So, last Saturday, which now seems like ages ago, myself and a couple of deacons belonging to the churches I serve headed for Wales in my trusty Ford Focus. I'd not been to this particular conference before, but the programme looked good and it was nice to for us be able to attend an event together, rather than me jetting off to a Ministers' conference on my own. Here are some brief notes.
The glory and grime of service
First up was Phil Swann's message on John 13.
Leadership is stressful and challenging. We have to preach unchanging truth in changing times. We contend with our own sinful hearts and the devil. There is a lot of focus on leadership today, with many books devoted to the subject, e.g. Beyond the Band of Brothers, by Dick Winters. BBC TV's The Apprentice is essentially about leadership.
1. An intimate time for Jesus and his followers, sharing a meal in the Upper Room.
2. A strategic time. Jesus was about to die on the cross and be raised from the dead.
3. Instruction for leaders, the disciples would have to lead the church in fellowship and mission.
4. Shocking, that Jesus of all people would wash their feet. Yet this was the kind of leadership that Jesus was commending, John 13:15
Strong leadership is servanthood.
John 13:1, Romans 5:8. Servant leadership is love in action.
What kind of leaders does Christ want, prime ministerial figures who exude power and competence? Jesus knew who he was, John 13:3 and yet he did not shun the lowly task of washing feet.
Christian leadership is not about manipulation and control, but showing Christ John 13:15.
Foot washing was an act of personal care. Gospel-shaped leadership means getting close to people and caring for them in a Christ-like way.
Developing the spiritual life of the church
Bill Dyer led a seminar on this subject.
We are living in days of spiritual decline. In our Reformed circles have doctrinal knowledge, but little bold faith. We tend to be cautious, timid and risk adverse. Are we quenching the spirit? We need a deeper knowlage of God. There is little expectancy and consequently a lack of prayer in the churches. Prayer focuses on human need (the unwell etc) , rather than intercession for the lost. Too much preaching is 'in word only'.The work of the Holy Spirit is neglected. Little happens in our churches that cannot be explained naturally. Preaching has become a a lecture. We pay attention to organisation, what we need is a revived church.
1. Restore church as priesthood of all believers. Involve church members in decisions. Paul's concern for "every man", Colossians 1:28. The Calvinist Methodist had heir experience meetings to encourage fellowship and prayer. Encourage the whole church agree to raise prayer life of the fellowship.
2. Reassess the prayer life of church. a. Preach on prayer. b. Reflect on corporate prayer in the Acts of the Apostles. c. Prayer does not change God, but us. d. God has limited himself to our prayerful involvement in his work. e. Difficult days demand more prayer. f. God wants us to plead his promises. g. Persevere in prayer.
Be radical and creative in prayer meetings. Encourage all to pray earnestly and unitedly. Discourage lengthy prayers. Give more time for missional prayer. Divide up prayer times into pastoral and missional sections. Pray for the power of the Spirit on preaching, for witness and service opportunities, fresh converts, revival. Raise the profile of the Prayer Meeting. Where action is. Seek guidance and blessing. Use older people.
3. Restore true spirituality. We need the work of the Spirit. Are we embarrassed by what we see in Acts? We must seek a deeper experiential knowledge of God.
4. Act in dependence on God. Pray about decisions in members' meetings. Pray and then act in faith.
5. Rally the church around the gospel. Passion for the gospel drowns out trivia.
You can touch a life
Stuart Olyott gave the final address.
1. Core teaching, Mark 9:30-37, 10:35-45.
Disciples concern with rank, rule and authority. They wanted to be first. Jesus showed them what spiritual greatness really is: being last and a servant. He was servant of all. We can touch a life via lowly service.
2. Biblical examples
Moses' life was chamged by his father in law's wise advice, Exodus 18. David was helped by Jonathan's visit, 1 Samuel 23. Jonathan strengthened David's hands in God. Naaman's life was touched by the words of his servant girls. She had her master's interests at heart. Jeremiah was rescued from a dungeon by an enslaved eunuch, Jeremiah 38. Peter was led to the Messiah by Andrew, John 1. Paul was accepted by the early church because of Barnabas' commendation, Acts 9. Apollos was instructed by Aquila and Priscilla, Acts 18. Titus encouraged Paul, 2 Corinthians 7:6. Timothy did not seek influence or emunence, but wanted to serve interest of others, Philippians 2:19-22 cf. Philippians 2:4-7.
3. Practical outworking
Touch a life. Ask: How can I serve best interests of others? Your wife, children, newcomer at church, church members.
Don't arrive at church at the last moment and then leave quickly. Talk to people. Get to know them. Visit the sick. Open your home for meetings. Don't neglect family life. Don't often be absent from church. Know your Bible. Get to grips with theology. Pray for people. Don't criticise them. Pray for your pastor and the church fellowship. Support theological seminaries. Take an interest in the worldwide church. You can touch a life. Who is greatest in heaven? He who was servant of all, John 13.
The conference's biblically sound and practically helpful ministry challenged us to consider how we might be better servant-leaders in caring for the flock and reaching out to people in the community. Serving the Servant King and touching lives for him. That's what it's all about.