Last week David, Janet and I made the trek to Norfolk for the FIEC Leaders’ Conference. Leaving aside the somewhat surreal (and mildly enjoyable!) experience of staying in something akin to Butlins c.1950s complete with Christmas decorations this was a very good time- I’m grateful to the church for the opportunity of being there.
As ever, these occasions produced a number of benefits- the joy of sitting listening to God’s Word preached without having any responsibility, the encouragement of chatting to fellow pastors, some seminars that were stretching and made me reflect on church life and an opportunity to hear about the progress of FIEC churches around the country. You can get the FIEC’s own review of the event here.
There were three things that struck me:
1. Personally- the blessing of belonging to Christ
It is easy to become discouraged and weary in the Christian life and so it was a great encouragement to be reminded simply of the blessings of being a Christian. Evening talks came from Psalms 32-34 and there were plenty of opportunities to rejoice in our blessings. “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.” (Psalm 32:1-2). Psalm 33 speaks of a blessing that was initially for Israel but which now applies to the church- “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance.” And our talks from Ephesians in the morning touched on the fact that we are those who have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ. In the light of those blessings it was a particular joy to be able to praise God in song with a large group of people.It is easy to forget all the benefits that we have as Christians. I left the conference glad that I am a Christian- which is no bad thing!
2. Little nuggets that made me think
Inevitably at a conference there is a fair amount of stuff that I’ve heard before or have preached myself. So it is always nice when you hear something expressed in a slightly different way or are reminded of something that you had forgotten. Here is a collection of those things- drawn fairly randomly from across the talks and seminars. (They are the kind of things I would have tweeted if I had the ability to listen and tweet simultaneously!)
Paul Mallard on David’s experience in the middle of Psalm 32:
“God loves us too much to allow us to sin successfully”
Graham Beynon in his seminar on corporate worship:
“The Puritans used to ask what makes our worship acceptable to God. Our generation tends to ask what makes our style of worship acceptable to us.”
Jonty Allock on Psalm 33:
“If we don’t sing this song, we’ll sing another song”
I was very struck by John Stevens’ teaching on Ephesians 3:14-21: Paul’s prayer that we might have the power to grasp the dimensions of Christ’s love for us. He noted that the tendency is to preach that passage individualistically (“I need to know how much Christ loves me”) whereas the context seems to indicate that Paul principally wants people to grasp that Christ’s love extends to all people whether Jews or Gentiles- and that today Christ’s love embraces all social classes, ethnicities and so on. There was a powerful challenge about our churches, and perhaps the FIEC more broadly, looking somewhat white and middle class. We need to discover the length, breadth, height and depth of the love of Christ.
Lastly I was struck by a reminder from Ephesians 6- we join the Christian life not to have an easy time but in order to fight.
3. Our role in the FIEC
You can read the update that John Stevens, the National Director of FIEC, gave on its current work here. A number of things encouraged me- there was realism about the challenge we face in this country (and that there are limits to petitions and so on) but a resolve to persist in seeking to take the Gospel to the country in dependence upon God’s power. It is quite clear that the FIEC sees itself as a mission organisation. That probably explains why it has been increasingly proactive in encouraging the planting churches, training and so on. We are aware that Trinity Church has started in Oxford and there are plans for a similar church to start in Manchester. However, we also heard stories from other churches outside the city centres in places such as Blackpool. What was particularly encouraging was to hear of a sense of partnership- city centre churches are really only successful if they are training and sending people out towards areas of greater need where there is less Gospel work going on.
That made me reflect on our situation at Woody Road. We are probably in the upper half of FIEC churches when it comes to size and resources. That must give us a sense of responsibility. We should not be asking primarily “What does the FIEC do for us?” so much as how we can partner other churches in seeking to get the Gospel out to this country. It is why training people and sending them out should be a very high priority for us. That may be painful for us- we don’t like saying farewell to people (I feel keenly the loss of some who have left us) and we may feel that others get the benefit of training that we have given- but it is the right thing for us to be doing.
There are still some things from the conference that I’m weighing up: I am trying to come up with some biblical reflections on the interface of business/management techniques and the church (anybody read anything good?) but overall I came away very grateful for the refreshment of the week and for the work of the FIEC around the country.