Nigel Ring on May 25th, 2017

Burundi has a chequered history. It experienced revival as part of the East African Revival in the middle decades of the twentieth century and then inter-tribal civil war through the 1990s and into the new century. Tension continues to exist to this day.

On the UN scales of poverty Burundi features near the bottom. The infrastructure is at best unreliable, at worst non-existent, with supplies of electricity and fuel severely restricted. But the church is active in helping to bring peace and transformation.

Donna Bloomfield, of Gateway Church in Swindon, UK, has a deep commitment to Burundi, having served for two years as the principal of a Christian school in the capital, Bujumbura, at the turn of the century and more recently having become engaged in various initiatives to alleviate poverty and promote transformation through the church. In this interview she shares some of the matters on her heart.

 

 

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Nigel Ring on May 17th, 2017

I was a member of Church of Christ the King in Brighton for over 30 years. A few years ago one of the members, Liz Woodgate, was diagnosed with terminal cancer of the oesophagus hence the title of this recently published book, Swallowed by Life. It is the story of what happened over the following two years at which time she was declared healed!

I am not going to spoil the wonder by telling you the whole story but it is very remarkable and brings great glory to God. It is certainly a sign that will make you wonder!

The book can also be something of a workshop for us as it teaches us much from the many steps that brought Liz to that wonderful result:

  • Her transparency in her honesty and vulnerability as she faced the diagnosis.
  • The battle she went through both physically and emotionally as she sold all her possessions (including her house) in anticipation of dying.
  • The faith that was exercised by herself, and her family and friends in a remarkable ‘we’re-not-going-to-give-up’ way as they soaked her in prayer on a weekly basis.
  • The tenacity of her sister who contacted a man she knew who had gone through a similar walk – and helped arrange for a visit by him all the way from New Zealand!

I know Liz and the people mentioned in this book and can vouch for its authenticity. You will be blessed to read it. But beware, as Terry Virgo says ‘Once I had picked up the book I couldn’t put it down’. I agree! Leave yourself sufficient time as you read it to complete it at one sitting and to wonder at the majesty and power of God.

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Nigel Ring on May 10th, 2017

In this concluding part of the series I want to continue to help church leaders in the challenging task of ensuring that all members are achieving their God-given place of service in the local church, particularly, in this context, the older members.

Crowning Years
Recently I attended the thanksgiving service for Alun Davies, a godly church leader whom I loved to visit up to the end of his life in his eighties. Why? Because he reflected and spoke about the wonder and glory of Jesus. He took every opportunity to talk about Jesus, to witness to those he touched, whether a carer who was coming to help look after his wife, June, or a painter who decorated his house. He was one of those I visited to encourage – but left having become the recipient of encouragement rather than the giver!

Alun was living out the teaching of the ministry to older people he and June carried out for many years – Crowning Years. The name came from a prophecy God gave though Alun himself in 1989: “I am bringing into being a new generation of old people who will not carry their years as a burden, but will wear them as a crown”.

I was privileged to speak at Alun’s thanksgiving service and, while preparing, reminded myself from the reports in the Newfrontiers Magazines of the blessings of this ministry. Frequently I read testimonies of people who attended the conferences thinking they had come to the end of their productive lives only to find that God had further work for them through the church. One couple even moved to India to support a church planting initiative!

Ask them
As a church leader I encourage you to see this older generation in a very positive light and to seek God how to tap into the richness of lives well lived. Why not visit them and ask how you can help mobilise them? What are their aspirations? It may take a little time but surely the investment of those hours is worth it – both for you and for them.

Digging into the word
In attending several thanksgiving services recently I noted how some of those we were thanking God for had been actively involved in men’s Bible studies right up to the ends of their lives. What a great way to invest into men! Often men, particularly businessmen, don’t know where they fit in the church. The demands of business life may preclude their availability for mid week meetings etc. But perhaps an early morning Bible study and prayer time, maybe on a Saturday over breakfast, is just what is needed. Who better to lead this than someone who has walked with God for 40, 50, 60… years? And what a way for the life of the church to be deepened.

Conclusion
I have sought to encourage those of senior years to see they still have a role in the church but that you need to take the initiative yourself rather than expect someone to come knocking at your door.

For the church leaders, I want to urge you to recognise that you may have pure gold in your midst and yet you may not have noticed it. Be intentional. Go and mine it for everyone’s good!

