Sharon has caught up with Ness Wilson who is the Team Leader of the Leadership Team at Open Heaven Church in Loughborough. The church started in 1993 and Ness has been Team Leader since 1995.
Tell us a little about yourself?
I live in a community household with my husband and two girls, Amelie who is 11 years old and Lauren who is 7. We have lived in community for some years now and really enjoy seeing the Kingdom of God worked out in this way. Two of the values of the church are community and authenticity and in my opinion it is so important that we live this out rather than just talk about it.
When do you feel you started on your leadership journey?
It is more obvious with hindsight to see how you first were given leadership responsibility, at the time you just get on with it. I led the school Christian Union when I was 16 years old and the CU saw a time of growth with young people becoming Christians and being discipled.
At university I developed this call to leadership and loved the sense of being used by God and seeing people becoming Christians. Whilst in my first year at university there was a prophetic word spoken that said there was a group of young people who would set up a church for young people in the Midlands. Then at the age of 21 I was involved with a group of 6 others in planting a church in Loughborough. I left university and worked in a florist part time in order to pay the bills and the rest of the time we were involved in planting a Christian community.
What excites you about leadership?
I love the fact that in leadership I can influence for change – to see things not yet in existence becoming real. I love to be able to mobilise others to be all that God has created and called them to be. Leadership enables me to bless, hope, and encourage people to be the best version of themselves and to imagine what can be. This is all very rewarding.
What are some of the challenges you have faced in your leadership?
I would definitely say that it has been the times when I have gone through personal heartaches and trials within my family life and have lost my energy and vision for leadership. I have never felt that I would give up, but there have been seasons where I have needed to take a step back and enable God to restore my energy.
We have developed a model of leadership at the church, which means that I have been able to step back and another person has stepped forward e.g. when I was on maternity leave. When I have come back then the roles have been shifted round again. Because we put a lot of emphasis on character over gifting this has never been a problem, as people at church do not see their leadership as a career move or development – it is about what God is saying and being obedient to that calling. At the same time I have had to recognise the cost of letting go and face up to it. The easiest thing in the world is to try and hold on, but that is not what it is about in the Kingdom.
How are you encouraging the next generation of leaders?
I have had to make a conscious decision that I need to give away things that I do to others, so that they can develop their leadership skills – these may be things that I actually enjoy doing, which can be hard. Developing in leadership is not just about training people in leadership skills, but also giving them opportunities and routes to work out what they are learning – this means I have to step away from things that I am good at and that I enjoy doing. The important thing is remembering it is for the overall health of the ministry that we are seeking to develop rather than it being about my leadership.
Stepping back to let others have opportunities can be hard, but every leader needs to continue working and investing in their inner world – it is important that a leader is not feed by titles. status or ego, but feeds their identity from the revelation of God. We must keep sight of the bigger picture – we are all cogs in a mighty wheel and we need to be realistic about our part in that. I think this is sometimes more difficult in traditional church, as a lot of store is placed on titles and hierarchy - I feel I have more freedom in the Pioneer movement to give away more of the leadership in church in order to see others develop and that does not affect my identity as it is not based in the titles and status.
At the end of the day every leader needs to hold on to what God has said and then the fruit of the ministry will speak for itself.
If you could go back to when you started your leadership journey and could do one thing differently what would it be?
That’s a hard one to just think of one thing, but I would say it is to give greater weight to the things I am not good at e.g. organisational structure, policies and procedures. At the beginning of the church plant I did not see the need for this and so ignored it, as I really did not enjoy thinking about it. As the church grew bigger it became obvious that we need to develop an organisational structure to make the church work. So I have to lean in to the people who had these strengths and skills and really value them for it.
I believed that church was about cause and community and tried to ignore the corporate aspect of it, which became an issue as we grew.
Which Bible passage has encouraged you most in your leadership and why?
When I was about 15 years old and at a youth camp I had an encounter with God, which I will never forget and it revolved around the passage in 2 Tim 4:5. Every part of that passage has spoken to me throughout my leadership journey. It has been an anchor for me in the tough times and a lifeline when I have felt discouraged and weary.
What one piece of advice would you give to women starting out on their leadership journey now?
The biggest thing that I have learnt and would want to pass on is ‘Keep your heart soft'. Leadership can be hard, you will feel overlooked, but we have to keep on processing the hurt and practising forgiveness.
Each day I have to make sure that my heart does not grow cynical, bitter, cold and hard. I have to come before the father each day and ask him to keep my heart soft.
In meetings I would say that as a woman I have had to hear the sound of my voice early on, as this opens the door for me to contribute later in the meeting. So I will offer to pray at the beginning for the meeting, as this gives me confidence to contribute later – so another piece of advice I would give is ‘Use your voice at the beginning of a meeting’.