My Hero Speaks Out!
I was thrilled to find the following interview with Terry Virgo with a guy in the Newfrontiers church in Cambridge. It takes a more in-depth look at Terry's private devotional life that I found INCREDIBLY stirring. God is really on my case at the moment about quiet times (I'm trying to get up before the dawn to meet Him ... ouch!) and to read this is so exciting and stirring.
Are your Bible reading and prayer times systematic or free form?
I think it would be fair to say that they are very deliberate now and have been for many years. I sometimes change the format, but my style tends to be that when I get up in the morning, I get a cup of tea for my wife, Wendy, then go to my study and spend some time in the Word. After a breakfast break I get down to prayer.
Most of the time I use my own meditation system in Bible study. This varies according to the book I set myself, so that if I am going through an epistle it will tend to be much more detailed on a phrase or a verse, but if I’m going through an Old Testament book, I might go through a whole chapter. If I find a phrase or a verse that just seems to stir me, I’ll use a concordance and go off on all sorts of angles – a lot of light gets shed through that. I will occasionally break out and use a commentary. The first time I did that was working through Alec Motyer’s The Prophecy of Isaiah (IVP, 1993). It seemed strange to turn away from my own meditating, but I got so captivated by it that I worked my way right through and I’ve occasionally done that since with other commentaries, but most of the time I have an exercise book and a concordance and my Bible.When you pray, is it noisy or reflective, or a mixture of both?
I guess it’s fairly mixed, but it’s usually noisy. I find that giving thanks to God for things that have happened to me in the last 24 hours helps to bring my life into his presence, reminding me afresh of the loving hand that has done these things. I have found myself more and more drawn in recent years to reflect on the cross in terms of the mercy and kindness God has shown us, and I will often sing about that. I find myself singing a mixture of the modern songs we sing and some old hymns. I love to sing and sometimes I give a lot of time to it, and sing in tongues as well. Then out of this I’ll begin to intercede in terms of wherever God directs me. I try to bear in mind the Lord’s Prayer as a kind of structure to my praying.
What proportion of your prayer times are worship compared with the amount given over to intercession?
Well, strangely, in more recent years, the time spent in worship and real fellowship with God has grown, so that although there is more to pray about, because one’s world always seems to get bigger, the reality is I find renewal, for me, on a daily basis comes from enjoying God for who he is.What’s the most inspiring thing you have learned or relearned in your reading of the Bible recently?
Yesterday I was reading through John chapter 11 and the phrase that really gripped me was what Martha says to Jesus: ‘I know that God will give you whatever you ask.’ And later, as he raises Lazarus from the dead, Jesus says: ‘Father, thank you [that] you always hear me …’ These phrases really stirred me about the certainty of Jesus getting his prayers answered. I thought of his own devotion to the Father, despite knowing that this was going to cost him everything because this miracle was going to be the one to convince the Jews to say, ‘We’ve got to kill him.’ It also struck me that we have an advocate with the Father who always gets what he asks for and that there’s great assurance to be gained from this. As I was meditating on this I remembered John 15:7 which says if we abide in him and let his words abide in us we can ask whatever we wish and it will be given to us. So I found those passages quite a stimulus to my own praying.
How much do you need to come at your ministry responsibilities with a freshness found in your relationship with God in private, or is it that you get built up and renewed while working for the church?
I think that it all works together. We have just been going through a week of prayer in the church here in Brighton, which we do once a month. I’ve been in three prayer meetings in three days, and that, inevitably, is very refreshing. I do a lot of flying around and one of the things they say on aeroplanes is that if there is an oxygen problem, you will find these little masks will fall down from above you. The advice always given is, if you have a child next to you, make sure you put your own oxygen mask on first before you try and help the child, which sounds a little bit selfish, but, actually, if you think of a child that starts fighting back, or being unresponsive, you’ll gradually endanger yourself. I’m sure it’s very wise counsel to make sure you’re all right, you’re full of oxygen, if you like, before you try to help anyone else, and I think that’s my principle. I want to be serving people all the time, but if I’m not in a good place myself, I’ll start running on empty, so I’m quite disciplined in keeping my own experience of God alive.
What do you think God is saying to the church in the UK at the moment?
