you shouldn’t walk alone

iStock_000008457626MediumToday I head off for three days with a large number of Baptist Ministers.

You might think I must have done something very bad to have to suffer that. But you’d be wrong. Not necessarily about me being bad (see recent bloggage about pastors and pedestals), but about it being a punishment. It’s the Eastern Baptist Association Ministers’ Conference, which is an annual gathering for inspiration, encouragement, challenge and increased beverage intake (of the tea and coffee variety of course).

I look forward to this conference every year. It’s not because of who the speakers are (although I am looking forward to this year’s speakers in case they read this), or because of the singing but it’s first and foremost an opportunity to meet friends and make friends with people who understand some of my context because they also live in the goldfish bowl we call Baptist Ministry. Everything else is a wonderful bonus on top of the conversations before, between and after the sessions and over meals.

One of my favourite passages in the Bible is in Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica. In Chapter 5 verse 11 we read “Encourage one another and build each other up…” That’s a really important aspect of church life. You can get it in church on Sundays, in small groups, in prayer triplets, in conversations with one other person. But you can’t get it on your own. For me this Conference is another place where I receive that. Where’s yours?

(By way of warning: I may post bloggages reflecting on the conference over the next couple of days, or I may be so absorbed that I forget).

Be blessed, be a blessing.

I have a challenge for you: I will post the joke with which I opened Sunday morning’s sermon and (if you weren’t there and haven’t listened online) you have to try to work out why I told it:

Three men were scheduled to be executed. Their captors told them that they had the right to have a final meal before the execution and asked them what their favourite meal was.

The first man loved French food. “Give me some good French wine and French bread with French cheese,” he requested.

So they gave it to him, he ate it, and then they led him away.

The next person was a fan of Italian food. “Give me an enormous pizza,” he said, “followed by a big bowl of Italian ice cream.

So they brought it to him, he ate it, and then they led him away.

Now it was the third man’s turn. “I want a big bowl of strawberries,” he said.

“Strawberries? They aren’t in season for months!”

The man smiled: “I’ll wait…”

 

plunging

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

does size matter?

Measuring TapeDearest bloggists

I am sorry that last week’s bloggages tailed off, and that this week’s might be somewhat intermittent.

At the moment I am so busy that bees are asking me to slow down because I am making them look lazy. I don’t mind being that busy, but I find that while I am able to be reflective (like a mirror) I have fewer opportunities to write these reflections down. Perhaps that is an indication that I am too busy.

This week’s busyness is partly because I will be attending the BUGB Larger Ministers’ Conference. Actually it’s not a conference for corpulent clergy, it’s a conference for Ministers of larger churches, but I prefer the more mischievous ‘Larger Ministers’ title. (It also reminds me I could lose a few pounds). I hope that I might have space to send a few bloggages your way from that conference, but let me send you one now in advance of attending the conference.

It may seem elitist or disrespectful of smaller churches to have a conference just for larger ministers (sorry, can’t drop that descriptor). But I don’t believe it is for several reasons:

  • ‘larger church’ is not synonymous with ‘growing church’. There are many smaller churches that are growing faster than larger churches. After all, if three people join a church of 25 people it is 12% growth. If three people join a church of 250 people it’s just over 1% growth.
  • larger churches are not better than smaller churches. They’re just different. Yes there may be more resources (there are definitely more people) and they may look more impressive (when we use the human method of being impressed of counting buttocks on pews and dividing by two rather than God’s which is to look at the hearts of those who are there). But the last church I attended had about 20 members and the commitment to following Jesus, the fellowship, friendship, love and encouragement within that church were no less than what I experience in my somewhat larger church now.
  • I believe that it’s God’s intention that all churches grow (deeper in their relationship with him and as people come to faith) and if we are not growing we need to work out what we are doing that is stifling God’s Spirit. But there are different reasons why growth doesn’t happen in larger churches than in smaller ones. It’s helpful to explore those with people who are experiencing the same issues.
  • there’s less guilt. There, I said it. It’s possible when I am with people from churches that are smaller than ours that I feel guilt because our church doesn’t have some of the problems that they have. And even when we do share some of those problems they are proportionately less disabling because we are larger. For example, when a family leaves our church (we are sad) but that leaves less of a hole than when a family leaves a smaller church. I know my fellow-believers don’t intend (or want) me to feel guilty, but I am often quiet about our church in clergy gatherings where there are smaller churches represented because of that guilt. (Guilt is probably too strong a word but I can’t think of the right one).
  • I can learn. Our church is not perfect. If it was I would have to leave because I would spoil it. So it helps me to be able to learn from ministers of churches that face some of the same size-related issues that we do. Don’t get me wrong: I learn loads through friends from other churches of all sizes. I am really blessed to be part of a group of local Ministers where we can be open and honest in our friendship and support one another prayerfully through that. But much as I love those friends (and I do **gush, gush**) there will be some things that I can only learn from those who are part of churches of a similar size as ours. Again, don’t read ‘better’ where I mean ‘different’.

So if you are a pray-er I would ask you to pray for the larger Ministers this week (Mon-Wed). Pray that we will be blessed, encouraged, inspired and most of all encounter Jesus through the conference. And I will try to share with you things Jesus says to me through the conference. You may like to check out the twitter feed here as it may be that I will be able to condense my thoughts to 140 characters occasionally – see, small is beautiful!

Be blessed, be a blessing.