Saturday, 5 March 2016

Reflections on New Wine Leadership Conference 2016 (part 2)

Charlotte Gambill - passing on the mantel 1 Kings 19

Listening and watching Charlotte speak with such passion, poise, and power I couldn’t help but conclude that God Almighty had filled her with the Holy Spirit and raised her up for this very purpose.  Charlotte seems so clearly to have an amazing anointing of God for her ministry.  I found her talk creating within me a conviction that I must lay down my pride and selfishness, I must share my ‘mantel’ and calling with others, I must be willing to do the awkward thing and involve others in my ministry that they may become a legacy behind me.  I’ve worked in teams, and worked well in them, indeed I prefer working in teams - teams of competent professionals.  Yet even then there are some things I hate passing on and I resent giving over to others, preaching and teaching being perhaps the most obvious one to me.  

“We are too often concerned with our own success - but God is concerned with our succession.  Empire builders are on their own for themselves, legacy builders look to passing things on to the next generation.  Don’t wait till you are passed out to pass things on - telling people what you learnt about the church in your dying breath is too late.“  Charlotte Gambill

Yet I also wonder, especially at this time of uncertainty over where I am to go in ministry over the next few months: who is willing to take me and lay their mantel over my shoulders?  I will never forget four years ago sitting in Charlie Cleverly’s office at Saint Aldate’s as he prayed for me shortly before my ordination.  I don’t remember much of what he said but I remember so clear that he suddenly stopped, stood up, took off his cream coloured blazer and walked behind me, placed it on my shoulders, and prayed that as the mantel of leadership is passed to me - as it was from Elijah to Elisha - would I be filled with power to preach and pastor.  At the time I thought it bizarre, I almost laughed, but I cannot count how many times my mind has been drawn back to that moment when that holy man of God who leads the most amazing church in the country laid his blazer on my shoulders.  Maybe I don’t need someone else to take me under their wing.  Maybe I’ve already been given the mantel and I just need to wait for my time with humble conviction.  Maybe I am reading too much in to what Charlie did!

Charlotte’s words about how Elisha went and burnt his ploughs, killed his livestock - his whole living - and kissed farewell to his parents before closing the door to his past really struck a chord.  In ministry it must be all or nothing, either stay or go but don’t leave the doors open, don’t allow yourself to hold on to other options. In personal holiness we must burn our past, thank the Lord for what we have learned from our mistakes but kill the temptation to return to our spiritual vomit.  As I look at what comes next in my ministry and life I must refuse to ‘keep my options open’ and look at other employment.  No! God has called me to ministry and ministry will be my life in His power and grace and I will pray and pray and fast and fast till He sends me into the pasture of His pleasing.

Even more so, thinking on our beloved Church of England it strikes a clear note of warning.  Questions assail evangelicals at the moment; can we stay in a church which may end up publicly blessing and promoting sin?  Can the Church of England be redeemed from the liberalism and spirit of anti-Christ within many of her clergy and cogs of power?  Can she ever be re-reformed to the days of true doctrine and pure gospel, the days of simple faith in the Word of God and humble submission to the truths revealed in its pages?  Evangelicals need to make a choice here and now, either take up the mantel of authority and ministry of this particular church passed down to us from Cranmer, Grindal, Whitfield, Ryle, Stott and others and fight to the end for the Church of England - or leave now and don’t look back.  What will not work is staying but holding open doors for escape if it goes wrong, keeping back options and plans.  Either we fight to reclaim the Church of England for Jesus and we lay down our lives doing it or we just stop now.  As tempting as it may be we must burn our ploughs and slaughter our cattle in sacrifice to the Lord and then trust, simply trust, in a God who is indeed good.

Elisha’s response to being given the weight of the ministry of Elijah’s mantle was to first go home and burn his ploughs, burn the distractions behind him, close the doors he might be tempted to return to, reject the things which might keep him from the things God was calling him to.  Stop leaving your options open, stop playing with ministry, if you are going to commit then commit in such as way you don’t leave the door open behind you. “  Charlotte Gambill

Mark Batterson - various topics

Mark was the keynote speaker of the conference, he had a number of slots and sadly I missed the first one - something I greatly regret.  Mark was perhaps the most engaging speaker I have seen in person, full of wit and humour, interactive, self-depreciating, passion filled, and full of knowledge; full of wisdom, full of Jesus!  Sitting listening to him stirred my heart with longing, a deep and painful longing to glorify God as he does, to spread the fame of Jesus as he does, to be filled with the power of the Spirit as he is, a longing and aching to make such an impact for the Kingdom as he has done.