We gather all our pastors on a regular basis, and when we were last together, God impressed on us a prophecy that there has been a cold wind that has been blowing through the church in our nation, killing many things off. We know that it’s been a dire time, with many churches closing and the church getting a pretty bad press. We felt that God was saying to us that this cold wind has been necessary, like the frosts of winter. Some things have had to die off, but there’s a fresh warm breeze coming, a life-imparting breeze. So I’ve felt more and more full of expectation. For us in Brighton, we’ve got unprecedented numbers on our student work. We visit 500 homes every week on our kids’ club visitations – and we’re seeing breakthroughs like never before. I believe that God wants to bless us, in evangelism and in other ways, too.Is it more important to be known as an evangelical than a charismatic?
I don’t know how helpful labels are.
However, I believe the good news as reported in the Bible and, therefore, I’m fundamentally evangelical. In fact, it’s out of my commitment to biblical truth that I became persuaded about charismatic experience.
Do you see it as part of Newfrontiers’ mission to generate renewal in more traditional denominations or is that a bonus?
I am absolutely delighted where people, within traditional denominations, have drawn on things that we have shared, like the Stoneleigh Bible Week or our teaching materials on themes like grace and the work of the Holy Spirit. I’m of a certain persuasion concerning foundations being very fundamental and important. If they are not dealt with thoroughly they will always frustrate progress, and so it is because of foundational issues we have had to start afresh and do something new.
Is that why you’ve put church planting to the fore?
I would think so. In Brighton and Hove, where I live, 14 churches are earmarked for closure, so if we planted 14 we would only be keeping level. We need to see many, many churches planted. I was at a conference recently where in the question time someone asked, ‘Can you not help failing churches rather than plant new ones?’ I answered by saying, we have to question why they are failing. If the church is failing, there is a reason for it and if the issues causing the failure are not dealt with, to try and help doesn’t help! I have spoken at events like Spring Harvest and people have come to me at the end and thanked me for the ministry and then, quite openly, said, ‘Now we go back to our dead church.’ And I’ve asked, ‘What does that mean?’, and they’ve said, ‘Well, the minister isn’t converted yet. He won’t let us have Alpha’, or something. I’ve had that kind of conversation too often. So I think, why would anyone expect there to be blessing in a church if its leader is not even a Christian? If we do not deal with fundamental issues, we cannot expect much to happen.
Do you think that one of the keys to Newfrontiers’ success is consistency of message, from the highest level of leadership down to local churches, and that this is what brings people to maturity?
Paul says in Acts 20:32, ‘I commend you to God and to the Word of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you the inheritance’. The Bible is pretty clear that there is a body of doctrine that builds the church up and I think that if you are neglectful of that, you are neglectful at your own cost. So we would urge all the pastors that we work with to be very biblical in their approach and to give a good amount of time to teaching the Word. We cling to the more traditional perspective of seeing the Word as fundamental and central, as in Acts 2:42: ‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching’. We want to build churches that are very biblical.
It is hugely important to help individual Christians know that it’s the Bible’s truths that set them free and I think that it’s when churches begin to lose confidence in the Bible and the eagerness to understand what it teaches, that they become vulnerable. If biblical truth is taught systematically, with life and vitality, people would be wonderfully built up, set free and equipped.
Do you think it’s essential that local churches preach grace continuously?
I think that foundations of grace need to be laid in a church from its inception and hopefully, therefore, in the individual, as they get added to it. Then grace, hopefully, touches everything we say and do and the way we conduct ourselves. Tomorrow, here in Brighton, for instance, we’re hosting a worship training day. I’m doing a session and part of my approach to that involves people’s knowledge of God’s grace towards them, which releases worship, so although I won’t be doing a session on grace, by talking about worship, I will be showing that, without understanding grace, worship is an external thing – it lacks heart. Grace should touch everything we are saying and doing.
What one thing would you say motivates you to get you out of bed in the morning?
It is a wonderful thing to know that God has called you. That is the mainspring of my life. I am deeply grateful to God for his kindness and mercy to me, it genuinely stirs and motivates me. I want to finish the work he has given me to do. The awareness that we are called into fellowship with God and to do things that he has given us to do is what stirs my heart the most.