unified Church

I had the privilege of attending the National Day of Prayer at Wembley on Saturday alongside my husband. As he is a pastor we were invited to the leaders’ lunch beforehand, which I have to say was the part of the day that struck me most. Although when we first walked into the luncheon reception we were quite overwhelmed – amongst the sea of people we knew no one but recognised a few ‘famous’ faces. But having introduced ourselves to a couple on the table we’d sat down at, and been joined by a friendly, familiar face, we then listened to some brilliant and challenging short talks by various leaders from different denominations and organisations. Having spent recent weeks hopefully imparting the vision of a more outward focus in our small groups, it was so encouraging to hear each leader stand up and talk about how mission is so much at the forefront of what they feel the Church should be doing today.

I was particularly impressed by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, who spoke about what it means to be a Christian in the public eye. He said that what struck him when he first came to England was the “invisibility of the Church”. He challenged us to think about what would happen  if our churches wanted to be light in our communities; that for years we’ve been more like invisible salt: “What would that involve? It would involve going out and would also involve hospitality.” He asked whether we are “genuinely open to those who are not like us?”. But he also said that “Jesus is for people but there are times when he is against a culture”, indicating that there are times when we have to say no, not due to our own prejudices, but because of what Jesus teaches. One thing that really struck me personally was when he wondered whether Christian parents have given up on their kids. He said that the biggest problem in Europe is the inter-generational communication breakdown…

Later on, Executive Chair of Crossing London 2013 Stephen Gaukroger again picked up on the subject of reaching our towns and cities. Talking about the initiative based in London for next year he said that we as Christians should give each other the freedom to shout when we want to shout, and be quiet when we want to be quiet. He said that: “only a diverse, united Church is going to reach a diverse city” and that we are going to have to work together if we want to leave a legacy that is not just about maintenance but about mission. That has really come back to me over the last day or so. It can be so easy to get uptight when you don’t agree with what another strand of the Church is doing or saying – but when that is taken to an extreme it does so much damage. I was saddened when I left Wembley Stadium, after enjoying worshipping and praying with 32,000 other Christians, to be met by two guys standing on boxes shouting that what had been happening in the Stadium wasn’t of God because there were Catholics in there. Where was the grace of God – and what message did that give to passers-by?

I’ll admit that often I can get riled by certain debates/exchanges that happen on Twitter/Facebook/blogging sites, particularly on issues that are close to my heart. And I am also frustrated by the misunderstandings and judgements that are passed on the movement our church is affiliated with – Newfrontiers. But I realise I can be guilty of treating others in the same way at times. My mum is currently trying to find a new church and has been going to one for a few weeks that she feels comfortable at. And yet when she told me something the pastor had said it made me uneasy, because it is different to my own experience and understanding of the Bible. But I know that my mum desperately needs to find a church that she can call home, and feel supported by, and it isn’t a ‘salvation issue’ as it were so I’ve been left pondering – is it really important? I think it’s a shame – but I don’t think it is a reason for her not to attend that church. I know there are some big issues that I do need to stand up for, things that others in other parts of the Church don’t agree with me on, and that makes it hard to be united as 21st-century Christians at times. But I am convinced that when we reach heaven we will ALL discover something that we got wrong but thought we were so right about! 😉 I really believe we all need to keep going back to the Bible individually and corporately to see what the reality of the Christian life God has called us to is – and then work together to show the world that the Good News really is good news!

As Ephesians 4 says:

I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

A pioneering woman, pt 7: Brighton and beyond

Here is the final part of my interview with Wendy Virgo.

In July Newfrontiers hosted their final International Leaders Conference in Brighton. This conference has been significant in shaping the direction of the movement in recent years. Why is it stopping, and will anything take its place?

Terry is now in his 70s and it is obvious that he cannot continue to lead indefinitely. Over the last 3 years a lot of thought and prayer has gone into making decisions about what happens next. Gradually the conviction has come from God that we should no longer be thinking in terms of one overall leader. In fact it has become obvious for some considerable time that other people are emerging with apostolic gifting. It is now time for them to develop their own spheres of ministry. (This may well include conferences in their different locations.) We are very happy about this as it means multiplication of churches globally. We hope and pray that they will retain the brotherly love and comradeship that we have enjoyed over several decades under the banner of Newfrontiers, although it may look different.

What is next for you – as a couple but also as an individual?

