Thursday, 3 March 2016

Reflections on New Wine Leadership Conference 2016 (part 1)

This year I had the blessing of being able to attend the New Wine Leadership Conference in Harrogate.  I decided that the hour and a half commute from Saltburn was worth it given it was cheaper than a hotel - in hindsight I regret this as it meant I missed the evening session of the first day, the first session of the final day, and the evening social interaction.  Nonetheless, I had an amazing time, I was deeply challenged, given great hope, encouraged immensely, and left which much to think and pray about.

Above all else I left with the conviction that God is so Good!  His blessings and favour are unimaginable.  The love of Jesus for us is so radical and life changing that it is impossible to grasp at the words to truly express it.  I left with a hope I have not felt for some time, a hope that the Church of England has an amazing future - a future of growth and the great things of God above.  God is sovereign, and He loves His Bride - this is all the hope we need even in the darkest of times.

There are still two talks I have not heard and I hope to be able to catch them on YouTube later, but I felt that I should write something now about how I felt and what I thought of the conference.  I will start by considering the content of the talks before looking at some wider thoughts and reflections.

John Coles - the throne of grace and guarding the inner life.

As many will know, New Wine has recently been rocked by the news that their recently appointed leader had a personal fall into sin - nothing the police would be involved with but enough that he has had to step back from not only the ministry of New Wine but his own church too.  John Coles has once again stepped up as the interim leader - a role he had thought he was finished with when he laid it down.  The pastoral blow up from this sad story was still and is still very raw and painful.  I felt deeply saddened by it - especially after so many other ministers of God's majesty have fallen in the past few years - Mark Driscoll, Tullian Tchividjian, R.C. Sproul Jr. etc.  It feels like Satan is coming along and finding those whom God raises up and then knocking them down one by one whilst laughing at us.  

As much as I feel sad over such falls from leadership I also feel a deep and painful challenge to my own life.  I long to be used by my Lord to proclaim His Good News to as many people as possible, I have been called to ministry like these men; and I am a sinner.  If such men of God could fall into such sin and it catastrophically destroy their ministry then it certainly could happen to a miserable sinner like me.  I feel more and more heavily the burden of being a shepherd who leads the flock, of being a person who people are supposed to look to as an example in their life of faith.  

John Coles gave a heartfelt and heartening talk about not only how good God is and how merciful He is, but also how we can help to guard ourselves from falling into such sin.  The need for close friendships in which I am held accountable was again seared into my brain and raised up my list of priorities to the point where it has been highlighted and circled a thousand times on my to-do list.  I almost feel I need to tattoo it on my face to make sure I sort it out!  One theme which came through in this talk and the rest of the conference was that ministers must focus and care for their 'backstage' life as much as their 'front stage' ministry.

"We need to spend more time focussed on our backstage life and less on our front-stage ministries, as charismatics we spend too much time looking and promoting our outward ministries and not enough time caring for our lives behind the ministry which are often in the dark and withdrawn from support and prying eyes."  John Coles

Nonetheless, as Christians we are people who follow a God of mercy and forgiveness.  John Coles' reminder that "God's throne of judgement becomes His throne of grace" to the believer is something we must not only proclaim but live out in our lives.  

One thing which stuck with me was this thought:  Christians can fall into sin but we can never fall from grace because grace is something we never deserved or earned in the first place but was and is and will be given by God to His chosen saints no matter what.

Nicky Gumbel - being in God's waiting room; lessons from Abraham.

John Coles was followed by Nicky Gumbel.  One great thing about this conference was that for the first time I got to hear both Nicky Gumbel and Justin Welby speak.  These two speakers were stupendously great, challenging, and encouraging - but they also left me with the most questions and concerns.  

We all dislike being in the waiting room in the doctors or the dentist, or indeed having to wait for anything!  But how we hate being in God's waiting room!  Waiting for Him to do something, waiting for Him to speak, waiting for Him to answer a prayer.  As Christians we need to learn to actually enjoy being in the waiting room.  Abraham spent most of his long, long, life there and we find great teaching and encouragement from the accounts in Genesis.  Nicky spoke of how we are often tested whilst in the waiting room - tested by fear, uncertainty, conflict, delay, and then even by the blessing when it comes.  As Christians when we find such tests we have hope in Jesus:

"Jesus went through the greatest test, He was sacrificed, crucified, for us - the greatest test.  Because of this we have hope in our own tests.  No matter how messy our trials and pains and struggles “it didn’t look good at the crucifixion” but it looked glorious three days later and this is where our hope lies." - Nicky Gumbel

Nicky ended by encouraging us with the affirming thought that because we have a God of resurrection the church will never die in this nation - new life is coming.  I was greatly blessed by his message and left with great hope about my own waiting concerning where my ministry is taking me as well as the future of our dear church.  Yet, something tasted sour to me and I would feel remiss if I didn't say something.  Nicky spoke about Abraham's moral 'blips' his 'falls' and his 'messing up' but never once (that I recall) used the word sin.  Is sin really a 'blip' or is it actually cosmic treason that deserves not only the death penalty but an eternity spent in hell?  What does not using the word ‘sin’ achieve, especially in a room full of church leaders?  

