Forge Leadership Podcast. Episode 7 : Pete and Nicki Sims, leaders of Skylark Church
Pete and Nicki Sims
Skylark Church, Chelmsford
Pete and Nikki Sims, leaders of Skylark Church in Chelmsford speak with Simon Barrington about how worship has influenced the way they lead and is a key component of their leadership and how identity is so critical in the life of a leader.
Simon Barrington: [00:00:24] Well welcome to the Forge Leadership podcast this week we’ve got a fantastic husband and wife team today.
[00:00:30] A bit of a theme coming out there and today it’s Peter and Nicki Sims. Peter and Nicki are worship leaders song writers and the senior leaders of a church in Chelmsford on the East Coast of the UK. Pete and Nicki welcome.
Pete Sims: [00:00:43] Hi, Thank you for having us.
Simon Barrington: [00:00:44] Maybe you can start off by just telling us a little bit about yourself.
Nicki Sims: [00:00:48] Well as you said we worship leaders. We were both secondary school teachers and we now have the privilege of leading Skylark Church but we are also parents to a beautiful daughter Aria, and we’ve been living in Chelmsford for the last 15 years.
Pete Sims: [00:01:05] We met working for Youth for Christ in a band and so singing has always been a big part of our lives together and it’s been amazing to develop that and see how God has continued to work through our lives in worship and in other areas of leadership too
Simon Barrington: [00:01:19] I want to explore with you a little bit about worship and leadership and how those two go together and how they complement one another in a minute but tell us a littel bit about Skylark church. Skylark is a a nteresting name for a church what is the vision and passion behind that.
Nicki Sims: [00:01:35] Well it really came from an encounter that we had before we were knew we were called to lead the church. We were part of the church and the church was in transition but we were in Scotland and we were spending some time out and the question on our hearts was really God what do you want us to do next. So as part of that time away we climbed up a hill behind where we were staying and we decided because we’re crazy that we could worship all the way to the top. And then when we got to the top we would spend some time listening to God say that’s exactly what we did. And when we got to the top a little out of breath from all that singing and walking and all we could hear was this bird song and it was captivating and mesmerizing. We began to watch these birds and what we noticed was that the whole time they were soaring and ascending working really hard to get higher and higher in the sky and then they were singing and then they would circle the sun and bomb back down to the ground. But they never stopped singing and God spoke to us. He didn’t speak to us about what we were called to do but he spoke to us about who we were in the kingdom and he said you are you’re like these birds, you’re called to have a song in every season and to release a generation who will do the same. And we found out that those birds were skylarks.
[00:02:57] Yeah we came back down the hill back to the guest house and every good guest house has a book about birds and countryside. We found these skylarks and then we started to look into them and they’ve been seen in poetry for hundreds of years as a connection point between heaven and earth and that has become of the strapline for our lives and for the churches’ life – Skylark church : connecting heaven and earth.
Pete Sims: [00:03:19] They’re one of the leaders of the dawn chorus so they sing while it’s still dark and they usher in the new day and we feel that that’s what we’re called to do as a people. And one of the great things about the Skylark is it doesn’t nest in trees it nests on the ground. So it leave’s itself and where many people seek the church sort of as a high and mighty organisation that can look down and point the finger and tell people how to live the way the Skylark lives is not high and mighty and lofty in trees but down with the people where where life is really happening and vulnerable and happy to be there and to connect heaven and earth.
Simon Barrington: [00:04:17] You kept on being worship leaders as you took over leadership of the Church, so in what way is worship really central to leadership. In what ways does being a better worshipper make you a better leader.
Pete Sims: [00:04:31] Yes a really good question. The way that worship remains central to us is, as I said week we met singing working for youth for Christ. We were actually the worship of this church for around 14 years before moving into the role of the senior leaders of the church so it’s an unusual transition. Not many people move from being the worship pastors to being the senior leaders and I’m sure we’ll talk about that in a bit. But one of the things that God said to us as we were beginning the beginning the transition into the senior leadership of the church was look at the life of David.
Pete Sims: [00:05:05] Look at him in the secret place where hewas a worshipper and a worry. He soothed Saul and the spirits that were tormenting him being a worshipper and he fought them the wild animals that would attack the flock and it was those two. So those two gifts that then made room here’s where the Saul part comes in. So those two gifts make room for him before Saul in soothing the soothing Saul in fighting Goliath but actually those gifts of being a worshipper and a warrior were actually hallmarks of his kingship. And it wasn’t that he was to lay those gifts down now that he had moved into this leadership role and God said to us very clearly that that’s who I’ve called you to be worshipping, worship leading is who you are is how you got from where you were to where you are now. But it isn’t to be hung up on the wall. Don’t hang up the guitar and pick up you know the pulpit and start to lead the church that will destroy you and destroy the church. You need to be who you’ve be who you are authentic to the call that I’ve put on your life and take that into the new season. So yes we do speak on Sundays but we continue to oversee and to lead worship too. And it really is great for us because it enables us to work into our gifting area where we come alive and where we can we can really do what God has called us to do.