For both groups – don’t just read this series and agree or disagree. If you agree do something about it. If you disagree discuss it with someone and find better solutions that match your circumstances.

Don’t just be passive – Go and do it!

 

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Nigel Ring on May 3rd, 2017

Relay batonI now want to speak to church leaders. One of your primary responsibilities is to present every one of your members ‘mature in Christ’ (Col 1:28) – a life-long process that does not end at ‘retirement’! It includes helping them to reach their full potential and bring their gifting to the benefit of the community. When we were chosen from before the foundation of the world it was to walk in the good works God has prepared for us to walk in (Eph 2:10) and that never stops this side of the grave.

This series has particularly addressed those who are typically retired – I feel I am qualified to do so! But in using the expression ‘mobilising older people’ I am not speaking of walking frames. What I am talking about is how to provide a framework in which older people can contribute to the health and life of others within the context of the church. Each member, regardless of age, needs to be fully integrated and fulfilled in the community of the church. How can you achieve this?

Not just the retired people
By ‘older’ I think you should probably think of anyone above 50 yrs old. Many churches focus on the younger members, reflecting the fact that many leadership teams are now ‘younger’, having taken over from the pioneers and original church planters. But you probably have men and women in your church communities who have contributed much to the church over the last 10-30 years but now feel they are being by-passed in favour of younger people. I know this is true – I have observed and spoken to some in this category. However, I suspect you are at a loss to know how to mobilise them.

Are they a pain?
Older people do have the potential to be a pain! Sometimes they are judgmental or complaining – ‘we didn’t do it like that in our day’. It is not easy to handle such negativity. Yet I urge you to look beyond that attitude (maybe you should address it – they are still part of your pastoral responsibility) and see that the older generation represents a rich seam of wisdom and experience that may well be worth mining. Some have a lot of time available and any negative reaction may simple be out of frustration or a sense of rejection that what they have to offer is not being recognised.

Probably the most difficult people to handle are those who have been in church leadership. They have ‘been there, done that and got the T-shirt’! But if you can see life through their eyes they have indeed ‘been there’. Try to understand that to have little purpose or responsibility now is not easy to handle.

I urge you to sit down with them and discuss how they would like to be involved and included. You have an opportunity to release mature energy into your church – maybe some who could even relieve you of some of your diary-clogging activities.

Next time I will give you some specific ideas of how to achieve this.

 

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Nigel Ring on April 25th, 2017

Relay batonHomework – did you do it?
Last time I urged you to list the things you felt you could contribute to the church at this stage in your life. I hope you were obedient! I would now like to add some suggestions to your list.

Discipleship and mentoring
Jesus’ final command was to go and make disciples (Matt 28:19). What a great season in life you are now in to do this with less pressures on your time! You may no longer be an activist and implementer, but you have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share. But be sure to do so in humility – and remain a learner! For instance, young men and women in the church may value just sitting with you and asking questions, or discussing a topic. I have breakfast regularly with some young men and we are working our way through Terry Virgo’s book ‘God’s Lavish Grace’. There is much food for thought and discussion there, and it allows other matters to be talked about that relate to their particular life circumstances.

Skype, too, can be a great tool to help with discipling. I have one friend who used to travel widely who now regularly Skypes men in other nations and encourages, advises and teaches them the ways of God. What a mentoring opportunity; truly going to make disciples – without going!

Do life together
I know of older women who have invited younger women to their homes to join in their daily activities and imparted godly wisdom and counsel as they have done so. Not only does this deepen friendship but it allows younger women to ask very practical questions and observe an older woman in her own environment where they are seen ‘warts and all’! It is good to have evidence of the person’s life in this way, not just hearing them talk in public. Surely this is Titus 2:3-5 in practice? I recommend Wendy Virgo’s book Life issues: Studies in Titus for Women – although sadly this can now be
difficult to obtain.

Family
What about family life? Parenting nowadays is often different from the ways we did it. The oft-felt necessity for both mums and dads to work is now the norm. So, this is a great chance for you to be involved with young people, not only your own grandchildren but others in the church. I have been thrilled recently to be asked by a family in our church to help a 6 year old develop his skills in making things from wood (one of my own hobbies). What an opportunity to input the younger generation with fun and Biblical values as we work together!

