Ness Wilson feels ‘fully alive’ when she’s leading. She has headed-up Open Heaven Church, a 250-strong community in Loughborough, for almost 20 years. She talks to Caroline Harmon about her passion for seeing other women released into church leadership, theological gymnastics, and the need to stay soft-hearted in the face of opposition.
When did you first feel called to leadership in the church?
I was 15 when I specifically felt God gave me a life verse, 2 Timothy 4v5: Keep your head in all circumstances, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist and fulfil all the duties of your ministry. I felt then that there was something on my life then that was going to involve some kind of leadership or full time ministry.
There were less female church leaders then than now. What did you do with that sense of calling?
At the time I had no role models of women who were church leaders or church planters so I just assumed I was going to be a missionary abroad. I wrote to lots of bible colleges and said “please could I come and train?” I got letters back saying I was too young! Most wanted you to be at least 21 so I came to study in Loughborough to bide time.
It was at university that God shortcut the whole process and I just found that I was leading things. I was on the Christian Union Executive, and leading small groups of new Christians and prayer across the Christian community on campus. I felt fully alive when I was operating in any kind of leadership role.
Then a number of us received a prophetic word that a church would be planted in the East Midlands, by young people, for young people. We planted that church (Open Heaven). To begin with we had a fairly ill-defined leadership team; after a couple of years Steve Clifford (who oversees Open Heaven and is also now General Director of the Evangelical Alliance) met with everyone who was part of the church plant and asked us all who we were following. People said they were following me, so he gave me authority to do what I was already doing, bringing vision, leadership and direction. In terms of church leadership that was the first time I had an official role. I felt daunted by it, but it also felt very natural….. read more in the full issue
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