Simon Barrington: [00:06:22] And Nicky song writing is also part of who you are as well.
Nicki Sims: [00:06:27] How did how does that impact on the way that you lead and the way that you think and the way you bring other people with you.
Nicki Sims: [00:06:34] Yeah. I think for me songwriting is it’s part of my expression of devotion to God and it’s often sitting at the piano is a place where I really connect with God and process some of the things that I’m walking through in life and in leadership. So I consider it to be like my life blood really and I know that there are times where song writing and worship are sort of edged to the side. I find that life sort of loses its color it’s a place of life and creativity for me that brings me alive so I’ve had to really try and ring fence that and since taking over the leadership of the church alongside Pete. And yet I often find that when we are going through things as a church family there’s a song that God’s wants to release in the midst of that such power in actually singing out truth or coming in the opposite spirit through song writing and leading people forward from that place of strength as much as from speaking or one on one mentorship. Although I love all of those things to.
Simon Barrington: [00:07:39] Wow. It’s quite interesting that actually you’ve held on to something which you believe is core to who you are as a couple and as individuals and shaped that into your leadership do you find that other people that you’re mentoring into leadership actually want to get rid of stuff that has been former to them and think that they need to step in something different because they’re becoming a leader is a common problem that you see.
Nicki Sims: [00:08:05] I do think it’s common because the truth is that we all look at role models and people that we aspire to and we we often want to emulate what we see which is the really good thing as long as we don’t end up wearing someone else’s armour into battle.
Nicki Sims: [00:08:19] And often when we’re sitting with emerging leaders or people who are transitioning into a different phase in their leadership often they can look at those people that they aspire to be like or who are already doing the things that they are called to do and what we want to do is encourage them not to let go of those things that actually are unique to them and their God given place of strength and service and actually we’ve got to wear our own shoes as leaders and that’s part of pioneering as well is actually doing something in a way it hasn’t been done before.
Simon Barrington: [00:08:55] And Pete to you find it takes bravery and courage to step out into who you are uniquely made as a child of God and you know how have you tackled that in your own life.
Pete Sims: [00:09:09] Yeah. I think it does. I think that I know that when we took on the church I thought how on earth do i follow in the footsteps of the people who have gone before us. And on that on that day that we took on the church that Sunday service Nicky gave me a box in the morning and I opened it up in there were a pair of shoes with a note saying these are yours and your called to wear these ones not somebody elses. It’s it’s always scary to step into the things that God has for you. But you know the story Peter walking water towards Jesus.
[00:09:45] I love that story. And one of the reasons I love it is because of this small line in there Lord if its you tell me to come to you and I’ll come and it’s just like Peter is this God full of bravado who jumps out and starts to sink that kind of thing but actually he saw Jesus and he said look if it is you calling me to get out of the boat then I’m going to come. If it’s you then I’ll do it. And I think that’s that’s the key thing for us so many times stepping out into what God has for us and being authentic to who he’s called us to be is a scary place. But if he’s the one who’s calling us and we can keep her eyes fixed on him then all things are possible.
Simon Barrington: [00:10:25] Wow. So looking back at your lives when did you both know that you were called to leadership. When did you both know that you were called to lead together.
Nicki Sims: [00:10:35] I think that we both knew it from an early age independently that there was a call of leadership on our lives but I don’t think either of us envisaged it being in a church context so that we both have Fathers who were headmasters and Pete’s Mum is a leader and a pioneer.
[00:10:55] So I think we both knew, we were teachers Secondary school teachers and we imagind that our trajectory in leadership would probably follow that educational path but it became clearer over time and that God had other plans and for us really our journey into leadership probably like most people that you would talk to who have have ended up in leadership really looked like sacrifice and servanthood just being faithful with the things that God gave us to do. So to begin with we just took a day a week and we dropped a day a week from work and from school and just sowed into the worship team here at church and we had no idea really what we were doing is little by little we were just putting the foundations in place that God would use in the years to come but it just looked like one step after another of being obedient and saying yes to him.
