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Leaders’ Conference Reflections

Last week was our first ever Leaders’ Conference in Torquay. Numbers were higher than ever as we enjoyed fellowship together and teaching from Thabiti Anyabwile. We asked Dan Steel to give us his reflections.

Leaders’ Conference Reflections primary image

We will always have Hemsby. Those were the words we were left with at the end of 2017’s Leaders’ Conference. But this year, and for the foreseeable, we have Torquay. And what a treat it was.

The largest Leaders’ Conference to date saw more than 800 people descending on the English Riviera to consider the topic of Transforming Church, to catch up on the news and vision from FIEC and enjoy time together. But, more important than that, was the chance to hear afresh from God as his Living Word was opened for us.

If you were there, let me encourage you (as I encourage myself) to take some prayerful time looking back over passages and notes taken before jumping back onto the pastoral hamster wheel. Take time to think through what God has been saying to you as his word was opened, or through the mouths of those you spoke to.

The Gospel of Grace

This year Thabiti Anyabwile, along with his wife Kristie and son Titus, joined us from Anacostia River Church in Washington DC. Thabiti with his eloquent, exegetical, warm and gracious style spoke to us three times on this theme of Transforming Church from Acts 2, Titus 2&3 and 2 Corinthians 3.

Thabiti speaking

One of Thabiti’s huge gifts is the way in which the foundational gospel of grace (as it should) brings both challenge and comfort for us as believers. He reminded us of the simplicity of church from Acts 2:42: “Pastor, the strategy for transformation is ‘simple’: teach, share, eat and pray”.

He went on to explain the need to recapture the importance of ‘good works’ that spring from God’s grace. In Paul’s letter to Titus he challenged us like this: “Have we moved away from good works in seeking to protect the gospel, but at the expense of the ethical imperatives? Do we need to re-capture the importance of good works?”.

Along-side these ‘main meals’ were side-dish seminars from a variety of speakers, engaging with a variety of issues. Whether it be Mike Reeves considering the topic of the Devotional Life of the Pastor, David Shaw stretching people with the theology of the church, Thabiti speaking about planting churches later in life or Kristie speaking to the women on being transformed both by God’s word and those whom he puts in our lives.

Church Leadership

I personally appreciated the two sessions on leadership from Mark Lawrence (Christ Church Dunstable) as he shared some of their story through their acquisition and development of a pub that’s now run as a ‘neutral’ community space to engage evangelistically in a huge variety of ways with local people.

people singing

In a world that craves community and relationship, Christ Church Dunstable have created a set of programmes and groups from which they are able to offer Christ. What started small has grown!

God has clearly used Mark’s love for the Lord, evangelistic heart and infectious (he called it “Tigger-like”) energy in Dunstable. I suspect there’s much we can learn and adapt for our contexts.

Saying Thank You

Strikingly, as part of our time we had an opportunity to give our warm and heartfelt thanks to Richard and Pippa Underwood, as Richard retires from the job of Pastoral Ministries Director at the end of 2017.

Richard and Pippa on stage with John Stevens

He was the visionary who foresaw, over a decade ago, the need to change the structure and focus of FIEC. Under God, this has resulted in much of the growth and momentum enjoyed over the last few years as a network. That this was the largest conference to date is, perhaps, testimony to God using Richard and his foresight and wisdom.

That the morning prayer meetings were encouragingly so full and joyful, is perhaps testimony to an ongoing grasp of our weakness and our need to continue to look to God as we look ahead.

Catching Up

Ministry can often be isolating and hard, so as always, one real highlight of the Conference was the chance to catch up with old friends from down the years - to laugh, to encourage and spur on, as well meeting new friends in the various opportunities for coffee and more (there was even a Starbucks downstairs!).

people chatting

The Riviera Conference Centre in Torquay was excellent, their hosting was warm and efficient, while Torquay itself has a proliferation of choice for accommodation and evening meet-ups. The conference was also a day shorter. Although the programme was well filled, it didn’t feel rushed and there was time later in the week to keep the various ministry plates ‘spinning’ for the weekend ahead at a busy time of year.

Personally, I left the conference feeling more refreshed, more grateful for the goodness and sufficiency of the gospel of Christ, thankful for God’s kindness to FIEC over the last 12 months and – having heard plans and ideas – hopeful about the future as the momentum continues to grow.

If you weren’t there can I encourage you to keep an eye on the FIEC website and make sure you take time to process and digest the feast that we enjoyed?

See some more photos from the conference.

The talks and seminars will be added to over the coming weeks. Meanwhile bookings are now open for Leaders’ Conference 2018 with Don Carson and David Robertson. It costs just £160 if you book before 15 January.

Dan Steel photo
Dan Steel

Dan grew up in Oxford and is now back there following a 16 year stint in Birmingham, where he was one of the founding pastors of Grace Church. He’s now the Pastor of Magdalen Road Church. He’s married to Zoe and is dad to Ellie, Barney, Josh and Abi.

Follow Dan Steel on Twitter – @dansteel77