Church: God’s design for caring community

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Churches are really unique places aren’t they? There are very few other places where you will find people from all sorts of backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, stages of life coming etc together regularly. I personally think the more varied a church is the more it is a wonderful picture of God’s grace and design.

However, the diversity within churches does bring a unique challenge. Jesus prayed to His Father: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22-23).

Reflecting on this is pretty humbling. Jesus is basically saying that the way in which we model unity speaks to the world the truth of the gospel. And how do we become unified? Through showing love and care to one another, choosing to lay down any petty squabbles in order to see the best in one another.

In a church full of variety there are going to be those that we are naturally drawn to, as well as others that we find difficult. I think part of God’s wisdom in this is that our own rough edges and foibles, which are such a part of us we don’t really see them, can be taken off as we rub up against those that are different to us. Indeed Proverbs 27:17 says “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

To read the rest of this post please click here.

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Why scrubbing loos is a good idea

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What is it about the human condition that makes us look around the people we come into contact with day to day and compare ourselves to them? It is something we have to work really hard not to do, which means the comparison culture inevitably infiltrates our church communities too.

I’m sure we’ve all had those moments: times when we’ve see others in a role that we wish we had and felt slightly jealous. Perhaps we even feel entitled to that role – or think in our minds that we could do a much better job than the person currently doing it.

 Or perhaps we end up in the mindset that thinks we have to contribute to the service each week – by bringing another word or reading another portion of scripture out. Why do we do that? A desperate need within us to connect with God, or a deep-seated desire to look more holy than those around us?

I think we need to ask ourselves those difficult questions regularly about our motivations for serving within our church communities. None of us is immune to selfish ambition and desires, but it is much easier to nip them in the bud early rather than letting ourselves get carried away with them.

Indeed, in Philippians 2 we are told: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (v3-4).

Jesus had some really harsh words to say about those people who put on a show of holiness in church: “Everything they do is for men to see” (Matthew 23:5) and “Woe to you … you hypocrites!”, which he repeats in verses 13, 15, 23, 25, 27 and 29. With that amount of repetition I think we can see Jesus really wanted to get his message across!

Speaking about the teachers of the law, it was the difference between their public show of purity and piety and their everyday lives that angered Jesus the most. Indeed, He instructed His disciples and the crowds “you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach” (v3).

Ouch.

Harsh words or the simple, honest truth?

To read the rest of this post, please click here – where the reason for the title will become clear 😉

A picture of God’s faithfulness

As a church this month we celebrated our 10th anniversary – I can’t believe how the time has flown by (yes I know that’s a sign of getting older!). It was rather hilarious to watch clips of our launch service, spotting those who have been with us since the start (and noting how much younger and slimmer we all looked!)

We had a fantastic anniversary service, praising God for bringing us this far and re-dedicating ourselves to His vision. We then enjoyed a feast of international food prepared by everyone in the church. But what has struck me most during this time of celebration is how faithful God has been throughout the journey.

The church almost lost two of its leaders before we even really began as our marriage began to unravel. I remember my husband saying to the pastor who was mentoring the team at the time, ‘but what about the church?’. His answer? ‘God will build His church – you focus on your marriage.’ Wise, true words.

To read the rest of this post please click here.

My new column

Sorry for the plug – actually, I don’t know why I’m apologising because I’m really excited about this! I’ve just started writing a column for Christian Today called Help! I’m now a pastor’s wife! It will be appearing on the second and last Wednesday of each month. Please do check it out – and feel free to add comments, ask questions or start discussions in the comments area at the end. I’d love to see you there 🙂 To read the first one click here.

Thanks!

Claire x

Giving it all… whatever the consequences?

It was only a few years ago that I fought against my husband’s calling. I didn’t want to become a pastor’s wife and, at the time, wrapped up in my own depression and sin, I didn’t love the people he felt called to. I certainly didn’t want to be involved at all…

But then God did a deep work in me, and made me view the church as He does – full of wonderful, complicated, imperfect individuals who are each on their own journey with Him. I began to love with His love and count it a real privilege to be serving among them.

Today I realised that I was beginning to lose some of that viewpoint. As I struggled with frustration and annoyance it suddenly dawned on me that I was getting upset because of things that were having an impact on me – on my time, on my pocket and on my emotions. But if, as the song I’m listening to says, I’ve ‘given it all to Him’ then those things aren’t my own anymore are they? So, however what I am doing is received, whether my efforts are appreciated, my time and point of view respected, shouldn’t matter. I should be continuing to give my all because it isn’t about the consequences, it’s about offering myself as a sacrifice daily to my God and King. And if part of that is pouring myself out for those in His church, then so be it.

We need God!

I have been away for a few days this week, enjoying time with family and watching with great joy as our kids played well with their cousins. Then I came home and catched up on news stories. Before we went away we heard the news of Margaret Thatcher’s death – and the really sad news of Rick Warren’s son’s death. I cannot believe the torrent of filth and hate that has emerged on social networking sites, particularly twitter, about both. I was aghast by how much of it came from Christians…

Since we’ve come home I’ve read and watched stories about the horrific rapes in Syria and the disgusting murders of babies carried out by Dr Gosnell. My stomach flips, my heart sinks and an overriding sense of sickness pervades my body as I think about what humanity is capable of – in terms of practical acts, but also through vitriolic outbursts. I don’t really feel like commenting on the specifics of any of the above. So many others have done that eloquently already. All I want to say is we need God – so so badly! I hope and pray that hearing such news brings all Christians to their knees. I am sure that is the case with the most recent news stories, but unfortunately it appears there is so much hate within the Church itself. Our society – locally but also worldwide – is in dire need of its Father. It doesn’t need to see his people divided, lashing out at one another. We need to look at ourselves humbly once again – after all who are we to ever cast the first stone? We also need to come before our God, united, to cry out for his salvation for the world.

We need you God!

‘Googling your mind’

Last Saturday I had the privilege of attending the Association of Christian Writers’ (ACW) 40th anniversary. Adrian Plass was the guest speaker. As you may expect, he was amusing, challenging and, for me, a little controversial at the same time. I have come away, however, fascinated by one of the exercises that he got us to do. The concept is ‘googling your mind’. He said that we are so used to researching on the Internet these days that we often forget we have a wealth of knowledge and information inside of ourselves. Sometimes it is a really useful exercise to ‘google’ our minds by thinking of a subject and brainstorming it – writing down everything that immediately comes to mind without thinking about it. He got us to choose one subject (from a selection of ‘home’, ‘ACW’, ‘church’). I decided to google ‘church’ and was very interested in the list of contradictions/opposites that came out! I think it truly reflects my experience as a pastor’s wife – rightly or wrongly this is what church is for me today…

Family, My life, A safe haven, Work, Expectation, Pressure, Worship, Fun, Hard work, All ages, A place for the community, Inescapable, Neverending problems, People with attitude desperate to share…
God’s hope for the world – His choice. There is no back-up plan…
Where I belong.
Those who put their shoulder to the wheel next to me versus those along for the ride.
God’s bride – being made beautiful.
A place of beauty and of pain.
Somewhere to be myself – even when I don’t want to be.
Broken people needing God.
A place were we can achieve more together than alone.

It really made me stop and think. The church isn’t perfect, but that is because it is made up of human beings! However it is God’s vehicle; the way He has chosen to reach a desperately needy world…

If you have never ‘googled your mind’ why not try it yourself today? It would also make a really interesting icebreaker at a small group – you can choose anything to get people to brainstorm. I’ll leave you with another couple of subject suggestions from Adrian: ‘Am I the only one…?’ or ‘Long ago at school…’.

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 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 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.