I have always wrestled with envy.  A longing to be like or have something which others do.  I have grown up being envious of my brother’s seeming inhuman perfection and self-control, envious of the work ethic of peers at university, most envious of those who have found loving relationships when I have remained single and alone, envious of people with mercedes or who have money to buy one.  Though I have longing for these things it has rarely ever led me to despise others or wish to take such things from others as envy by definition leads to and contains - the only exception being a few occasions whilst at university concerning relationships. But where I feel this most painfully is when it comes to ministry.  I long to grow a church by God’s grace, I long to write books that impact lives for God’s glory, I wish to speak at more conferences and share my passions and experiences, I long to be used for the fame of Jesus.    And that is what I felt at nwlc16, especially with regards to Mark Batterson.  I love Mark, I praise God for Him, but oh Lord please take my life and use me for Your name’s fame and renown!  Is this wrong?  Is this the same as the other things for which I have felt an envy?  Is there such a thing as a righteous envy like there is a righteous anger?  I don’t know, but having this desire to be used by God not for my own fame but His and His alone grow so powerfully in me has certainly made me recommit my whole life and ministry to His sovereign will.  

In his talks Mark reminded us that God firstly reveals Himself as a creative creator.  If we are made in the image and likeness of God, if we have the Spirit of God within us, how can we not be creative too?  When we are not creative we are marring His image in us, we are not reflecting His glory and person as we should be.  We are called to love God not only with all our body, strength, and soul but all of our mind - the logical parts and the creative parts.    Quipping that “a lack of creativity is not a lack of creativity, it is simply a lack of effort” Mark went on to give a number of practical pointers about helping and growing our use of creativity to reflect the glory of God.  My favourite pointer was certainly taking naps!  But it was his challenge, matching well with the words of Justin Welby, that we should not just denounce error but produce a better thing which most impacted me:

“Criticise by creating.  criticism is a cop out, it is an easy way out - no, no, no, write a better book, make a better film, do a better thing, let us be known for what we are for not what we are against; Paul didn’t stand outside the Areopagus with a sign saying ‘paganism is wrong’ but went inside and spoke the gospel and offered a better thing.  Don’t settle for creating a subculture but live to make sure that His Kingdom comes and His will is done.”  Mark Batterson

Mark’s second talk was about ministering from our convictions - what our convictions are will shape our future and our reality.  God’s kingdom around and through us will only be as big and truthful as our biblical convictions.  The emphasis he placed on the need to have biblical convictions was a timely warning.  Mark inspired us to look and re-asses our convictions and then live them out.  The theme of looking at the ‘backstage life’ was brought into sharp relief again as he challenged us to care for our inner lives because if you don’t care for the horse the cart is not going to go anywhere.  Importantly, he encouraged us to remember that God is good and He blesses what is good - so if so stick at doing good things in your ministry eventually you will find blessings, growth, and God making Himself known.  Speaking as if directly to my longing of God to make a massive impact for Christ  through me, Mark said:

“If you dream big in ministry know that God can do so much bigger.  Why does God give us big dreams?  Because they keep us on our knees, humble, dependent.  It may take a long time, for Caleb it was forty years but in the Lord’s time they crossed the river into the promised land.”  Mark Batterson

I commit myself in ministry and life to spend my years on my knees, humble, utterly dependent on Him for everything and always giving Him the glory; the rest I will leave to His will and pleasure!

The final talk Mark gave concerned passing on our legacy; how the work and ministry we do now can have unintended but wondrous consequences down the line - perhaps even after we have gone into glory.  The tiny mustard seed may have seemed worthless and small and planted simply so the farmer could put mustard on his food but God grew it so that it would become a whole ecozine with birds nesting and living in the branches.  In ministry we sow small things in faith, we water them, and we trust God for the growth - that is all we can do.  What we do in faith doesn’t grow slowly and predictably, no it increase 30, 300, 3000 fold!  

“Your job is not to do amazing things for God, His job is to do amazing things through you; your job is simply to consecrate yourself to Him.  Jesus didn’t say ‘you will build your church’ but ‘I will be build My church”.  Isn’t that Good News!  God is going to do what God does! …   Don’t seek opportunity, seek God and opportunity will seek you.  Consecrate yourselves to God and He will do amazing things among you.”  Mark Batterson

Would this truth, this freedom giving, guilt lifting, weakness redeeming, truth be ever before my eyes in life, ministry, and prayer!

Concluding thoughts.

I loved being at New Wine Leadership Conference 2016.  I was richly blessed by the time I spent there. I have left the conference feeling encouraged, renewed, revived, lifted up, and filled with hopeful confidence.  