Pete Sims: [00:11:50] Well I think it’s really interesting that when we met it was 1996 and Nicki and I were talking. And during that year together we fell for each other and we were just talking, well let’s be honest I fell for Nicki first.t.
Simon Barrington: [00:12:07] That’s another story.
Pete Sims: [00:12:13] We sat down and Nicki was sharing some of her vision for her life and I was just amazed that people had vision for their life. But I had come from a church background and I had great faith in Jesus but that kind of thing. It was just a new world, how do you hear from God how do you know that kind of stuff all of that was brand new to me. So Nicki had felt this thing on her life from God and she said what about you. And I said I don’t know. I’ve got nothing. I can’t think of anything. Then I said I didn’t realise how important it was and how important it has been. I said I know what why don’t I make the mission for my life to see your dreams fulfilled. So that’s what I’ll do I’ll make your dreams be fulfilled.
Pete Sims: [00:12:59] I think that that is something that that together in leadership we have made a decision that our primary goal obviously apart from following God and what have you our primary goal together is to see each other flourish and I want to see Nicki be all that she can be without being threatened by that and she wants the same for me and that enables us to be a partnership that really works.
Simon Barrington: [00:13:23] So how does that work in practice. Yeah. I mean that sounds glorious Yeah. But you must have had some pretty rough days when you’re trying to lead a church together and married life with your young daughter. I mean let is into the inside in terms of you knonw how do you cope with being married to other families gathered in the church together what works well for you and what are some of the struggles you have as well.
Nicki Sims: [00:13:51] It’s definitely challenging. There’s no doubt about that and although probably most people around us in our immediate vicinity would say Pete and Nicki as one set phrase we’re definitely two very distinct individuals with our identities. We definitely did have disagreements over things and for sure when we’ve had a few sleep deprived nights with our daughter Aria it can become a little bit tricky and working in close quarters and ministering together and there can be tense moments within that. I suppose it’s been little by little so over the however years that we’ve been in and around church in Chelmsford. We’ve made the decision to serve together and there have definitely been moments of tension but we’ve we’ve had to learn to navigate those. Just in the early days leading the worship team together we would just always find that before Thursday night worship rehearsal if anything was going to kick off in our families or if we were going to have an argument it would be on the way there and for a period of time we didn’t really see the spiritual warfare around the two of us working as a partnership together and then suddenly the lights came on and we realised that the enemy was wanting to sow disunity between us and that must be because we were stronger together working together. So we began to see that for what it was and we worked through some of those things and we just decided right whatever happens on a Thursday or a Sunday morning on our way to church we are going to determine to get our hearts right. We’re going to worship on the way there we’re we’re going to learn to work together and to talk those things through and to debrief afterwards.
Pete Sims: [00:15:37] You know one of the things we’re all taught to do in leadership is to field our weaknesses you know to find out what we’re not so good at and get other people doing those bits and play to our strengths. Well I think one of the great things about our relationship is that we’re very different in what we’re good at. And so I don’t know how I could do this role if I wasn’t doing it with Nicki and I know she feels the same way and that does sound like he’s just this poetic niceness. She sits down and strategises with people. I’m blown away by that kind of gifting. You’re so you’re so good at that and I know that there’s the strengths that I have and so together it works. But definitely we had to have loads of rules that we laid down in the early days. You know we do not discuss people’s pastoral issues while we’re lying in bed just waiting to fall asleep. This is not the time to have work in that scenario. We actually deliberately are beginninh increasingly to put meetings in the diary where we deliberately discuss work things so that it doesn’t become our conversation at home in the evening. Well obviously this is not a job this is a life this is a calling and this is what what we do. So you can’t switch it off but we do need to guard time. I would be the first to be frustrated not Nicki. I get really frustrated when things start coming home for too long and we also need to insist that we have date nights and have fun together and laugh together not just work that is just in the church building or is at home or somewhere else. We have to have that delineation and the great thing about having Aria here now is that she enforces that delineation because when we’re home we’re just Mummy and Daddy and that’s just how it is and yeah that’s really good.
Simon Barrington: [00:17:23] Fantastic and how do you create space for one another to grow and develop and flourish because there’s a lot stuff that you do together but how do you create space for one another as well to really developing in their gifting, seek God and work out their own discipleship.