Writing
You have built up a wealth of knowledge over the decades. What about capturing this in a blog? Not everyone feels able to do this but I am encouraged by the response to my own blog and also to learn that others, such as John Groves, who has led several churches, are now writing regularly in semi-retirement so that they can continue to be a blessing to others. For the more ambitious even a book might be a possibility!

Helping those in need
There are many other ways to be involved. For instance, have you offered to help as a ‘volunteer’ in one of the ministries of the church, perhaps helping at a Foodbank or visiting people in their homes?

Prayer
Above all, you can be a pray-er. There are so many people who need their arms holding up in the battle and someone to help them hold the shield of faith – teachers, social workers, those in public life, some who are ill, church leaders and so on. To be part of a ‘prayer shield’ for such people is a privilege. There is a good book by Peter Wagner ‘Prayer Shield’ which I read many years ago (now updated) that is helpful in this area.

If you still do not know where to start in finding a fulfilling and fruitful place of service you may find my book Discover and Serve helpful (see side panel).

Next time I will speak to the leaders of churches about mobilising this generation.

 

 

 

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Nigel Ring on April 19th, 2017

Relay batonDefining your current gifting and capacity
If you believe that God has not finished with you, you have a responsibility to wait on him to discover what he has for you in this season of life. It may well differ from what you have been used to. Your previous energy and capacity have probably diminished. But that does not mean they have come to an end. So let’s look at what you have to offer. You may like to list them out and then ‘lay them before the Lord’. This can give the space and opportunity for him to confirm or adjust what you have written.

Be practical
As I approached retirement I took time over several months to list the things in which I had been involved. I then separated them into those that clearly would be discarded as they related to my specific employment and those things that I enjoyed and hoped to continue. I believe that God wants us to enjoy what we are doing. It reflects his father heart towards us just as we want our own children and grandchildren to enjoy life!

I also reflected on the gifting God had put within me, although a friend of mine encouraged me to expect other gifts to emerge and the balance of how I used those gifts to change. This advice was particularly helpful and I have found on many occasions that God has used me to bring some insight or wisdom into a situation I would previously have expected others to speak into.

Take control
One other piece of advice I was given which really helped was that I needed to take control of my future. I could not expect others to do this for me. I should not expect, for instance, the church leaders to come knocking at my door. It was for me to make myself available and to offer to serve, maybe specifying the areas in which I felt I could make a contribution.

Do it!
So, before next week’s blog I want to encourage you to sit down with a piece of paper (or at the computer!) and list a) those things you feel God has gifted you with b) those areas of life/activity in which you have been and could continue to be fruitful c) those things you enjoy doing and give you pleasure. Then, pray over those lists and see if you can find the faith to explore some of them a bit further as active ingredients of your current season of life. Don’t be passive – Do it!

Next time I will suggest at some specific ways in which you can be fulfilled and fruitful but I do want you to have thought it through for yourself before I make suggestions.

 

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Nigel Ring on April 12th, 2017

Relay batonThose in their latter years
What is your attitude now that you are beginning to feel the aches and pains which come with age? What is your attitude to the current church leadership, maybe those who carry the responsibility you once carried? Be grace-filled not grumpy!

Battles for each generation
I am saddened when I encounter those who are finding the adjustment to later life has allowed a bitterness of spirit to enter their souls. We have all had battles to fight in our generation and, I trust, have fought those battles well. Maybe they were related to doctrine in the church – baptism of the Holy Spirit perhaps – or practice, such as having guitars in the meetings! That these were big issues now seems laughable, but once they were very real. Each generation has its own battles.

The current generation faces very different ones from those facing my generation, but they are just as real, maybe more acute and sensitive, such as gender issues, or the pressures associated with social media. Indeed, discussion about any such issue is aggravated by the availability of instant access to communication allowing views to be expressed without being thought through in detail. Also the anonymity modern communication media allows can release vitriol that would never be expressed in a face-to-face encounter. My generation may make use of these media but never had to deal with the consequences they allow. I urge you to respect the challenges both our present leaders and the younger generation now face.

Be a supporter
When I was still in Brighton and an active member of Church of Christ the King, though no longer in leadership, I found it a joy and a privilege occasionally to endorse the younger leadership who had taken over from us older leaders. More than once I invited myself onto the platform at the end of a preach by one of the younger preachers to affirm and endorse what they had said. I was trying to communicate to others in my generation that we should not stand back judgmentally but actively affirm the leadership whom God had now anointed over us. I even used my ‘farewell’ to speak to older members of the church, encouraging them not to become disillusioned but to be supportive.

