Moving Forwards & Gaining Momentum
John Stevens, our National Director, reflects on last week’s Leaders’ Conference.
One of the things I find most challenging about my role as FIEC National Director, in comparison to serving as the pastor of a local church, is that it is much less obvious from week to week whether what I do makes any difference. This is an inherent problem of any itinerant ministry, where you do not have as much chance to see the direct impact of God’s word saving people and transforming lives. Instead you tend to preach and leave, and have to live by faith that God will not allow his word to return to him void. However it is wonderful to have the chance to see how God has been at work amongst us over the longer term, and this is why I found last week’s Leaders’ Conference such an encouragement.
The Leaders’ Conference is the major annual gathering of the Fellowship, introduced in 2009 as a key component of our restructuring. This was the fourth annual Leaders Conference, and it was thrilling for me was to see how far we have progressed in the last twelve months.
Over the past three Leaders’ Conferences we have endeavoured to explain and develop the vision of FIEC, namely our desire to become a family of thriving independent churches reaching our nation with the good news of the Lord Jesus. This vision necessitated the recruitment of new staff and a considerable expansion of the FIEC budget. At previous conferences we were able to cast this vision, but there was a measure of understandable scepticism amongst the delegates as to whether it would be possible to achieve it, and a fair degree of ambivalence towards FIEC as a whole. In the first two years there was relatively little to show for our work on the ground, although much was happening under the surface.
However this year the mood of the conference was totally different, and I was hugely encouraged by how far we have come in revitalising the culture and developing a coherent identity as a gospel movement. It felt that, in God’s goodness, we are moving forwards and gaining momentum.
FIEC is all about our local churches, not the central organisation, and it was fantastic to have such a gifted and passionate group of church leaders present, who have a determination to preach Christ to their communities. They are labouring in diverse situations all across the country, and it was a joy to hear how God is at work through them. In many cases our churches are seeing growth and conversions. Other church leaders are persevering in very difficult situations, and see little evident fruit from their labours. I hope and pray that they were all encouraged to keep serving faithfully where God has called them to minister.
FIEC remains thoroughly committed to the core gospel doctrines reflected in our Doctrinal Basis, but the culture is changing from one of withdrawn defensiveness to active gospel engagement and partnership with others. The average age of the conference delegates has dropped every year, and I would guess that roughly half were younger men in ministry. I read an article by John Coles, from the New Wine Network, in the Church of England Newspaper recently, lamenting the lack of gifted young leaders coming forwards. This is not the case within FIEC. The future of any movement depends on the quality of its rising generation, and if the conference was anything to go by the future of FIEC is looking bright.
As with any gathering of around 360 people with different temperaments and tastes, not everything would please everyone. For some the worship was too contemporary, and for others it was too staid. Some appreciated the efficiency of a short Annual General Meeting, yet others would have liked more discussion. If the conference had been exactly what everyone wanted then it would be failing to reflect the diversity which is a precious feature of our family of churches.
The success and growth of the conference, which this year had a waiting list of disappointed potential delegates, has left us with a problem for the future. We need to grow, and yet are already at capacity in the largest residential Christian conference centre in the UK. We would also like to add an extra day to the conference, as it feels packed. A vital element of the conference is the time that we are able to spend building relationships with each other. For these reasons we are going to be moving next year to the Seacroft Holiday Village at Hemsby on the North Norfolk coast. This new site will enable us to accommodate up to 550 (and potentially 650) delegates, and to add a full extra day to the conference without increasing the overall cost. Whilst the venue is not as accessible, and it will mean an increased travelling time, after researching all the available options extensively we felt that this offered the best overall combination of timing, venue and affordability.
The dates for next year are Monday 4th to Thursday 7th of November 2013, and our conference theme will be “The Power of God”. We’d be delighted to have you join us.
The main talks from the conference are available to download or listen to online in the Resources area of the website. The videos of the talks will also soon be available. You can read our daily reports from the conference, which include a selection of delegates’ Tweets, here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.
This article originally appeared in a longer form on John’s blog (www.john-stevens.com). You can read the full article here.