I praise God for all that He has done through Nicky, HTB, and Alpha - it is some of the most amazing things the church has seen for generations.  Personally though, I am not comfortable with what to me is the minimising sin and believe very strongly that unless we call sin sin and acknowledge it as such we put ourselves in dangerous places spiritually.

"People don’t say in Britain “the church is dead” they say “the church is nearly dead” but we know it will never die because Jesus rose from the dead.  The church is not going to die, God is going to raise it to new life, churches are going to be re-opened, what we are seeing now is just the beginning, the nation is going to be re-evangelized, the church is going to be revitalised." Nicky Gumbel  

Kate Coleman - lessons on in the inner life from Moses

Kate really brought home the importance of knowing ourselves and humbly asking God to reveal our weaknesses, needs, true desires, real motivations etc. The importance of caring for the person we are ‘behind the scenes’ and not just focussing on outward ministry was again emphasised.  Kate was engaging, challenging, and encouraging.  She spoke powerful truths from the Scriptures concerning how we wrongly doubt and question God, doubt ourselves, and fail to live humble lives before our Lord.  

Leaders need to collaborate, share the weight of leadership, and kill their pride which stops them from doing so.  As someone who is a control freak and so greatly prefers to do everything myself I was challenged and made to think about who at my church I can build up to minister, who can share what I do, who can I pass my gifts to before I leave?  The final thing which really made me stop and think was when she spoke of how Moses' failings in leadership were caused ultimately because he loved the people more than God, he feared the people more than he feared God.  How much of what I do is governed by a longing to please and appease people instead of God?  

"As leaders we need to be aware that God knows everything about us. We must have have a degree of vulnerability and willingness to have God-given revelation about our motivations and life and ministry.  This is why spending time in His presence and in prayer asking him tough questions about ourselves.  How we respond to God and others will show us and everyone who we are."  Kate Coleman

Justin Welby - a world view from the wider issues of the planet to one closer to home.

This was the first time I have heard Justin really speak, and it.

My opinion of the man was greatly lifted, his love for God and for His Bride was overflowing, his intellect and his compassion were plain to see.  Justin gave me great hope for the Church of England and great pride to be part of New Wine - a movement which has fuelled so much growth and renewal in the Church.  

"The long years of winter in the Church of England are changing, the spring is coming, the frost is thawing.  There is a new spring in the church! Embrace the future and the present - with all the pain and longing and not being what we long to be, because the Spirit meets us in the present and takes us to the future.  There is no despair in the Christian life for we know Christ rose from the dead."  Justin Welby

Yes Lord! Please Lord!  Thank You Lord!  Sitting in a room full of 1700 church leaders who were filled with a fire for the glory of Jesus and a desperate passion for sharing His fame I could not and cannot help but see this as a prophetic statement.  I live in hope now more than I have for many years - hope not for survival but for revival!   

Justin acknowledged the role New Wine has played in this, not just as a conference but as a juggernaut of joyous proclamation and Spirit-empowered lives of victory.  From churches in small rural villages through to churches  in a city centre with hundreds of people passing through each Sunday, New Wine has impacted thousands and thousands of lives for Christ.  And there is more to come!  For all my qualms and misgivings about some aspects of New Wine (some on that later) I feel my heart rising in my chest knowing I am a part of this network of saints.

"New Wine has changed the tide and renewal across the Church of England is coming, we are not having to pull against the status-quo but rather churches are pushing for the help and resourcing to grow and be part of the new things the Spirit is doing."  Justin Welby

What Justin said about current divisions in the church also cut me in the heart like an arrow dipped in the blood of Christ.  I know too well the silent urge to let hatred slip into righteous passion for truth.  To let my longing for God's glory lead to a spite tinted response.   Evangelicals need to be defined by what we stand for and love not what we hate and stand against.  I have been pained in the past by the utter bile and vitriol I have seen poured on faithful saints by some of the people within groups like Changing Attitudes.  I have rarely seen such from evangelicals in return, though sadly my posting of things from the conference revealed to me that we too are human and the temptation to let unrighteous emotions and thoughts taint what we say is very real.  I have rededicated myself to watching my tongue when dealing with individuals and guarding my thoughts from hateful spite towards those I disagree with.  

Justin proclaimed that truth and unity are not a dichotomy and must be had together because the God who is truth is a God of unity and therefore His truth naturally brings unity among the saints.  But I was left with the serious question - when is division right, what issues are 'first order', can you have unity with those who hold to what I can only describe, even when being charitable and loving, as heresy and horrendously soul-endangering error?  Justin didn't answer this. As I ponder these questions I will continue to be unashamedly bold in proclaiming and protecting the truth revealed in Scripture, but I will now be all the more careful to put to death hatred in my heart.

"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

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