The weekend after Terry visited out home and prayed successfully for people to be healed we were to attend a Stewards Trust conference for people at a similar stage of life to ourselves. What a turning point that proved to be. The speaker, Barney Coombs from Sarum Hill Baptist Church in Basingstoke, and founder of the Salt and Light stream of churches, oozed love and a knowledge of the scriptures we had not previously encountered as he ministered on body life, and on the importance of exercising the gifts of the spirit to bless and edify other believers. He also introduced us to scriptures set to music as a vehicle for worship. At that stage our worship experience included singing many of the fine old hymns, and we greatly appreciate them to this day. But something new was happening, particularly with groups like Scripture in Song (David and Dale Garratt) from New Zealand who were writing contemporary music to accompany scripture. Powerful stuff! Our church experience was changing from black and white to colour.
Terry offers to help us
On the Monday after our return Janita phoned Terry on behalf of a friend who was seeking prayer for her baby daughter who had been born with a congenital dislocation of the hip. After expressing a willingness to pray for her Terry asked about our weekend away. Janita told him of the excitement we felt but also of the frustration that we would have to wait another year before we could attend such a conference again. At that point Terry offered to come and help us. “Do you really mean that?” “Yes” was the generous response.
We did not know it at that time but a few weeks previously Alex Buchanan (click for a remarkable video tribute), a man with a proven prophetic record, had preached at Terry’s church. Following revelatory words of knowledge, the accuracy of which only Terry and Wendy could confirm, he prophesied over Terry that he would be used to travel outside the boundaries of Seaford to help other churches.
We now had such a need, so, from the first week in May 1973, Terry started visiting our rather pedestrian Bible study group. He brought us into new life in the Spirit by teaching about worship, the gifts of the Spirit, grace not law etc.
The need to realign
Soon after this it seemed right to leave the local Anglican church we had grown to love. We were clearly now feeding from Terry’s ministry more than from that church. As a boys’ Bible class leader and member of the church council (a democratic decision-making body) I felt continuing as members lacked integrity. So we left as inconspicuously as possible – we later found out not very successfully – and joined Terry’s church in Seaford.
Speaking in tongues
When we first discussed speaking in tongues with our Anglican friends we were advised to steer clear as they could be inspired by the devil. This was to raise an interesting problem for me.
My wife was having difficulty conceiving and was invited to attend a meeting in London led by Jean Darnell. When she went forward for prayer at the end of the meeting Jean said to her that ‘her emotions needed releasing’ and, when prayed for, Janita started speaking in tongues. That represented a problem for me: I now had a wife who some would say was behaving in a way that was ‘from the devil’! Shortly after that she conceived and our first child was born in October 1970. Life was busy and we put the matter of the baptism of the Holy Spirit on the back-burner.
But the issue would not go away in our minds. We were ourselves relatively young Christians and were faced with a significant doctrinal dilemma about which people we respected held very different views. After discussion we reflected that there seemed to be something different about Terry when he had spoken to our group and so I went to spend time with him.
Terry graciously opened up the Scriptures in an authoritative way, a value in him I quickly came to love, and convinced me of the rightness of the doctrine that the Baptism of the Spirit (audio link) is for every generation of believers. But, ever cautious, I did not ask him to pray for me then and was not, in fact, baptised in the Spirit until the following year. But then, a few weeks after being prayed for, I spoke in tongues. So my problems were compounded – I too was thought to be practising the devil’s arts!
Shortly after that Janita queried why we did not see people being healed in the church; the Bible seemed to indicate that this should be part of normal Christianity. Once again we contacted Terry who was becoming our problem solver! He graciously agreed to come up to our home in April 1973 to share what he knew from scripture. It was timely as David Mansell had recently visited his church and there had been some remarkable healings. At the end of the evening Terry told us that he had faith to pray for people with back-ache which, he had observed, often arose from an apparent difference in the lengths of people’s legs. He then prayed for three people, including Janita, and one, in particular, a man of about 6ft 4ins, saw his leg ‘grow’ by about 1½ inches! My eyes were out on stalks! Here, in my own home, was an apparent miracle taking place – mind-blowing.
This was to be the beginning of an understanding in experience of the gifts of the Spirit, as we shall see next time.