Nicki Sims: [00:17:44] Yeah I think we’ve had to work hard at that too. Because time is the most difficult currency to find in life and in leadership really. But we try to facilitate it for each other to firstly and most importantly to connect with God in the way that that works best for us and for Pete that’s usually getting out into nature going on a long walk and hanging out with Jesus in that way. For me it’s more sitting at the piano or often actually spending time with another person that I love and trust just sitting and processing things. So we try to facilitate that for one another. We’re not always great at it I have to be honest and we’re still learning a lot about how to ring fence and really make sure that that time happens but we also just encourage each other to step into those new opportunities that come for us individually. And you know God is great at giving us those little opportunities that can look insignificant but actually grow us and shape us and when they come along for either one of us we we’ve really tried to develop a culture in our marriage and in our leadership together of cheering one another on and being each other’s biggest encourages because a discouragement can set in so . so quickly in leadership. It’s really important that between the two of us we were each other’s cheerleaders and in a great way as well as each others challengers.
Pete Sims: [00:19:16] I found as well it’s really important for Nikki to being an extrovert and I’m an introvert so I’m very happy to go and hide in the garage until everything’s okay with us being so close. If somebody is has somebody has hurt or upset Nicki, my husband instinct kicks in as opposed to my you know joint spiritual mentor you know I want to get out there and sort it all in that husband way. And it’s not helpful and then I can get frustrated on Nicki’s behalf and all that kind of thing you know in the end I’ve just learned you know what sweetheart I am not the person you need to be talking to because I can’t be I can’t be completely objective here. I’m too involved and so there are times when you know I may try my best but in the end Nicki’s like I need to go and speak to one of my friends who really understands me. That’s what she needs to do. I mow the lawn and I sort things out and God that way and Nick sorts things out and we come back together get her in a better place to talk again. So we just had to learn those sorts of things and see how we’re wired and work to that.
Pete Sims: [00:20:22] It’s true isn’t it that self awareness is one of the biggest issues for leaders. Just being aware of the impact we have on other people and also how wired and how we’re made and how God’s formed us as unique individuals is just a massive issue. Do you find that when your raising up younger leaders. I know that that’s something you’re really passionate about in Skylark you know how does that work and how do you build that self awareness into them.
Nicki Sims: [00:20:53] Yes we do we do feel really passionate about raising up yonger leaders and one of the things that we encourage them to do is to think through how they’re wired what energizes them and what brings them life, but also who’s speaking into their lives and part of our discipleship culture here at Skylark is to encourage people to help someone who is discipling them, two running buddies that are peers that they’re running alongside and who they can spur on and be transparent and vulnerable with. And then also someone that they’re raising up and discipling. So that’s a model that we that we really try to work to. And I think that helps in terms of the self awareness to make sure that you’ve got input but also that you’re then using that input and that wisdom that you receive you’re passing it on even to the next generation beneath you and that way we can ensure that everybody’s receiving but also everybody’s giving out which is super important. That we don’t just become a reservoir but we actually we’re flowing into other people too.
Pete Sims: [00:22:06] I think that’s something that we all need to be really careful of careful about in raising up leaders. Yes it’s great that people play to their strengths but that is how it works in the life of the church in time. Quite often you find people sitting down doing nothing because they’re waiting for their perfect place of fit and for their gifting and their passion to be released and once that role becomes available they’ll be able to serve, but actually clean the toilets while you’re waiting you know. Don’t do nothing while you’re waiting for your opportunity so it’s really important for us that we find peoples place of fit and we build up their gifting and uniqueness definitely but service doesn’t until your unique fit is found. Actually we need to encourage people to get their hands dirty and serve wherever they can. Whatever’s in front of them to do get on with it and serve with a great attitude and it’s amazing how as we continue to step into serving other peoples vision and what God has placed before us that when we are faithful with that little bit he gives us more and more. And that’s been our story that there have been loads of times we’ve been doing things that hasn’t been our place of fit but it’s all painted this this picture of this amazing tapestry that God’s been weaving and suddenly we find ourselves in this situation of leading a church and we never saw it coming. But when look we can see how it all weaved together and and how God was incredible such an incredible artist.
Simon Barrington: [00:23:34] As you look back over the last six months or so each of you and maybe Nick you go firs, what’s the biggest leadership lesson that you learned over those last six months or so you’d like to pass on to the listeners of this podcast.
Nicki Sims: [00:23:51] Well that is a really big question.
[00:23:54] Let me know I’ve been learning an awful lot and that probably for me in particular I recently lost my dad and this year we also lost a great spiritual mentor the founder of our church network. Rick Mural. So for me one of the things that’s really come to the fore as I’ve been learning what leadership looks like is the whole concept of legacy. And I think I’ve come to realise is that if we want to be leaders who leave a rich legacy then we have to be intentional about it. It’s not something that automatically and that looks like giving away as much as we can in the here and now that means giving away opportunity to others it means giving away wisdom to others it means giving up time for others and making that investment in to a new generation of leaders and giving them permission to grow and to flourish and to be released into what God has for them and I think sometimes we think that can happen by osmosis. But what I observed in the life of Rick and and what I’ve also learned through losing my Dad is that actually it takes a real deliberate effort and investment to leave a legacy in the next generation. So I’m learning all the time that that’s really really important part of our role as leaders.
