For Jo Saxton, leadership begins with discipleship.
Saxton will be the guest speaker at the “Untangled” women’s conference presented by Gulf Coast Blessings at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Park campus, Fleming Auditorium, March 17 and 18. The event also will feature the music of Kristen Leigh, a Christian singer from Gulfport who leads worship with the praise team at Michael Memorial Baptist Church. Tickets for the conference are $20 each and are available at gulfcoastblessings.org or at Lifeway Christian Stores in Gulfport. They also will be available at the door both days.
Saxton is a pastor, missional leader, speaker and leadership coach. She is co-host of Lead Stories podcast and is the board chair of 3DMovements. She is the author of “More Than Enchanting” and “High Heels and Holiness.” She lives in the Minneapolis area with her husband, Chris, and their two daughters.
Saxton’s birth parents were Nigerian but she was born in London and grew up with foster parents in a neighborhood there that had “a lot of broken families, broken people, including my own, but we were considered the stable family.” She said she’s grateful for her experience because it taught her empathy for others.
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“It wasn’t until I was older that I would talk about it,” she said in a recent telephone interview. “Sometimes we have cookie-cutter expectations of what life should be, but what I try to stress to people is that no matter where your journey has been, you’re never out of the reach of our faithful God. Where you are now doesn’t have to be the end of the journey.”
Mentors along the way
The woman who teaches other to disciple has had her own mentors through her journey of faith.
“I have been so blessed with four key influences,” she said. “The first was the couple who led me to Christ.” This couple, she said, conducted a children’s ministry in her neighborhood, leaving their own comfortable surroundings to enter her world.
The second were her youth pastor and his wife when she was in her late teens.
“I was 18 and trying to outgrow God,” she said with a rueful laugh. “I was feeling ready to go my own way. They didn’t judge me. They were never pandering, but they were unconditional in their love.”
In her early 20s, Saxton “came back to the Father and went to Bible college.” While there, she met “a woman, a woman of color like me. What drew me to her was her laugh — a deep, roaring laugh. She had gone through devastating experiences, but her laugh didn’t match what had happened to her. She was an adult but she had this simple, childlike faith in every situation. I said, ‘I want what she has. She’s freer than I am.’ So I asked her question after question. ‘How can you believe God is the Father after what you’ve been through?’ Everything about her exuded the faithfulness of God. She had a profound effect on me. She was a reflection of what redemption is.”
Saxton, now in her 40s, finds spiritual support with a couple she has known for years. Husband Chris also is a pastor; the couple planted a church in Minneapolis.
Along with their daughters, ages 10 and 11, she and Chris have a Cairn terrier who tried to become a part of the phone conversation until “Mom” sent the pup, who obviously was picking up on Saxton’s excitement for the topic, outside.
“I’ve been invested in over so many years, the legacy of discipleship is a no-brainer,” she said. “Experiencing this has given me a rounded picture of what discipleship is. I have studied the Scripture, but I didn’t know the ‘how.’ How it works, how it applies. We need living examples. You need someone to process these conversations and issues with.”
To that end, Saxton is now mentoring “a number of young leaders. I could call specific ones I disciple today, too.”
From England to the U.S.
Saxton and her husband came to the United States through “a church swap, you could call it. We’ve lived here 12 or 13 years. We were in Sheffield, England. There was a pastor who came here for refreshment, which he found, but four families were needed to go over to the States. My husband and I had just gotten married, so we said, ‘hey, if not now, when?’ It was a fulfillment of a sense of call.”
Friends were going to more traditionally recognized mission fields, such as China. “America? Really?” she said with a laugh. “But it’s the same kind of calling.”
At 14, Saxton had visited the U.S. through a musical program. “I remember thinking then, ‘I’m coming back.’ I had no way of making sense of it then. Over the years, I had visited, but I didn’t know that the opportunity would come about 15 years later.”
For the Untangled conference, Saxton will focus on “time to get away.”
“It’s a busyness thing. We’re so determined to do the right things for the people you love,” priorities can get skewed, she said. “My hope and prayer is that it will really be a time to pay attention to what we need and let the Lord untangle our thoughts.”
Untangled Women’s Conference
When: March 17 and 18. Doors open at 6 p.m. March 17, and the conference will be 7 to 9 p.m. On March 18, doors open at 7:30 a.m. and the conference will be 8:30 a.m. to noon.
Where: University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Park campus, Fleming Auditorium; 730 E. Beach Blvd., Long Beach.
Tickets: $20 each, available at gulfcoastblessings.org, at Lifeway Christian Stores in Gulfport or at the door both days.
Details: Guest speaker is Jo Saxton. Worship will be led by Kristen Leigh, a Christian singer from Gulfport who leads worship with the praise team at Michael Memorial Baptist Church.