Increasingly people are joining churches related to Newfrontiers through other apostolic spheres and have no awareness of how it all started. Several have recently asked me for the early history so over the next few weeks I will share my personal story of those early days since I was privileged to be in from the start – indeed, from before the start.
One day, on return from our family holiday, I found a letter awaiting me. “Will you be my administrator? I don’t know what an administrator does but I know I need one”. I picked up the phone. “I also don’t know what an administrator does” was my reply, “but yes!” On that somewhat precarious basis a special friendship turned into an employed relationship with Terry Virgo. The continuing deep friendship continues to this day.
That communication, through a letter and phone call, took place in 1980, the time at which Terry first invited me and five others to join him as a team that ultimately became the core of Newfrontiers, soon to be defined as a family of churches, but recently redefined as a family of apostolic ministries, that has spread across the globe. But I am jumping ahead. There is much pre-1980 history that is important for the understanding of the roots of Newfrontiers.
Terry Virgo enters our lives
My wife, Janita, and I first met Terry in 1968. He had been saved in the late ‘50s and baptised in the Holy Spirit two years later. We had been married only one year and another newlywed couple, Phil and Agnes Ball, also moved into our village, Scaynes Hill. We soon came to know them and decided to start a home-based Bible study for other believers. They said they knew someone who could be invited to speak at our first meeting from their former church, Holland Road Baptist Church in Hove, on the Sussex coast of the UK. And so it was that Terry Virgo first walked into our lives.
Terry had also been recently married, having met his wife, Wendy, at the London Bible College. Shortly after their wedding they had moved to another coastal town, Seaford, to join a growing group of people who had been meeting in homes but were now building a meeting place for the church to gather.
Baptism of the Holy Spirit
In 1969 we ‘stumbled across’ the baptism of the Holy Spirit when we visited some friends as we were returning from holiday; they spoke in tongues as we prayed together before continuing our journey. There was no explanation and we did not ask. Coming from a mainstream Anglican background this confused us; what was it all about? Talking to friends in our church they told us that tongue-speaking was not for the current era. Some even said that it was of the devil! That soon raised big problems for me, as we shall see in the next posting.
From time to time I have published interviews with the various men leading the new apostolic spheres following the transition of the Newfrontiers family of churches in 2011 from one to multiple spheres. Here I talk with Mike Betts who leads the sphere ‘Relational Mission’. We were able to have a discussion about what his vision is and how the sphere has developed since the transition.
Relational Mission – meaning and outworking
Having given insight to the name ‘Relational Mission’ Mike shares some of the ways in which his vision and values are being outworked: a Leadership Conference, Clustering churches for local fellowship, Church Planting, Leadership Training and ‘extraordinary’ Prayer.
Many of the values and practices of Newfrontiers have been updated and redefined in the book ‘Relational Mission – A Way of Life’ which Mike has written to be a manifesto for the next decades.
The last five years
Since the transition took place in 2011 each of the spheres has worked hard to define the way forward. As Mike looks both back and forward he recognises the challenges that this transition has represented but values the lessons learned as those leading these apostolic spheres have grappled with their new responsibilities in advancing the Kingdom. There is a very healthy friendship that has been maintained between them and they are seeking to have regular fellowship and accountability to one another.
Reflecting this change Newfrontiers has now been redefined as
A group of apostolic leaders partnering together on global mission, joined
by common values and beliefs, shared mission and genuine relationships.
The recently launched new website gives a very helpful feel of what this means.
Pathways from Poverty
Both Mike and I have hearts for the poor. In the concluding part of the interview Mike shares his vision to see churches in his care each pursuing initiatives to help those who are poor or in need, particularly through empowerment projects aimed at self-sufficiency under the umbrella of ‘Pathways from Poverty’. One specific application is seen in the partnership with Edward Buria in Kenya who has a significant sphere of churches, Edfri, both in that nation and in other parts of Africa.
The future is bright
I found Mike very positive as he leads his sphere into the future. There is great vision and health which will, I believe, contribute to significant advance of the Kingdom in this generation.
Finally, Mike refers to two books in this interview which you may like to obtain:
‘Relational Mission – A Way of Life’ by himself
‘A call to United Extraordinary Prayer….’ By Jonathan Edwards.
I have not met many alpacas – in fact I had not met any before I met Boris. But he was a good representative of his species and quickly made me feel at home.