[00:25:20] That’s a great insight I was really challenge over the summer about whether I was prepared to plant a tree that would only really blossom after I’ve gone and that’s an incredible challenge isn’t it about legacy. What about you Pete.
Pete Sims: [00:25:37] Well it’s a it’s a lesson that’s been unfolding and I’ve been learning for years maybe a decade and it is the thing that got rings in my ears so clearly that intimacy with him is the key to unlock everything and it’s so such a simple concept and such a difficult thing to walk out. And I know that the my point of connection as Nicki said, the place where I really connect with God is in nature. By water, up on the mountain like so many people, those places that are awe inspiring are a place of connection for me with God. I have to make sure that I deliberately have space to do that. Because when you are in church leadership it can be very toxic to your own fath if your preparation if your Bible reading is to prepare for a message if your prayer is for X Y or Z, if your worship is only when you’re worship leading you know that can be really really toxic. You know someone said to us once if you go on holiday and that gives you a break from worship and give you a break from your Bible you can just put your Bible down for a while and just read your novels and stuff. If that’s all you want to do then you’re in a you know an unhealthy place and so you just need to evaluate that and so I don’t want to be continually challenged. I don’t want to be in that place of disconnect from God where I’m connecting with him for a purpose and not just for love. And so I need to make sure that I continue to carve out space to go for a walk to just hang out with him and connect with him whenever he’s looking. Whenever I’m looking down at what might be in the future what God has for me. I know that he has said intimacy with me will unlock everything else. I love the fact that Jesus used to just even in the business of everything he’d go away for you know be alone with his Dad. Then he was able to come back down and say I only do what I see my father doing. It’s a simple concept and so difficult in today’s busy society to create the space. So I’m continuing to learn that and continuing to try and get it right. I’m definitely not getting it right yet but hopefully one year I won’t have to keep saying this is the same thing that God’s challenging me about.
Simon Barrington: [00:27:50] It’s a life time walk and a lifetime working and what I find in my own life is that there are different seasons where we have to find those different rhythmns of how it works. But. We push through and we push and we push push through and we see the grace of God descending on our ministries and that’s incredible.
Simon Barrington: [00:28:11] What are you both excited about at Skylark at the moment just as we as we finish off. Just tell us one or two things. We could probably go on for an hour, but you know, just one or two things that you guys are excited about just now.
Pete Sims: [00:28:19] There’s amaizing things happening in the kids church at the moment in Skylark kids. There is just an amazing time of encounter of prayer of salvation. It’s incredible to see what God is doing with our children.
Nicki Sims: [00:28:37] We’re super excited too. We’ve been talking for a long time about creating a culture of worship in valuing the presence of God. It really feels as though we are living in that culture now and that worship seems to permeate so many different areas of the life of the church. It’s not just something that we do on a Sunday. We’re trying to live out that lifestyle of worship and that’s been super exciting for us to see that we were not just talking about it but actually that’s taken root and it’s bearing fruit in the life of the church in so many places so that really excites us.
Pete Sims: [00:29:14] We are really excited about the fact that we have been speaking for a long time about it’s not about professional Christianity and aspirations to get on the platform. It’s about influencing the culture that you find yourself in Day in day out. We’re hearing increasing testimonies of people who have just been brave enough to have conversations to begin to make a difference to just say something to to change the atmosphere in their workplace or their school or what have you and people are rising up into those positions and just being the church where they find themselves. Because if you know as we all know if we can come together on a Sunday be filled so that we can pour out during the week then we’re really going to be a church that makes an impact and we’re seeing that happening increasingly so that is exciting.
Simon Barrington: [00:29:57] Peter and Nicki thanks so much for joining us today.
Simon Barrington: [00:30:00] You guys are absolutely inspiration and you’ve shared your heart with us today and I know lots of people will be really encouraged by that and challenged by that as well. So thanks ever so much.
Pete Sims: [00:30:10] Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
[00:30:13] Thanks for listening to the Forge Leadership podcast. You can catch up on episodes you’ve missed by subscribing on iTunes, SoundCloud Stitcher or Tunein. There’s a new episode each Monday morning. Find out more about the services Forge Leadership provides at www.forge-leadership.com