Homework – 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.
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!
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?
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.
Defining 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.
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.
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.
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.
Those 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.
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.
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).
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!
In 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.
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.
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.
During 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.
And 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, were leading churches in the south east of England (I was leading a research team in the National Health Service as a professional engineer).
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.
Friends – 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.
Something was happening across the nation. The ‘charismatic movement’, which rooted back to the early sixties in the UK, was now gathering momentum and house churches were springing up in many places. Through the seventies a new phenomenon was taking place in the UK, summer Bible Weeks. The Keswick Convention had, of course, been blessing people for many decades but now something fresh was happening in the charismatic wing of the church.
This new phenomenon drew hundreds of people to gather with tents and caravans on some large tract of land – an agricultural showground or a racecourse perhaps – and meet daily in marquees for a week’s teaching. Personally, we attended the Capel Bible Week (successor to the Abinger Convention), on the land of the Elim Bible College, from 1974-76. Then the Dales Bible Week, hosted by Bryn Jones, was launched in Harrogate, a northern market town, and hundreds started travelling there from the south of England.
Downs Bible Week
A few weeks before we set out for Harrogate in 1978 we felt God tell us that we were to host a similar Bible Week in the south in 1979. He sovereignly revealed that it should be held on Plumpton Racecourse, near Lewes in Sussex. ‘Who would organise it?’, Terry asked. I felt a surge of excitement, as did his church administrator in Seaford, Trevor Brierley. And so Trevor and I went to the Dales Bible Week with notepads in hand to learn as much as we could from their experience.
Terry’s next question related to numbers: ‘how many could we cope with?’ I thought of a number that seemed ridiculously large: ‘one thousand’ I said. In those days that was indeed a large number in charismatic circles. But God had other ideas and when we publicised the Downs Bible Week bookings poured in. We had 2,900 that first year, which had grown to 8,500 by the time we closed it ten years later.
It was at the Dales Bible Week in 1978 that I asked Terry to tell me if he ever felt I should be ‘full time’. I knew a call on my life from the age of 9 and then again at 31; I was now 37. We were in a crowd and he did not appear to have heard. Since I had not really intended to say it (I still do not know why I did) I did not repeat the request. However, in his letter of 1980 in which he invited me to be his administrator he reminded me of that request: ‘Did I still feel that way?’ Since it was still on my heart and was a promise from God I unhesitatingly picked up the phone to say ‘Yes’.
Next time, the final posting in this series, we will see how the first ‘team’ came together.
Change and Growth
Having moved on from our Anglican church we started travelling to Seaford on Sundays to meet with Terry’s church. We continued to meet in our home on Wednesday evenings and became like a railway junction with scores of people coming and going.
Many came to hear Terry’s teaching when he visited on alternate weeks. He would bring a carload with him and they sat together to encourage one another as we traditionalists prayed condemnatory/confessional prayers! (I later learnt that this principle of establishing a ‘hot heart’ to which others can be added was one that Terry wisely used on a number of occasions. Like a bonfire, start praying with a small group to create this ‘hot heart’ and once the ‘prayer culture’ is established others can be added.) We were never sure who or how many would come in any week but the dozen or so that had previously been the norm rapidly rose to twenties, thirties and even forties.
More space needed
We lived in a small house and had recently completed a conversion to give us a larger sitting room. But it was still only 22ft x 9ft so could not accommodate the numbers we were now hosting. We would leave the door open for people to listen from the hall, the kitchen or from sitting on the stairs. Such was the hunger for life in the Spirit in those days that people did not object to these inconveniences.
However, although we had only just finished one phase of building work it was clear that we needed more space and so built an extension. We did not have the money to do so but learnt many lessons of faith, and giving and receiving, through this so that we completed the work debt free. Around the walls were many electric power sockets so that people could plug in their recently acquired cassette tape recorders to capture Terry’s teaching. (We have often reflected since on how the present owners must wonder why there are so many electrical outlets in one room!). There was a tremendous hunger to hear and meditate upon these newly discovered (for us) truths.
But even this extension was not sufficient and others who had been attending started to meet in nearby villages to accommodate the growing numbers. Terry would visit these groups on alternate weeks. This sub-division also made it easier to invite people to a meeting that was more local to their homes.
Travelling the 20+ miles to Seaford to join the Sunday fellowship of believers was not, for us, a viable long-term solution and Terry urged us to start meeting in our home on Sundays. A few came but ‘house churches’ were not yet accepted as bona fide churches in those days.
Then in January ’77 God spoke to us that we should have more profile and meet in a public building on a Sunday. He spoke to us about planting a church, something that to a former Anglican like me was a totally foreign concept. Surely churches, by definition, had to have existed for hundreds of years! So we looked unsuccessfully for a public hall. Then God spoke again in June and this time we approached the same authorities who offered us the recently opened Clair Hall in Haywards Heath.
And so the Mid-Sussex Christian Fellowship (now The Kings Church Mid Sussex) was born on August 21st with 65 adults and children meeting in the Bar Lounge surrounded by securely locked bottles of spirits. But we were there to pursue the true Spirit!
This was the first church that Terry planted and probably marks the beginning of his apostolic ministry – not that such emotive words were used in those days.
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.