I was visiting Pathways Care Farm in Lowestoft, UK, founded by Geoff Stevens. I came to know Geoff when he was exploring an initiative within the Relational Mission sphere of Newfrontiers, Pathways from Poverty, now led by Julia Miller.
Geoff knew nothing about farming when the opportunity arose to start a care farm but he and his team have achieved an astonishing amount in just two years. Walking around the farm with him I found he is bubbling with ideas – ‘we’re going to put a bird watching hide here’, ‘we will create an arts and crafts room there’ – so I look forward with anticipation to a return visit in due course .
What is a care farm?
It has been found that many people who find it difficult to integrate into society for whatever reason are able to relax and find a reason for hope in the open air. Whether walking an alpaca through the fields and woods (which is when I first met Boris), planting vegetables, grooming goats or laying a path to a polytunnel, opportunities abound for acceptance and fulfilment. An alpaca is very non-demanding – just stroke his neck and he is like a kitten!
Pathways Care Farm is at the end of a cul-de-sac through a housing development in Lowestoft. I really thought I must have taken the wrong turning – I had expected to drive across miles of open countryside – when it suddenly appeared in front of me. As such it is well embedded in the local community.
Located on county council owned land part of the farm had previously been sold for development – a major road and many houses. The remaining 13 acres (approximately 5 ha) and buildings had been allowed to lie derelict for many years when Geoff was offered the opportunity to develop it as a care farm. Now, over 15,000 volunteer-hours later, tumbledown buildings are beginning to provide accommodation for a café, an arts and crafts area, a relaxed place for volunteers and service-users to have their lunch, chicken houses and much much more. Some of the building restoration was carried out by a man on probation, a qualified brick-layer, who used to visit as part of his community payback.
Animals abound; many are rare breeds. I met some well-cared for pigs and goats, each with golden brown coats that shone in the sunlight, and chickens that had been reared from eggs. Plans are afoot for a petting farm which will allow more animals to provide the comfort of contact with those who are trying to find their way in life, some with mental health problems, others with dementia or learning difficulties.
Then there are the two polytunnels ably overseen by head gardener Rob who is highly knowledgeable and does not allow his cerebral palsy to hinder his involvement in the horticulture. It was an inspiration to talk to him.
A sensory garden
As you enter through the farm gate you pass a sensory garden; not yet completed but sufficient to see how valuable it will be with its willow branch ‘cave’ and beds of various tactile and fragrant plants.
Despite its short life the Farm is already attracting much favourable attention in the locality, with over one hundred volunteers from local churches and the general population. The local MP and senior local government officials have given their endorsement and ‘seal of approval’ – the High Sheriff very tangibly by donating two pigs!
The farm will never be self-sustaining from the farming produce alone (I am told the vegetables are superb). But the vision is to make it self-sustainable in other ways: through fees which are charged to statutory providers for their ‘clients’; the café which will be open to the public; the charity shop which receives donations from the local population; the sale of produce, and so on.
The future is bright! This surely is a model others could emulate. Well done Geoff, all the volunteers who make the farm run day by day, and the trustees who ensure the charity is compliant with its duty of care and legal requirements. Thank you for your welcome. A truly edifying visit.
In this concluding interview with Andy Cottingham we talk about money.
- What are the possible sources of funds including the pros and cons of gift days in the church and charitable grants?
- How to make a ministry sustainable.
- What about overseas giving? What are the pitfalls and the damage that can be done by unwise giving?
- What is success?
In concluding this series I want to encourage church leadership teams to watch these interviews again together and apply them to your own situation. Andy raises many questions that you may not have thought of. They should stimulate good discussion and help raise the standard of ministry with the Poor in your church.
Last time we looked at some adjustments that may be indicated to help a church become more accessible to those who are not familiar with church and who may even be social outcasts. Now we shall consider how a church decides what ministry to carry out to help those who are poor or in need. How should it be identified - by need?
In part 2 of these four interviews Andy Cottingham gives some guidance on how to define a ministry, how to base the leadership of that ministry on the passion of individuals and how to mobilise church members to serve.
Andy also talks about what the ‘good news’ is for an individual who faces great deprivation or need, before speaking about how the elders might bring oversight to such ministries, stressing the importance of close contact between the eldership team and the activists.
Happy New Year!