Be a servant
Servanthood is one of our highest callings, an example set by Jesus himself. So, what can we do when we are perhaps more limited for physical reasons? There are many possibilities. You have a wealth of spiritual and life experience and maturity that it is your responsibility to pass on. Don’t wait to be asked; just get on and do it!

Be a learner
Have you ever thought that God may open up a new area of ministry and fruitfulness in this season of your life? I find that an exciting thought; don’t believe the whisper of the enemy that your time is past! Consider what new areas of life you can explore. Maybe there is something completely fresh that God would have you to learn and share. He made you in his image to be creative. Don’t let the enemy persuade you that that was for only the first decades of your life. You are still in God’s image!

Next time we will look at a few possibilities for ways in which you can define your heart’s desire, gifting and capacity for the new season of life.

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Nigel Ring on April 5th, 2017

Relay baton

Every family sees the passing of generations. As the Newfrontiers family experiences increasing longevity – nearly 36 years have passed since Terry Virgo drew together the first team (see my recent blog ‘A team is born’) – there is the inevitability of those involved in the early years growing older, both church members and those who have been privileged with leadership.

In recent months I have attended thanksgiving services for five people whom I had grown to know, love and in some cases work closely with, who are now dwelling with Jesus in glory. What a joy, if tinged with inevitable sadness, to celebrate their lives and recognise that in each case they had ‘run well’ till the end. In no case did I witness complaining or grumpiness, despite handling serious illness in several cases. All kept faithful to the Lord and served to the end, even with some imposed restrictions caused by illness or age-related limitations. Only hours before he died one, John Hammond, was even planning the newsletter about the ministry with the poor in Africa he had devoted himself to! He ran well – to the very end.

How can we run well?
Attending such celebrations caused me to stop and reflect on how we can ‘run well’ in our latter years and how we can continue to serve the church and vision to see the Kingdom advance in our generation. It is so sad when some become grumpy rather than continue to be grace-filled. I have also reflected on whether we are a blessing or a problem to the younger church leadership.

In this short series I shall try to address both of these issues – how to run well until the end and how church leadership can welcome our involvement.

Retirement?
I believe that retirement does not exist in the Kingdom or the church. It has been created by pension funds and employers so that there is an age when a financial transition is necessary and implemented. But in the Bible we find that men and women matured. Some handed on the baton of active service. They also kept running. Caleb ‘wholly followed the Lord’ when others were falling away (Num 32:12). Paul pressed on to ‘finish the race’ and looked forward to receiving the ‘crown of righteousness’, the champion’s garland (2 Tim 4:7,8).

Created by Creativeart - Freepik.com

Created by Creativeart – Freepik.com

Passing on the baton but remaining in the race
When a relay runner passes on the baton there is a period when the two runners keep running side-by-side. Both remain involved in the race, the one picking up the speed of the first runner the other keeping in lane to prevent another being tripped up. The latter then becomes a great cheerer until the race is completed. He may not break through the tape of the that relay himself – he is not the anchor man – but he remains actively involved. He does of course cross his own ‘finishing line’ as he finally leaves the handover box.

It is dangerous to press analogies too far but I believe that each of us is called to remain active until we breathe our final breaths. But how can that happen? I would like to say a word to two groups of people: those who are in the later stages of life, maybe the final season, and those who have now taken hold of the baton.

Next time I will address those who are heading for glory!

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Nigel Ring on March 29th, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-03-27 at 11.12.44In his book ‘It is not death to die’ Jim Cromarty shares the story of Hudson Taylor, the story of a man of faith. Arguably one of the most effective missionaries of all time Hudson Taylor’s heart was set on taking the gospel to China from a young age. To this end he trained in medicine, having to overcome his poor background and the lack of finance to achieve this, and learnt how to share the good news of the gospel with the poor in the area in which he was training.

China Inland Mission founded
At the age of only 21 he first travelled to China and made several more visits in the next 12 years before God called him on Brighton beach to found the China Inland Mission in 1865. I well remember Chinese delegates at a leadership conference held in Brighton in 1991 going to the beach and giving thanks to God that that was the place in which Hudson Taylor received his call, his obedient response resulting in millions of Chinese finding Christ as their Saviour.

