Challenging, Faithful and Forming
It was a joy to see more than 550 people gather for our annual Leaders’ Conference last week. We asked FIEC pastor Ben Lines to offer us his reflections on four days in Hemsby.
I was nervous ahead of this year’s conference because of the main theme. The dreaded E word:
It’s something we all know we should do and yet don’t do – or at least we don’t prioritise enough. How uncomfortable and guilty was I going to be made to feel? Would I return to Kinmel Bay empty or encouraged? Buoyant or broken?
So I set off on the long journey to Hemsby with a mix of feelings and emotions. This was my second Leaders’ Conference, having attended last year’s on my own.
I received so much in 2015 that I ensured that we were able to attend as a staff team this time around but I was ever so slightly concerned that my colleagues Jo and Joseph would appreciate the conference and not deem it a waste of time. I was anxious about leaving my wife, Catrin and 9-month old son, Gwilym.
But I was also excited. Excited to spend some time receiving from the word of God and meeting others with a passion for gospel ministry.
Motivating Mission and Evangelism
The main speaker for the conference was Ed Stetzer, described as “prolific” in the build-up. He had a lot to live up to and he delivered in spades. I have never attended a conference where the speaker understood the context within which they were speaking so well. Ed’s words were challenging, faithful and forming. He challenged our heart and motivation for mission and evangelism whilst asking questions of our church culture and whether it is fit for purpose.
There was enough to chew over and reflect on to last until next year’s conference in Torquay. One of the Scriptures Ed kept referring back to was Hebrews 10:23-25:
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
There in a nutshell, for me, was the purpose and success of the Leaders’ Conference this year. For those who were struggling there was the reminder to hold fast to the hope that can only be found in Jesus. For those who have become complacent or lost there is a stirring up through the ministry and dinner conversations. For those despondent and despairing there was good news stories and reminders that God is still moving and active within His church.
For all there was the reminder of the ‘day drawing near’, the glorious return of the Lord Jesus. There was the challenge to look forward in hope, but to look out with compassion. To look out with that heart wrenching, sacrificial compassion that Jesus demonstrated in Matthew 9, on those for whom Jesus’ return is currently not something to look forward to.
Enjoying Gospel Unity
All that was talked about in the main meetings was backed up in practical seminars, grounding the ministry in specific contexts and ensuring that we left with a toolbox of practical applications, whether that be for ministry in hard places, church planting, women’s ministry, or youth and children’s ministry.
It was a pleasure to worship amongst people with a passion for Jesus and a burden to share the gospel. The times of worship were rich and the singing passionate as we sought the face of our Saviour. The Scriptures talk of the blessing that is to be found in unity and that was most definitely realised as we met, worshipped and prayed together.
One of the key strengths and joys of being part of FIEC is the unity that is found amongst the churches before the cross of Christ; in the authority of the word of God and in the commission to be Jesus’ witnesses to the ends of the earth. That unity was tangible across the four days.
Moving forward in Evangelism
Of course, the success of any talk or conference concerning evangelism is not found in the eloquence of the teaching or the humour of the stories but in the action it produces and the hearts that it stirs to compassion.
We returned home with our heads fit to bursting, but more importantly with the heartfelt passion for our Saviour and his commission burning ever brighter. The conversation in the car was rich and full of anticipation and expectation of what God was saying and calling us to in Kinmel Bay. We had a car weighed down with books and resources to equip us and the church to minister more effectively.
But most importantly of all we returned with a renewed passion for Jesus and a fresh realisation of the joy and privilege of being a sent people - His sent people - carrying the good news of the gospel.
As with any realisation of failure I was broken at first but returned buoyant as I encountered the mercy and grace of Jesus. As with any challenge there was a feeling of emptiness but also overwhelming encouragement at what God is doing in His church and will continue to do as we commit faithfully to the commission to be His witnesses.
See you next year!
We’ll be announcing the main speakers for our 2017 Leaders’ Conference (13-15 Nov) in Torquay soon.