As we begin a new year I want to share with you over the next few weeks videos I made during a discussion with Andy Cottingham. Andy has been in church leadership both in the UK and South Africa for many years. Churches in which he has been based have always had significant ministries to reach out to those who are poor or in need. In these discussions I asked him to share wisdom from his experience which may help other church leaders, though his responses will be of interest to anyone involved in ministering with the poor since they address underlying values.
In this first interview (there will be three more) he addresses some matters to help make the practices of the church more accessible to ‘outsiders’.
If we believe that the gospel is for all people we must recognise the importance of making our church services and practice accessible to all, not just those who are on the ‘inside’ who know the culture and jargon. What does this imply?
Change may be needed if we are to welcome those who are unchurched, particularly those who are poor and may have little education. Worship needs explanation. Preaching needs to use terminology that is meaningful for the hearers. Perhaps the sermon needs to be shorter or broken into shorter units – sitting listening to someone speak for 45 minutes may be totally foreign to today’s culture of ‘instant’. Listen to what Andy has to say on this subject.
In the last two postings I have highlighted the place for the ears and the eyes as means of listening. Now I will come to the third, the mouth.
Your mouth is also an important part of communication of course, but how can it help you to listen? There are a number of ways your mouth can help you listen but the most important is to know when to keep it shut!
What do you feel about silence? Does it embarrass you? Somehow it makes you feel vulnerable as you either don’t know what to say or because you feel awkward for the other person as they gather their thoughts. The temptation is to fill it with your own talk. This is particularly true of the extrovert who does much of his thinking through conversation. The introvert, in contrast, likes time to think things out before speaking.
If you are in a serious conversation there are times when a slightly embarrassing silence is necessary; to intrude may stop the other person making any response. Maybe you have asked an important question. If you do not allow sufficient silence to force the person to give an answer you will never get to the truth.
Many years ago I was interviewing some candidates for a job. There were two of us carrying out the interviews and my colleague could not bear silence. The result was that whenever I asked a question if the answer was not immediately forthcoming from the candidate my colleague would suggest an answer, which of course the candidate agreed with. By the end of the interviews I knew more about my colleague than any of the applicants!
I am sure you have all been in situations where someone is sharing their heart with you, or bringing some unpleasant news of, perhaps, illness. This is not easy for them or for you, and it needs physical and auditory ‘space’ not to be interrupted.
Since my son had a serious motor-cycle accident many years ago I feel I have more understanding of how someone feels when they experience trauma. I will often go out of my way to speak to someone whom others avoid out of embarrassment of not knowing what to say. But I will make it clear that I am prepared just to listen – I will probably not have any ‘good advice’ to offer.
Beware your own story!
But it is possible in such circumstance to ‘blow it’. Because of your slight embarrassment and not knowing quite what to say you may be tempted to find something in your own experience that has similarities to the situation you are learning about and to share this in detail. That way you try to empathise. But no two situations are ever exactly the same and sharing your experience may be very unhelpful; you may be blocking someone from digging deep in order to share their problem. Better just to keep silent, or use you mouth to say ‘No hurry, take your time’. Rather than taking the risk of shutting down the conversation you thus open up space for the speaker to speak when he or she feels able to do so.
I may appear to be saying ‘keep quiet and let the other person do all the talking’. Clearly context and topic of conversation affect whether this is the right approach, but I tend to veer towards saying less rather than more. But there are times when ‘hearing with your mouth’ does require you to use your voice, even in difficult or critical situations. An affirming nod or ‘grunt’, or a confirming statement ‘so what you are saying is…’ can go a long way to assuring the speaker that you are engaged with him and are hearing what he is really saying.
Much has been written elsewhere about Listening Skills and this brief series clearly cannot cover all situations and circumstances. In contexts such as counselling these skills are particularly important and there are others far better qualified than me to teach on this. But I hope that I have been able to give a few keys I personally have found helpful in my own experience and that as you apply them you will become a better listener. I find few things more encouraging than when someone says to me ‘you are a good listener’. May you know that encouragement too.
Maybe you would like to reflect on this cartoon (source unknown).
This is the final posting in this series. It seems an appropriate place to end my blog-year as we are about to celebrate the incarnation, the Word made flesh. May this be a great season of joy and celebration for you, and my prayer is that as you go into the New Year you will be a better listener – to both God and man. Happy Christmas!