Oh to be a fly on the wall at a pastor’s conference. And that’s what I would have been if the Bishop had not announced my new hair colour from the front on the first night. Or if I hadn’t intruded on private conversations and meetings, getting people to “pose for the camera!” Or if I hadn’t sat down and imposed myself on others with awkward questions such as, “What’s your story?” or “Are you going to eat that?”
My role at the conference was to document (“pose for the camera!”) and track (tweet #FMCconference) the week’s activities and make connections, putting faces to names and gather stories, which is much more effective than cold calls.
Although I’d never been to a pastor’s conference, I had my ideas about what it might look like. I’d imagined that it would be a well-deserved and much-needed gripe session about the trials and tribulations of this call, to shepherd God’s people. I thought it might resemble group therapy. I thought the speaker would give tools to manage expectations and return sanity to the pastor’s lives. I obviously had low expectations and high hopes for our poor pastors.
A lot of preconceived ideas I may have had in the past about what pastors look or act like were abolished when the man I married became one – never saw it coming. At the same time, I was surprised – no, thrilled – to meet pastors of all shapes and sizes, male and female, young and old. We are not a denomination who believes in molds.
I’ll admit to feeling some degree of intimidation being one of few non-pastors to take part in the conference, albeit I was there as a hired worker. I was worried I might be out of my spiritual league. Although, years ago, Greg Pulham gave some of us eager ministerial candidates bonus material at our Heart of Free Methodist course by telling us that as believers we are all theologians, by no means have I received a formal education in the study of God. To gaze at the collective Biblical knowledge and practiced wisdom contained in this large and diverse group of people is to be humbled by it.
“But wait! If all the pastor’s are here… who’s manning the churches?”
Each plenary session started with worship. Everything should start with worship, no? Luke Haggett (Smith Falls), along with Jenna Burke (Crestview) on keyboards and vocals and Peter Goodyear (Asbury) on percussion, and, bonus, the banjo stylings of our Global Ministries Director, Daniel Sheffield, led us through their musicianship into a God-centred perspective.
Dr. Gary Nelson, President of Tyndale University, where incidentally more than a few of our FM pastors were trained, was our speaker for the conference. Dr. Nelson communicated deep truths about the pastoral call and ministered to the “Soul of the Missional Leader.” Dr. Nelson did not give us strategies or methodologies to live the missional life. Instead, he provided soul-nurturing wisdom for the pastors, so that they would seek and find their groundedness in Christ, have new strength to work, labour and endure for Christ and his church.
Just because he was deep, didn’t mean Dr. Nelson wasn’t engaging. He kept us interested with his helpful, sometimes entertaining (sometimes disturbing – certain visualizations can’t be unvisualized!) personal illustrations of the truth he was expounding on, based on 1 Thessalonians. I won’t give any spoilers for those who are currently sitting under Dr. Nelson’s teaching at the Eastern Canada conference in Calgary. But here are a couple samplings of the truth that he explicated, and others of us (re)tweeted:
“What you celebrate as a pastor is directly related to what you value.”
“When you choose not to form who you are in Christ, everything becomes a threat.”
“The Christian life is a progressive restoration of a lost likeness.”
That last one, was Dr. Nelson quoting his wife.
Network meetings happened during the afternoon hours, this is where appointed “district leaders” gather the pastors from their area to encourage each other. There was also football (apparently a pastor’s conference tradition), wagon ride, and even a visit to the point, the tippy top of Wesley Acres. What beautiful grounds God has given us!
Although I am not a pastor, I appreciated the investment into ours. In his weekly notes preceding, Bishop Keith described the conference as “important days of fellowship, inspiration, instruction and interaction.” It is conferences like this that help keep our pastors engaged, inspired, and accountable to each other and to the movement.
While I did my best to remain on the sidelines (not the easiest task for me), I was included, loved and nurtured both by the conference programming and by the pastors themselves. This, to me, is an indication that we have appointed and equipped – and continue to equip – the right people to lead us.
I spoke with many of you who attended the conference and were eager to share how God is working in and through your church. I’d love to talk more. Please contact me to set up a time to talk. God bless you as you continue to serve him!
I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. (Philemon 1:6)