So just let me be beside the seaside…

I spent the early part of this week by the seaside, Torquay to be precise, for the FIEC Leaders Conference. As always it was a great few days. I don’t have time this week for owt as pretentious as a full review (although you might hear some thoughts over in podcast land in the next few weeks), so here’s just a few thoughts.

On the positive side;

Ministry: I’ve always said that conferences don’t need to stand or fall on the quality of the ministry. Sometimes just the time away, and to catch up with friends, makes it worthwhile. But much of the ministry this week was very good. I didn’t go to every session by any means, but particular highlights for me would be Colin Smith’s sessions on the Profile of a godly leader, and the calling of shepherd leaders. I also enjoyed the seminar I attended on Titus 2 women’s ministry, led by Jonny Prime. It’s great to see more and more churches taking the need to train up women more seriously. The best session by far though was Andy Prime preaching 2 Corinthians 4 to us. And he preached it! He was realistic about the difficulties & temptations of gospel ministry, but pointed us to Jesus & why his gospel means we must not lose heart. Excellent stuff!

Music: A big shout out to Colin Webster, Phil Moore, and the folks from Cornerstone Worship, who led us in our sung praise. They were excellent. Full stop. Thanks guys! (And let’s not forget who they got to play the guitar!)

Shearer!!!!

Mission: I’m so grateful for the FIEC and the group of churches who make it up. To be reminded again and again, whether from the front or in conversation, of the mission we have to make disciples in our local areas was great. To be reminded that we can work together to reach our nation for Christ was top too. I love the fact that the FIEC are constantly thinking about ways to help local churches do that. Very encouraging.

Mates & Muppets: Always the best thing about this conference is catching up with people I don’t see that often, and meeting new guys. It’s always a laugh trying to work out if that guy over there is the person you’ve interacted with loads on Twitter or not. But times in the pub, over coffee, just chilling out with people from around the country who are on the same road we are was brilliant. I even spent some time with a few Welshman this year. Sacrificial love, folks…

Miles: Lots of people don’t like Torquay, or perhaps more accurately they don’t like the journey. Don’t get me wrong, it is a really (really!) long way, but once I’m there I love it. Just being away by the sea, miles from home, means this is a bit of a break for me in a way it probably wouldn’t be if it was in Brum or Manchester or wherever. The view’s certainly better. And even though the drive back up is a pain, it gave me and my fellow Elder, Mark, a great chance to chat over lots of what we’d seen and heard.

But this blog has it’s name for a reason, so just a couple of small gripes, which can probably be summed up in the word diversity (and maybe not in the way you think I mean, before anybody points me to next year’s speakers’ list!);

Diversity and Theme: More and more in recent years the conference has seemed to focus ever more closely on ‘the theme’. This year it was Leadership at every level. My small annoyance with that is that we get lots about leadership and not quite as much just preaching for our souls as in the past. In previous years, we’ve had guys preaching passages just for the good of our souls and because we’re battered up by ministry (Paul Gamston pulling down the curtains, or Jonty Allcock’s Winnie the Pooh anyone?). But over recent years the need to focus on ‘the theme’ has seemed to squeeze that out a bit.

Diversity and Context: Whether it’s just because the conference has got a lot bigger or what, I don’t know, but it seems the diversity of the contexts of the speakers at the conference has got smaller over recent years. It might be partly a result of it only being 48 hours, rather than 72. But, whatever the reason, it seems that the vast majority of speakers hail from large churches, in city contexts, from certain areas of the country/world. It’s not that I think people from different contexts have nothing to teach me, or others in similar contexts, but it might be nice to have more folks from smaller churches sometimes. As Carl Truman said, when he challenged our American brothers on this, ‘Preaching the gospel isn’t rocket science. You don’t have to pastor a huge church to preach faithfully to other pastors.’ And (regular readers will already be rolling their eyes) it was another national conference where the entire north of England seemed to be unrepresented on the platform (as much as we all love him, I’m not sure the bloke selling books counts in this context). For example, Yorkshire has the same population as Scotland, but I heard more Scottish accents in nearly every session at this conference than I’ve heard Yorkshire (or even northern) ones, or even people working in Yorkshire contexts, in my 8 years of attending. Just summat to think about maybe…

All that being said though, I loved this conference, the same as I do every year. I’m so grateful for the FIEC and all they do for us as a church and around the country. Long may it continue!