istock_000011793147large4.jpgLast week I mentioned that I was going to a conference for larger Ministers (see here)… Here are some reflections on that conference that are written as a sort of review:

I have often wondered what the collective noun should be for Baptist Ministers. If there isn’t one I would like to suggest ‘plunge’. Last week I was privileged to be at a plunge of Baptist Ministers of larger churches organised by the Faith and Society Team. While there are many joys, blessings, issues and difficulties that are common to all Ministers, there are also some that are different because of the size of our churches. Not better or worse, just different.

The plunge with fellow Ministers of Larger Churches (must resist the temptation to call us ‘Larger Ministers’) was for 48 hours at High Leigh. It was characterised by honesty and vulnerability from both the leaders and participants. It was a safe place in which God’s Spirit was able to bless, encourage and inspire.

The whole time was a blessing as we explored how larger churches can be navigated through a confusing world covering some deep and difficult topics, but I want to pick out a few highlights:

In three wonderful Bible Studies Steve Holmes led us deep into God’s Word, exploring John 1 in a creative and engaging way that revealed even more of the profound significance of that chapter. I was blessed and encouraged, and I think all of us came away with new illustrations for our sermons too!

There was plenty of praying. It was open, honest, genuine praying for one another, for our churches and for those who are not yet part of God’s family. If I am honest sometimes at Christian conferences the prayer times can feel as if they are interruptions to the conference but here they were the fuel for the conference.

It was brilliant to share some of the conference time with our General Secretary, Lynn Green. As well as one inspiring session in which she shared a vision for our Baptist Union and helped us all to feel even more engaged with it, I know that she blessed and encouraged lots of us in the conversations that happened over meals and in the times when nothing was scheduled.

And that brings me to the final highlight. The informal time was as significant as the sessions. Conversations sometimes led to ‘can I pray for you?’ moments. There were humble ‘what do you think we could do about …?’ conversations. Friendships were established and enhanced.

I came home from the conference to an incredibly busy week. In fact from a diary-management point of view I could have done without it. But I know that from my personal and ministry point of view it was time with Jesus and fellow-followers that was extremely well-spent. It was a prodigious plunge!

Be blessed, be a blessing

you know it’s time to go home when…

High Leigh Conference Centre - it's quite posh here!

It’s the last morning of the conference, which has been brilliant. But how do you know it’s time to go home? Not simply that you have run out of conference, have been chucked out of your room and they have called in the police in case you decide to protest in their grounds, but how do you know when you have received enough?

You know it’s time to leave the conference when*:

  • You have more ideas in your head than you have available capacity to process them
  • You have shared the same story with all the participants
  • You have to check your Facebook photos to remind yourself what your family and friends look like
  • You are so full (food, bible teaching, prayers, etc) that you sense one more meal, bible exposition or prayer session and you will explode
  • (For married people) You have become used to having a double bed to yourself and are sleeping like a starfish (not going to be well-received at home)
  • You feel called to be a conference speaker so you can spend all your time away from local church life
  • You have got all the illustrations and jokes you need for next week’s sermon
  • You have sampled all of the different drinks in the conference centre bar (and know all the prices)
  • You find that lots of people at the conference have been reading your blog entries and start to recognise themselves
  • You start blogging about knowing when it is time to go home

*Please note that this is not intended to be autobiographical!!

Bigging it up

this does not represent anyone who will be at the conference!

Today I head off to a conference for larger ministers ministers of larger churches*. It is run by the Mission Department of BUGB. I have been before and found it helpful, but this time I have decided that if I prepare myself I might get more out of it.

I am looking forward to it. And have decided that it is best to go with some expectations, hopes, ambitions or wishes. These are:

  1. To be blessed by a fresh encounter with Jesus
  2. To be blessed by meeting old friends and making new friends
  3. To discover new insights and ideas about being a minister of a church our size
  4. To come home refreshed, not exhausted

They seem to be achievable and I will keep you informed about how it goes. I may be able to keep up some sort of running commentary, but it will be sporadic as the programme is quite packed. [Can you have a sporadic running commentary?]

