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Exceeding Expectations

It was such a joy to see almost 900 people gather in Torquay for the 2018 Leaders’ Conference. We asked Jon Mason to offer us his thoughts on our three days together on the South Coast.

Exceeding Expectations primary image

Confession time: I’m an outsider looking in. I pastor a non-FIEC church. I’m a pretty inactive part of the Pastors’ Network and I’ve never actually made it to any FIEC event!

So, as we sat down to eat our first meal at this year’s Leaders’ Conference I shared a prediction across the table: “I bet the food is rubbish. It always is at conferences.” I was wrong; the food was excellent and my expectation was far too low. Reflecting on the conference, that serves as a nice metaphor for my whole experience. My expectations were abundantly exceeded!

people chatting at the conference

The scale of everything is impressive – it was great to see a huge auditorium packed with like-minded church leaders. Thanks should go to the organising team: from what I could see, everything ran very smoothly, although I daresay there was plenty of stress behind the scenes!

In particular, I was impressed by the small army of volunteers helping out and making people feel welcome. Likewise, the members of the board and staff milling around making themselves available to chat to people.

Ministry in Isaiah

Don Carson spoke from Isaiah, strikingly demonstrating from Isaiah 6 that the Lord’s timescales are often very much longer than ours. Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah’s coming was unfulfilled for 700 long years. We were reminded that we are called to be faithful, not successful, and that our hope is in the fulfilment of God’s sovereign plan, and not in our own (brief!) success or failure.

Don Carson speaking at the conference

Given the theme of the conference, Here & Now: communicating the gospel in our post-Christian culture the seminar titles were well-chosen. Seventeen different seminars tackled apologetics and evangelism from various angles, looking at underlying worldviews, effective communication, small-group courses, and reaching women and older people.

I found David “Wee Flea” Robertson’s seminar describing his adventures in public apologetics both inspiring and hugely entertaining (which is a tough gig to pull off!). I came away challenged to be unashamed of our “reasonable” faith, and that the gospel flourished in a pagan Greek culture that very much mirrors our own.

FIEC Vision

As a newcomer, the session presenting the vision of FIEC was really helpful. National Director John Stevens reminded us of the benefits of Independency: we are free to be faithful without having to fit in with a denominational structure or hierarchy that we disagree with; and we are free to be flexible – we can partner with whom we like – and do things as we like, under the Scriptures.

Statistics show that the church in the UK is experiencing 0% net growth, and that we are buoyed up only by immigration. We were challenged to plant into deprived areas, among ethnic minorities and in rural areas.

There was a healthy dose of reality running through several of the messages. When numbers are up and churches are planted it’s all too easy to have a sense of triumphalism. But we were challenged again and again about the state of the church, and the vastness of our mission-field. In particular we were reminded that most of the FIEC consists of white, middle-class, university-educated people. We need to increase the diversity of our leadership to effectively reach a diverse nation.

Worshipping Together

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was the music. I guess I was expecting to stick to classic hymns with a bit of Getty thrown in. But the folks from Above Bar Church did a great job: a balance of old, new-ish, and brand new – and unashamedly contemporary. And if you figured out where to sit: loud too, which is a definite positive. I mean, why would you want to praise God at anything other than full volume? If I have to find a complaint, it’s that the only extended worship time was after the conference ended.

browsing the bookstall

Although it’s a fairly full programme, there seemed to be quite a bit of time to chat to friends old and new. The venue has plenty of nice meeting places.

I came away with a sense that these are exciting times for the gospel and for FIEC. The task is great, but the LORD is on our side. One of the newer songs put it this way:

Our God is the Lion, the Lion of Judah
He’s roaring with power and fighting our battles
Every knee will bow before Him
For who can stop the Lord Almighty?

I came away singing that with confidence and conviction. Thanks guys.

The offering at our Leaders’ Conference to fund conference bursaries for those ministering in deprived communities has so far raised £3,898.21. If you’d still like to give then get in touch.

Jon Mason photo
Jon Mason

Jon grew up as a pastor’s kid in Park Church, Stoke-on-Trent. Following a 15-year career in engineering in Ipswich, he is back in Park Church but now as one of the pastors. He’s married to Wendy and is dad to Keren, Isaac and Abigail and foster-dad to Poppy.