To read this excellent biography of Hudson Taylor, first published in 2001 but now in its second reprint, one encounters a man of passion for the gospel, a man of faith who trusted in God to provide (he never took offerings at the end of his many speaking engagements to publicise the CIM), a man of love and compassion, and a man sold out for God.

He identified with the Chinese people as closely as possible, including wearing their dress and taking their hairstyle, and trained up hundreds of Chinese evangelists to join over one thousand ex-patriot missionaries as they reached all provinces in that vast nation. He travelled widely internationally to recruit people for his mission, often suffering illness through many of the hardships that travel in the late-Victorian era exacerbated.

Screen Shot 2017-03-27 at 11.10.03Opposition
In China he and his fellow workers frequently faced severe opposition including riots, attacks, theft and destruction of property. But he taught his fellow missionaries not to retaliate nor seek compensation, a response that on occasion impressed the local people.

In the anti-foreigner Boxer rebellion of 1900, when Hudson Taylor was out of the country, several of his colleagues were executed together with their families (58 adults, 21 children), something that weighed heavily on his heart.

Hudson Taylor died in Switzerland in 1905, one year after his second wife Jennie died of cancer.

I can whole-heartedly recommend this substantial biography. You will discover there is much to learn and be challenged by as you read of a man who was passionate about advancing the Kingdom in his generation, the fruit of which is still being seen and multiplied over a century later.

Click  ‘It is not death to die’ for a link to Amazon.

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Screen Shot 2017-02-17 at 14.28.07Wise counsel
One of our speakers at the first two Downs Bible Weeks in 1979 and 1980 was Bryn Jones, visionary and apostolic leader of Harvestime, later to become Covenant Ministries International (CMI). He had pioneered much through the ’70s and had taken a lot of ‘flack’ for his stance on the baptism of the Spirit, teaching about the five-fold ministries of Ephesians 4 being relevant for today, and so on. To some extent we were caught up in his slipstream.

 

bryn-picDuring Downs 80 Bryn told Terry how he had been observing his ministry and was concerned on two fronts: first that he was in danger of ‘burning out’ and second that he needed complementary gifting around him to share the burden of ministry. He advised him to follow what he himself had recently done; he had formed an apostolic team. (It is worth mentioning that ‘apostolic’ would have been expressed in a whisper in those days. It was a very emotive term as people made the accusation that anyone with apostolic gifting was making themselves out to be like the apostle Paul!)

A Team is born
Through August that year Terry prayed about this concept. (I have come to learn over many years that Terry does not make decisions until he has clearly heard from God. What security that has brought me.) He then wrote letters to six of us to invite us to join him in team relationship.

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 06.38.23And so it was that in September 1980 a team of seven men met in Terry’s home (L to R: David Holden, Richard Haydon-Knowell, Henry Tyler, Ray Lowe, Alan Vincent, Terry Virgo, Nigel Ring). Terry had recently moved within the county of Sussex from Seaford to Hove to help another burgeoning group of believers to plant a church, the Brighton and Hove Christian Fellowship. That team had friendship contact with about 20 churches at that stage and all the other members, apart from myself, IMG_0449 were leading churches in the south east of England (I was leading a research team in the National Health Service as a professional engineer).

Screen Shot 2017-01-27 at 13.53.48Coastlands
We took the name Coastlands from Isaiah 41 which in some translations uses this term to refer to the ends of the earth. However, this name was misinterpreted by many, Brighton being on the south coast of England, and we changed the name to New Frontiers, being more descriptive of our vision. Later this become New Frontiers International (NFI) and then, following the closure of the Stoneleigh Bible Week in 2001, Newfrontiers.

Screen Shot 2017-01-31 at 18.15.28Friends – not ‘professionals’
My friendship with Terry has been such a joy. God knit our hearts together many years ago and I am delighted that it continues to this day. I think our friendship spoke to others as well. In July 2002 Christianity+Renewal Magazine published an article called Double Act in which they graciously wrote warmly about our relationship, and some other ‘duos’. To be called to work together in this way has been a privilege.

That comes to the end of my personal ‘take’ on the start of Newfrontiers. Maybe one day I will take the story further but other snap shots of history do exist in books by Terry Virgo, such as No well-worn Paths. There is also a summary on the Newfrontiers website. But, with the expansion and diversity of the Newfrontiers family that God has graciously allowed no single history would be possible.

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