Anyway, my reflection for you, dear bloggite, is to ask you what your expectations, hopes, ambitions or wishes are for this week? Have you turned them into prayers? What can you do to help make them a reality?

“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
(Num 6:24-26)

May you sense God’s smile over you today.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

(I may have told this joke before, if so, sorry!)

A boy was sitting on a park bench with one hand resting on an open Bible. He was loudly exclaiming his praise to God. “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! God is great!” he yelled without worrying whether anyone heard him or not.

Shortly after, along came a man who had recently completed some studies at a local university. Feeling himself very enlightened in the ways of truth and very eager to show this enlightenment, he asked the boy about the source of his joy.

“Hey” asked the boy in return with a bright laugh, “Don’t you have any idea what God is able to do? I just read that God opened up the waves of the Red Sea and led the whole nation of Israel right through the middle.”

The enlightened man laughed lightly, sat down next to the boy and began to try to open his eyes to the “realities” of the miracles of the Bible. “That can all be very easily explained. Modern scholarship has shown that the Red Sea in that area was only 10-inches deep at that time. It was no problem for the Israelites to wade across.”

The boy was stumped. His eyes wandered from the man back to the Bible laying open in his lap. The man, content that he had enlightened a poor, naive young person to the finer points of scientific insight, turned to go. Scarcely had he taken two steps when the boy began to rejoice and praise louder than before. The man turned to ask the reason for this resumed jubilation.

“Wow!” exclaimed the boy happily, “God is greater than I thought! Not only did He lead the whole nation of Israel through the Red Sea, He topped it off by drowning the whole Egyptian army in 10 inches of water!”
*Other sized churches are available and are equally important and significant. This is not an elitist group, it is a recognition that churches of different sizes face different challenges.

Disciple: baffled, but willing to be led

Hello again bloggists. I have returned to the blogcave and am ready to release more random thoughts into the wild.

Waiting for journalists...
not actually chairs at the conference venue
– these look more comfortable!

I have been at the Eastern Baptist Association Ministers’ Conference. It was a real blessing. We were fed well physically (cooked breakfasts are always welcome) and spiritually. I was especially blessed by Glen Marshall’s sessions which had a title that was almost longer than the talks. Through exposing (expositing?) passages in Ezekiel, Deuteronomy and Acts we found ourselves refreshed, inspired, encouraged and challenged.

I loved Glen’s definition that he wanted to make into T-shirts: “Disciple… baffled, but willing to be led”. That describes how I often feel. Baffled that God would call me to do what he has called me to do. Baffled that he loves me unconditionally. Baffled at his grace. Baffled that other people find things I say (and occasionally that I blog) to be helpful. Baffled at… [insert many other options here]. Glen did say that he thought he ought to copyright that phrase, but since he hasn’t I will use it, but give him credit!

The Conference blessed in other ways, with talks by Bob Payne (Vicar in Bishops Stortford (what is a ‘stortford’, why would a bishop own one, and why would you name a place after the fact that a bishop owned a stortford?)), plenty of encouraging and enjoyable conversations with fellow ministers and their partners, and some time and space to reflect, relax and recreate (see Monday!).

Several things are still resonating with me. One is something that picked up from where I started on Monday morning. The idea that praying, reading my Bible and spending time with God are Urgent and Important was reinforced for me. Another was a reminder to be intentional about how we as a church engage with people with the good news of Jesus. Yes, we should be good news, but we should also be ready to share the good news. A third (linked to that) is the thought that perhaps there are occasions to use story-telling as a way of engaging people with the good news of Jesus. A fourth (linked to the second and third) is a reminder that a while ago I was planning to organise a Colchester Magic Club for anyone who was interested in it. I must get around to that… A fifth (linked to 2, 3 and 4) was a reminder that I was also planning to do some street magic outside our church to entertain and bless (and maybe baffle) passers-by.

These conferences are great, but I do come back buzzing with ideas that need time and space to reflect on and implement…

A preacher, who shall we say was “humor impaired,” attended a conference to help encourage and better equip pastors for their ministry. Among the speakers were many well known and dynamic speakers.

