Thankfulness & Hope (Leaders’ Conference 2019)
What was it like to be at our 2019 Leaders' Conference? Daniel Blanche from Cowley Church Community in Oxford gives us a taste of what it was like to be part of our biggest Leaders' Conference to date.
The FIEC Leaders’ Conference has been growing.
With 1,000 people – pastors, elders, wives and women’s workers – the Riviera International Centre felt full this year, and the singing had volume (and there was sometimes a bit of a queue for the coffee).
The sheer size could easily be intimidating – I minister in a church with 21 members – but personally I found that there were good conversations to be had, and that it was quickly apparent that the joys and struggles of ministry don’t vary too much across the variety of churches represented.
As usual, the conference was really well run; a credit to both the FIEC staff and volunteers, and the staff at the conference centre. I am astonished at how quickly they can serve 1,000 dinners. Jonathan Carswell and the team from 10ofThose were there with an excellent bookstall, and seemed to be doing a brisk trade despite being moved downstairs.
The theme of the conference was raising up leaders at every level, and John Stevens, FIEC National Director, opened proceedings by reminding us of the biblical vision for leadership from Ephesians 4. Godly leadership proceeds from an identity rooted in the gospel. If I lose sight of that, the danger will be that I build my identity on my ministry – and that will mean that instead of raising up more leaders, I concentrate everything in my own hands, because I secretly want everything to depend on me.
Only the gospel sets us free to serve.
Colin Smith, Pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Chicago, talked us through the profile of the godly leader from the portrait of Israelite kingship in Deuteronomy 17, and then showed us the shepherd as the primary image of spiritual leadership in both Old and New Testaments. These two sessions laid the groundwork for everything else, and they were both clear and powerful.
From a range of seminars, I chose to hear Mark Dever on raising up godly elders: a good challenge to shape a church culture in which leaders are identified, nurtured, and allowed to grow. We often ask how the good news will get over there, into that neighbourhood or city or country; but this seminar encouraged us to ask how it will get into the future. The answer is finding and training the leaders and preachers of the future. That is a job to be going on with.
The FIEC AGM always takes place at the conference, and inevitably involves a certain amount of admin (imagine a church meeting, but really big…). The AGM also featured reports on the life of the Fellowship. 33 new church affiliations, nine new recognised church plants; God has been at work amongst us.
Thanks to a generous gift, £850,000 is being distributed through the FIEC Mission Fund, and we were able to hear reports on some of the projects being funded. Evangelists, church planters, pioneers. There is reason to be thankful – and hopeful for the future.
Andy Prime, Pastor of Gracemount Community Church, Edinburgh, preached us out with a call not to lose heart from 2 Corinthians 4. If you are a pastor thinking of quitting because it’s hard, listen to this one on the FIEC website. Ministry is hard. God is merciful and powerful.
There are a couple of encouragements that I’ll take away from the Leaders’ Conference this year.
Firstly, the commitment in the Fellowship to continue planting churches, including and perhaps especially in hard places. Hearing about some of the ways this commitment is being backed up with cash and other resources is just great.
Second, the sense that local church – even a little church like mine – is where the action is. This wasn’t a conference that exalted itself, but exalted the work of Christ through the church.
And finally, God has provided, and continues to provide.