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 6

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

I know you had a challenging period in your life with a son who was rebelling against your beliefs. How did you hold fast during that time?

This is often a matter of heartache to godly parents, and we experienced a very painful period of about five years when one of our sons who had been a bright Christian as a young boy wandered far from God in his teens. He got among other young men who influenced him badly and began to drink to excess and take drugs. It was as if a pane of glass came between us: he could see us, but not hear what we were saying! Communication was very difficult. He made bad choices and became distant, unresponsive and miserable.

What held us fast in those days were the promises of God. We had prophetic promises and Bible verses that we regularly declared in prayer. We had times of fasting, we prayed in tongues, we prayed in English, we refused to believe that the enemy would win! And one day, he had an encounter with the Lord that changed everything…

I had been engaging in an intense time of prayer and fasting for a few days. One morning he stumbled out of his room and said, “God has been speaking to me all night!” He went off to work, only to phone me in tears during the morning to say that, suddenly an old song, “Thank you for the cross” had come to mind. As he hummed it quietly, suddenly the presence of God fell upon him and he was completely overwhelmed by His love. God brought him back to Himself and restored him and healed him. He went on to university where he got a good degree in history, and subsequently became a pastor.

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 4

The final parts of my interview with Wendy Virgo will come at a faster pace – so I can post them all before I go offline for a week! 🙂

In an age of family breakdown within society do you have any comments on the challenges facing Christian families today, and is there anything that particularly concerns you?

I think life has become much more complex and less predictable now. The challenges today are different: in some ways life is easier, in others, much harder. We have become used to things that used to be luxuries: washing machines, microwaves, televisions, large fridge/freezers. We take good hygiene and sanitation for granted, and health care. But I am sad that many values that once were generally upheld have declined; for example marriage itself is now under attack, and indeed has a very loose definition. A “family” used to mean biological parents (of course, some were adoptive) being responsible to provide a home and nurture their offspring, but now this has become a vague term.

I think parents today have to fight against increasingly hostile attitudes to Christianity, and work hard to teach and train their children – and create and maintain a godly ethos in their homes. I am absolutely amazed at many of the young families that I know who are very committed to this and serious and intentional about raising their children to love God and honour Him with their lives. My own children and their spouses are doing an incredible job, and I really admire them.

Another cause for concern for me is the decline in Bible knowledge, even among Christians. The United Kingdom is now a multi-faith society and it is right for individuals to have some knowledge of other religions as we learn to live side by side; but it is depressing that the average person has a very hazy idea about even the basics of Christianity.

 

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!