Downsizing to a smaller house and joining King’s Church in Kingston upon Thames. Terry will not be an elder there, but we look forward to being part of the church family. Kingston is close to Gatwick and Heathrow and many opportunities are opening for Terry to interact with other church networks so it will be a good base! His friendship is increasing with leaders like Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Bob Roberts and others in the USA and indeed with networks in other continents. It will also be interesting to be nearer to London. I hope to continue writing too, and in fact have been persuaded to start a blog!

Do check out Wendy’s blog, which includes an entry on her own reflections about the leadership conference.

A pioneering woman, pt 5: women leaders

Wendy Virgo on women as leaders:

Within evangelical circles Newfrontiers is often labelled as being the movement who won’t let women be leaders. How would you respond to that label?

We have always been very diligent to discern what is a biblical way of conducting life in our churches. It has not always been comfortable, and this particular issue has often been completely misunderstood. The reality is that we probably have more women active in our churches, and also involved in leadership, than in most others. Other churches can have a very limited idea of leadership. They may have one pastor or a small team of deacons or leaders who do everything. From very early on, we discovered that the church is the Body of Christ with every member finding their gift and playing their part. So we encouraged everyone, men and women, to pray, prophesy, lead in singing, read scripture, share a testimony or vision and heal the sick when we came together on a Sunday or midweek.

Women in Newfrontiers churches lead worship, baptise new Christians, hand round communion, pray publicly, prophesy, teach, train counsellors, preach, run Alpha, steward, heal the sick, cast out demons, witness in the streets, administrate conferences…in fact everything men can do, so do they! But because we see in the Bible that overall responsibility both in the church and in the home has been designated by God to men, we do not have women elders.

The Bible shows that men and women are made in the image of God. That means that masculinity and femininity came out from God. Both express something of God, and have equal value. There is also order in the Godhead; the Son eternally submits to the Father, but is of equal worth. So also wives are of equal worth to their husbands, but honour them by godly submission. In turn, husbands are to lay down their lives for their wives, as Christ did for the church.


A pioneering woman, pt 3

Here is the third part of my interview with Wendy Virgo.

As you have both grown in your ministry, to the local church and internationally, has your understanding of any issues changed over the years? Have your approaches changed at all?

I think that principles do not change, but the ways they are applied must be flexible. As we have got involved in church planting in other countries we have had to learn a lot about cross-cultural issues; we had to recognise that we are not seeking to import English ways of thinking, but to try to understand what is a biblical way and to establish that. I think this is one of the reasons that wherever I go in the world to visit one of our churches, I feel instantly “at home”. I may be in Mexico, Australia or Zimbabwe, and I may be experiencing different food, climate, dress and customs, but when we gather as the people of God and worship Him, we are together expressing a culture that belongs to the kingdom of God.

We have to be confident that the Gospel is still the power of God for salvation and is relevant to every culture and stratum of society; we have to be persuaded that biblical values hold true and work in every nation. For example, Terry has preached the Gospel of grace all over the world and has often come up against certain practices that are traditional but very legalistic. These have had to be challenged, not because we don’t like them, nor because this is “not Newfrontiers” – not even because “this is old-fashioned and no one does this anymore”. Things have to be evaluated on the grounds of “is this biblical?” For example, in Armenia, it was deemed unspiritual for a man to wear a tie; but in some areas of Africa it was deemed unspiritual if they did not wear a tie! We have to help people to see that the grace of God declares that what you wear is totally irrelevant to your worth or spiritual status! This could, however, be quite hard to establish where there is a hardened tradition. People often flounder on details and have difficulty identifying what is a primary issue that must be attended to, and what is a secondary one and therefore not worth fighting over!


A pioneering woman, pt 2

The second part of my interview with Wendy Virgo:

How did you juggle supporting your husband and being involved in ministry while you raised such a large family? What were the biggest challenges?

Very early in our marriage, Terry and I redefined what we meant by “ministry”. Everything in our lives was to be seen as under the umbrella of serving God; there was no distinction between “sacred” and “secular”. So my ministry to God included loving and supporting my husband, loving and training my children and creating a godly and peaceful home and all the domestic activities involved in that. It also included praying, worshipping, seeking God for gifts of the Spirit and teaching and encouraging others. So as it was all ministry, I didn’t feel I was having to juggle home and ministry! But I did have to fight for time to study and pray, and I learned to pray while I was doing other things.

