It was a real delight to have the opportunity to spend some time with the leader of the family of churches I am a part of when Terry Virgo came to preach at the church I attend. He was kind enough to sit with me for what was a very interesting and open interview.
Terry is perhaps not as well known to my American readers as he ought to be. He is , however, widely perceived among Christians of different backgrounds as something of an elder statesman in the UK church. Together with John Piper and Don Carson he will be a key speaker at next Easters New Word Alive conference.
Having founded a reformed charismatic family of churches in the 1970′s, called Newfrontiers, there are few with a wider breadth of experience in church leadership than Terry. Newfrontiers has a lot of similarities with Sovereign Grace Ministries which is headed by Terry’s long-time friend C.J. Mahaney.
Terry Virgo is a man on a mission, and this interview will give us insight into how he is feeling about the church in general and Newfrontiers in particular at the moment.
Thanks for joining us Terry, Please can you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your ministry?
I am married to Wendy and we have five grown up children. I live in Brighton where I was born. I lived away from Brighton for 14 years but have been back for 25 years. I am one of the elders of the Church of Christ The King and also lead the Newfrontiers family of churches. Newfrontiers is now in five continents and is made up of 500 churches. There are now a number of teams of leaders that serve those churches.
I travel a lot and keep hearing about blogs wherever in the world I am. I was in America recently and discovered that people had already got some of my material from my church website but were asking about other material. It made me feel that perhaps I should have a site on the internet for my thoughts and teaching. I had no feel for blogging at all, but as time has gone on it has grown with me that I should do it. The more I think about it the more motivated I am to do so. It also gives people a chance to see my diary and pray for my trips.
Talking of your future diary, I notice that you will be speaking for the UCCF and Keswick next spring at the New Word Alive conference in North Wales. How did that arise?
I was first invited to speak at the UCCF forum two years ago, which was out of the blue to me. I had already become an advisor to them prior to this. When I went to Forum we had an exceptionally good time. I was impressed by the responsiveness to God’s word by the student leaders listening to my preaching on Romans. Afterwards, I was told that the mp3 downloads of the preaching were very popular. Then, when they felt they were going to do a separate conference in 2008 they wanted to get me involved. They know that I embrace a reformed theology and have a high view of Scripture.
How do you feel about the wider evangelical scene at the moment?
Well to be honest, I am not very encouraged by the Evangelical situation in England. Although recent years have seen more harmony across the various denominations, my heart aches to see the gospel having more impact in the nation. Where are people of weight coming together? There are a lot of encouraging things happening in the States, however. There is a whole group of people, including John Piper, Wayne Grudem, Mark Dever, C. J. Mahaney, Mark Driscoll and others. They all love the Word and have found each other as friends. I am encouraged to see Driscoll’s evangelistic impact in seeing many saved.
The Together for the Gospel initiative is fascinating. There is an energy among people who hold the scriptures dear and are trying to work it out. I fear that in England there is no equivalent group coming together in friendship and influence in a similar vein.
At the same time we have to work with where we are. I feel a sense of commissioning to gather some Christian leaders together, and am beginning to do so. I am praying about throwing a wider net to include more from reformed backgrounds. I am looking for men of the Bible who are men of goodwill to see what would happen. It has to be on a relational basis. I am not just looking at those who ‘ought’ to be there. It seems to me that the key is to bring together people who really care.
I would love to see a rallying point that was not just charismatic but for those who value the Word. I do feel God has given me a desire to have fellowship with leaders beyond Newfrontiers. We love the Word and want to see the Cross upheld as do others. I would love to see some kind of bridging of the Together for the Gospel type of movement in the UK.
It’s encouraging to hear you speaking of meeting with other leaders from different church groupings. Which groups do you feel that you have learnt most from?
It is very important for me and the other guys I work with to rub shoulders with those outside our circles – both theologically for sharpening and also for spiritual breakthroughs. As an example, we met with a leader from a family of churches in Thailand who had seen success in church planting we had never dreamed of. As a result we experienced a surge of church planting.
We have also been shaped by our exposure over several decades to CJ Mahaney. He is a huge influence on me in his purity of soul and his zeal for God . He is a real delight and hugely provocative. Dudley and Tyrone Daniels and their group of churches are also currently stirring and provoking us.
Over the years there have been others that have similarly taught us things and, I am sure that there are more groups we can learn from if only we got to know them more.
You mention learning from others. What about what we can all learn from you? What do you feel your life message is that you can share with others in the wider church?
To recover New Testament church life is a real passion for me. That has to do with both the message and also its expression through the local church. The gospel is often lost through legalism or through sentimental ideas of what it is. Sometimes, there is a failure to grasp the overview of the Bible from Abraham through David to Jesus. The message of the Bible is that we, who are in Christ are the people of God and are the fulfilment of the promises to Abraham and his seed (Galatians 3:16).
Today, many Christians still live secular lives, attend church but have a privatized religion and a ‘personal savior’ instead o
f being captivated by the fact that we are God’s people and are therefore at the centre of world history. Some people focus their attention on secular Israel and fail to understand that those who have embraced Israel’s Messiah are the people of God, as Paul argues in Philippians 3:3.
What thrills me is a local church full of individuals celebrating the triumph of grace, knowing what it is to be a son of God, full of the Holy Spirit, enjoying personal fellowship with God in an intimate way and also reveling in a huge picture of our world mission to glorify Jesus among the nations, and the vast place of the Church in world history. That vision is both intimately personal and massively broad — both things thrill me.
To be continued…