Some of the most powerful moments for me were not during the wisdom given in the talks but were in the times of worship together.  Standing in a room with 1700 other leaders from all across the nation and indeed from countries abroad and all stand with hands raised in thankful praise and longing was stupendous.  Feeling the weight of the glory of a loving God in that room, seeing the joy erupt across a thousand faces as we sang of His goodness, seeing the pain appear in a thousand hearts as we repented of our pride and sins in song; all this was priceless.  Mark Batterson had called on each of us to worship God with all of our mind but in our time together we worshipped God as one with not only our voices but with all our hearts, souls, and all of our bodies.

Seeing prayer answered was a joyous thing, seeing God impact people around you was a wonder.  Seeing the sacrificially generous overflow of faithful hearts as leaders gave £107,000 to help churches in Syria was simply something else.  Sure, some of my concerns about New Wine were also evident at these exact times, but that didn’t detract from my appreciation of what God was doing.  

I am most certainly a charismatic, and claim that name gladly.  I believe the gifts of the Spirit - all of them - are available right now by God’s grace.  We should all be praying to speak in tongues and praying even more so for prophecy.  A church not seeking the gifts of the Spirit is a church, to my mind, living in disobedience to Scripture and the will of God.  But as a charismatic I also have ABS - Automatic Biblical Stopping.  Paul doesn’t just call on us all to desire and use the gifts of the Spirit he also is very clear about how and when to use them, clear that everything must be done in an orderly way, clear that tongues should only be used in a public service when there is an interpretation, and prophecies should be orderly with one coming after another.  When I don’t see these things I get on edge and feel uncomfortable.  Some aspects of New Wine as seen at the conference put me on edge and made me feel uncomfortable.  Maybe I need to embrace the awkward, let go of my control somewhat. I don’t know... I struggled to see in the Bible some of what I saw at the conference.  Importantly though, this does not detract from my thanksgiving at the wonderful things that God was clearly doing there, and there is no doubt in my mind for even a moment that He was there in power and presence.

Perhaps what saddened me the most during my time at the conference was the reaction given by some of my friends in ministry to the quotations I posted on facebook.  These friends were largely from the conservative evangelical wing of the church (a wing I also move in - indeed I am a member of Church Society) though some were from a higher ‘catholic’ churchmanship.  I saw great saints become seemingly jealous and bitter.  They were most uncharitable.  They appeared to be purposefully and unfairly critical of what was said at the conference.  People were willing to leap on soundbites without context and presume the worst of ministers (and archbishops) who dearly and clearly love Jesus. People personally called the speakers things like ‘horrible man’ - not ‘what horrible teaching’ but an attack on a person who has done amazing ministry in God’s power.

My heart was breaking.  How different was this than the vitriol and bile I have seen from some on Changing Attitudes facebook page towards the likes of Archbishop Foley Beach and others?  Sure it wasn’t as high quality as the hate from the ‘liberals’ but - as Archbishop Justin said - we shouldn’t even try to compete.  New Wine may not be to the taste of these people, I myself have issues with some parts of it, but it pains me to see saints attacking saints, to see Kingdom workers undermining Kingdom workers, to see people slinging sand around instead of building together on the Rock of Christ.  Despite their disagreements it is a sorrowful sign of depravity that people who agree on the gospel and the urgent need to share it with all, that people who agree on the glory and majesty of the Triune God, who agree on Jesus’ incarnation, sacrificial death, resurrection, ascension and coming return; that such people should start declaring like the foolish Corinthians “I am of Reform” “I am of New Wine” “I am of Saint Helen’s Bishopgate” “I am of HTB” “I am of Ebbes” “I am of Aldates”.  Come on Saints! Jesus died for something better than this.

"We need a generous spirit within us, when we see other Christians of different traditions finding success and winning souls for Christ we should rejoice and praise Him for what He is doing and not be grumpy and resentful because they see some things a bit different to how we do and disagree on minor things."  Justin Welby at nwlc16

So how to sum all I’ve said about the conference up?

New Wine Leadership Conference 2016 gave me:

- Affirmation that God is not only good but utterly sovereign.
- Hope not only for the evangelisation of England but the Reformation and Revival  
of the Church of England in particular.
- A recommitment to care for my ‘backstage’ life.
- A renewed emphasis on the majesty of God’s good gifts to us.
- A deeper longing for God to use me for His fame and prestige
- A desire to see unity in the Church around truth and an openness around
secondary issues.
- A closer examination of my motivations and emotions in both ministry and
my speaking to or of others.

For all that, and so much more, I give great thanks to King Jesus for the New Wine Leadership Conference 2016.  I cannot wait for the which ever regional New Wine Leadership Conference I attend next year.  In the meantime I am prayerfully and joyfully looking forward to the ‘Junior Anglican Evangelical Conferences 2016 - reach, build, send’

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