I found there were seasons in life, so that consistent times of prayer and Bible study were difficult after the birth of a new baby in the period of night feeds. I had to learn to talk to God while I was ironing or driving to the supermarket. There wasn’t much time for reading so I would learn to “feed” on a few verses of scripture. I also drew strength from being with others in prayer times etc. A young mum can feel very alone, so it is important to make time to meet with others.

As you said above that you had to fight for time to study and pray, could you share what you have found most useful for your own personal devotional times?

I have used different methods of personal study over the years. Sometimes I have followed a year plan; sometimes used daily notes. (I actually write for CWR’s excellent “Inspiring Women Every Day” series). I particularly like using the Bible Speaks Today series of commentaries edited by John Stott. I prefer to work through a book of the Bible rather than to jump about. That way you get a much more in depth understanding of the development of Biblical truth than if you just hop from one topic to another…although topical study can also have its place.

As the children grew up of course, the rhythm of life kept changing and now Terry and I are in the happy season of being able to pray together every day, which we really love!

A pioneering woman, pt 1

Wendy Virgo has always had a pioneering spirit. She married Terry in 1968 and they moved to a small town on the south coast called Seaford. At that stage, they had no idea that eventually the work that began there would spread to hundreds of churches in 60 nations around the world. I had the privilege of interviewing Wendy Virgo in the run up to the last Newfrontiers International Brighton Leaders’ Conference. I asked her about various different points in their lives, and what lessons she has learned. (Adrian Warnock has kindly agreed to post the first three parts of this interview on his own site as a guest blog. If you haven’t checked out his site before, make sure you do as it is brilliant! www.adrianwarnock.com.)

I believe you met Terry at Bible college, and both had a strong desire to follow after God with all your hearts – did you ever imagine to what extent He would use your giftings?

At London Bible College, (now London School of Theology) Terry received a call from God that originated in 1 Chronicles to “build a house for God”. Recently baptised in the Spirit, he observed that in many of the contemporary churches there was no room for the things of the Spirit, or even a sense of the presence of God, though there was often good preaching. He began to long for something nearer to what he perceived in the New Testament early church. We began to seek God for gifts of the Spirit and gradually realised that such gifts are for the building up of the Body of Christ. We were unconsciously laying foundations in church life that attracted people who were hungry for more. We had no idea that this would lead on to church planting, let alone across the nations. We only had ambitions at that time for our own local church.

You are a spiritual mother to many – have you had someone who has been a spiritual mother to you?

My own mother was a very godly woman, and probably the most influential woman in my life. She loved the Bible and was a very prayerful person. She taught me and my sisters to pray about everything: every decision, every relationship, big things and small. I watched her submit her life daily to Christ. When I married and moved away, I really missed the availability of an older woman to guide me. One day while praying in desperation, God spoke to me clearly. “There are many women in the Bible: you can learn from them.” That’s when I began a systematic study of women in the Bible.

Truly ‘together on a mission’

This is the first time I’ve had a chance to sit down and reflect on what I learned at the Newfrontiers Together on a Mission conference last week (the reason for that will, in part, be the subject of another blog soon!) It truly was a privilege to be at the bulk of what was the last international conference of its kind. Right from the start there was a sense of expectancy, and God had specific things to say to us as a movement that came through time and time again, through various different speakers.

I always feel so blessed at these events because it reminds me of the wider Newfrontiers family we are part of. I am always struck by the humility of the leaders and speakers, particularly Terry. Indeed that was the main reason we were first attracted to Newfrontiers. And it is great to see how other guys have come through into maturity and authority and are now heading up works within the various continents, but there is still a sense of family across the board. I loved the mixture of both honouring our roots, and founders, but also pressing forward to take new ground.

I was both caught up with and slightly apprehensive of the way that we seemed to hit the ground running. Words came thick and fast about being courageous and having courage as a leader. The natural worrier in me started to wonder what is coming Lord?! But it is so true that as a movement the ‘boys have become men’ and I also felt that challenge me personally. Yes we have stepped up into leadership roles, and my husband has proved he is capable of pastoring the church. I am mentoring and meeting with various younger women… AND YET. Life is going at such a pace am I taking the time to feed myself spiritually? Am I looking after myself and allowing God to speak to me clearly and have that vital input in my life enough? He graciously seems to speak through me when I am ministering to people, but I wonder how much more effective I could be if I carved out a bit more just me and him time…