One such boldly approached the pulpit and, gathering the entire crowd’s attention, said, “The best years of my life were spent in the arms of a woman that wasn’t my wife!” The crowd was shocked! He followed up by saying, “And that woman was my mother!” – The crowd burst into laughter and delivered the rest of his talk, which went over quite well.

The next week, the pastor decided he’d give this humor thing a try, and use that joke in his sermon. As he surely approached the pulpit that sunny Sunday, he tried to rehearse the joke in his head. It suddenly seemed a bit foggy to him.

Getting to the microphone he said loudly, “The greatest years of my life were spent in the arms of another woman that was not my wife!” The congregation inhaled half the air in the room. After standing there for almost 10 seconds in the stunned silence, trying to recall the second half of the joke, the pastor finally blurted out, “…and I can’t remember who she was!”

prioritising priorities

I can remember a lecture at the Vicar Factory where I trained (the awesome Spurgeon’s College if you are interested). That statement may surprise you for two reasons: one is that I can remember a lecture, the second is that I actually am trained.

Anyhoo… the lecture was in my final year when we were learning some of the practical aspects of being a minister and we were exploring how we prioritise. We were shown a matrix with four words – urgent, important, non-urgent and unimportant. The advice was to deal with things in the following order… urgent and important, non-urgent and important, urgent and unimportant and non-urgent and unimportant. It is sound advice.

But it doesn’t always work in practice. If I focus on the urgent and important I may well spend my whole life reacting to events and working up against deadlines. I will find myself running around doing worthy things but feeling that I am not in control. There is a time and a place to stop, set aside the urgent and important and simply rest in God’s presence, relax in a bath or watch a film with friends (probably not a good idea to try to do all three at once!). This is what God means by recreation. We all need time and space to be re-created, to chill, to breathe gently and to be blessed.

possibly only funny
if you have seen the film,
watch EastEnders and
know about old-style printers…

I am conscious of that this week as I am going to a three-day Ministers’ Conference where I hope to receive, re-charge and recreate. One thing that this could mean is that five days of work will need to be crammed into two days at the end of the week. That is if I allow myself to be dominated by the matrix. But sometimes we need to realise that the matrix is not the only reality (see what I did there?) and place a priority on us receiving as well as giving.

Of course such things as recreation are urgent and important, but if we are honest we know that somehow they don’t seem like that to us or to others.

By the way, I am hoping to carry on blogging at the Conference if they have wifi but please forgive me if there are a couple of blank days…

Ministers’ Conference part 1

Today I am off to a three-day conference for Baptist Ministers in the Eastern Baptist Association.  It should be a good time of refreshing, sharing of ideas, chatting, eating and all the rest of the important things that happen. Oh yes, the main sessions look good too, being led by my old friend Viv O’Brien.

Going to this conference reminds me of an experience I had a while ago when I went to a conference centre when there was another Christian conference running at the same time. I knew one of the participants, who was running a stall in their ‘marketplace’ and he invited me to come over and see him during one of the breaks. As I was interested in the subject of that conference I gladly accepted the invitation and was happily looking over the different stalls (wallet in hand) when one of the leaders of that conference approached me and asked if I was a member of the conference.

I sheepishly admitted that I wasn’t and he started to ask me about why I was interested in their conference. He told me about their themes and what the organisation did. He listened to my interests related to the subject of his conference and finally he invited me to join them for a couple of sessions. Before I knew it lots of the members of the conference were chatting to me and invited me to rejoin their organisation. (I had been a member in the past but had let the membership lapse).  What a great analogy of what church should be like.

Or at least it would be if that whole last paragraph wasn’t a complete fabrication. What actually happened was that the conference leader approached me and asked me to leave (politely) as I did not belong there. I left feeling unwanted and decided that I did not want to renew my membership of an organisation that was so unwelcoming. I hope that is not an analogy for churches!

So what sort of welcome will we get in heaven?  An exasperated mother, whose son was always getting into mischief, finally asked him, “How do you expect to get into Heaven?”

The boy thought it over and said, “Well, I’ll just run in and out and in and out and keep slamming the door until St. Peter says, ‘For Heaven’s sake, Jimmy, come in or stay out!'”