We were travelling up and down to Brighton each day so usually left at the end of the afternoon session – it meant we could see the kids before bedtime and not get overtired ourselves. But when we heard PJ was to speak on the wed eve we decided to say. And what a great decision that was! I have said in a previous entry that the whole issue of healing is one I can struggle with because of the way my mum suffers, but he gave one of the clearest messages I’ve ever heard on suffering, sickness and healing. Where does sickness come from and where does healing come from were two of the questions he pondered during his own battle in the last year. And God gave him great revelation. Hearing the simplicity with which he explained the relationship between the atonement and healing was refreshing. His talk gave me fresh vision and hope and went some way to lift off the frustration I can often feel when people look at my mum and make a judgement call as to why she hasn’t been healed yet. Definitely a recommendation I have already made to my mum to listen to!

There is so much more I could talk about here but I think there will be plenty more future posts as I manage to grab odd moments to dwell upon my notes.

A whirlwind week

It has been a little while since I’ve been on here – mainly because life has reached whirlwind proportions. And the thoughts spinning around my head also have me reeling from their speed. So I’m trying to catch a moment to slow down and take stock. The last week has certainly been a varied one: I had my birthday, found out my mum was incredibly ill, had a terrible conversation with a magazine editor that left me wondering if Christians really can be that judgemental, shot down to see my mum in hospital, enjoyed a fantastic international day at church and also made some great new contacts with book and magazine publishers.

Each night I have fallen into bed late, absolutely exhausted, only to be denied sleep by my 2 year old, who really doesn’t seem to understand that waking up at night does not equate to coming to say hello to mummy, daddy and his sister! Even with the gate firmly fixed on his door he is still finding a way of keeping us all up at night. I look at him tearing around during each day and wonder where on earth he gets his energy from – and whether I could borrow some of it! In amongst the busyness, and emotional turmoil at times, I worry that I am so focused on different things I am not parenting to the best of my ability. I guess as parents we always have that nagging feeling – could we be doing things better? Are we juggling too much? Our society seems to only accept survivors – supermums who can spin every plate highly successfully and look fantastic at the same time!

That’s not really the reason for this entry though. I could write a series of blogs on that subject – and on the fact that while I believe in a God who can heal today, and have seen miracles in front of my eyes, one of those dearest to me – my own mum – continues to suffer pain from a debilitating disease day after day, year after year. I know suffering and healing are subjects I’m never going to fully understand, but I do have lots of questions I’m waiting to ask God when I do see him face to face! God does seem to have a way of turning things upside down – I travelled to see my mum expecting her to be hardly able to lift her head from her hospital bed but I was greeted by a beaming face as she had just had a chance to talk to a daughter of a patient about her faith and offered to pray for her. Gone was the downcast soul who had had enough of struggling with each breath and here was someone excited and vitalised by her faith once more. She said herself that every time she is in hospital she has such ‘divine encounters’ and that being there had lifted her spirit from the depth of despair. She is still physically in severe pain, but her spirit is back in line with her God.

All of this has made my own spirit go up and down. A high point was definitely yesterday at church where we celebrated the diversity of nationalities within our church. Sam Amara from Nigeria visited us and preached and we feasted on a wonderful array of dishes from around the world afterwards.

Yes it has definitely been a pretty crazy week. And today has continued to be crazy. I’m on my own for a few hours, for which I’m exceedingly grateful to my husband, but busy organising work and what I need to do before heading off to Brighton for the last Newfrontiers International Leaders’ Conference, Together on a Mission. I am excited about what God will do when we are all together – I just hope I manage to stay awake! ;D

Time out with God

The last few weeks have been what I can only term mind-blowingly hectic. Thanks to both our mothers we were able to go to two conferences, staying away one night. I enjoyed my first – yes, unbelievable to so many I met there it was in fact my first – Newfrontiers prayer and fasting conference. It was such a privilege to be amongst so many other leaders praising and praying. I was struck once again by the great care of our Lord. While no agenda other than seeking His face and praying His will was set, time and time again there were words about taking this time out to enjoy resting and being refreshed in His spirit. I was also struck again by the humility of our movement’s leaders. They are so approachable, so down-to-earth. It is great to be reminded of why I am so happy to be a part of Newfrontiers, and so relieved at how trustworthy our leaders are. It is true that submission isn’t difficult when those you are submitting to are doing what they are called to!