What happens when you take 65 men and women from 40 mission and church organizations around the world and invite them to a grace-filled environment that teaches and embraces Jesus Christ as the center of everything? Well, when the Center for Global Mission facilitated the Emerging Leaders Conference a few weeks ago, it resulted in worship, rejoicing, brokenness, freedom, and intimacy with the Lord and with those who were in attendance.
As a missionary who had experienced a challenging transition from my former role, and was in a place of uncertainty about what was next, the Lord gave me the unexpected blessing of the ELC. I almost didn’t come. It was hard for me to justify committing so much time to something I knew so little about. But by the end of the first day, I knew I was in the right place. Why? The agenda was to create a place where those (like myself) who are usually serving others were served and gently encouraged to “lift our eyes up to the hills.” In contrast to many conferences which present dynamic content in plenary sessions throughout the day, the ELC protected space in the schedule for small group discussion and processing of the messages just heard. The camaraderie these sessions nurtured was a major part of the experience.
Dependence on the Holy Spirit was not just taught, but modeled. Each presenter spoke not only with expertise but also with authenticity- courageously sharing the places in which Jesus had met them in their need. After each presenter completed a session, the group was invited to lay hands and pray for him or her. These sessions set the atmosphere for a gathering that was sealed with the presence of God.
A couple key observations marked by time at the ELC and have been the source of continual reflection ever since.
1. Authentic Worship is Focused on a Person, Not a Doctrine.
VT, one of the speakers surfaced the significant distinction between worship focused on the person of Jesus Christ in contrast to that which focuses on information about Him. Focusing on the person requires an emphasis on our devotion to Him. Such a devotion results in a character transformed by Him. Such a character gives us the credibility before God and man to be heard. Of course, right teaching (doctrine) is important to accurately worship the Person. But by focusing on the Person, we humbly come to Jesus in our brokenness and approach others with a commitment to please the Person instead of simply persuade to an accurate teaching. His is a walk in a person. Doctrine should never replace Jesus.
2. An Unaware Leader is An Unsafe Leader
Fran Love shared with us the importance of being aware of ourselves as we seek to lead others. “As she put it, an unaware leader is an unsafe leader.” The implications for this are huge for ministry. In order to serve people, we must reflect on what we bring into the picture because of our past- our upbringing, culture, and struggles naturally surface in our interactions with others. Awareness of what we transmit to others in our leadership is key. The ELC helped us become more self aware by offering to us the *FIRO-B assessment as a gift. The assessment helped me see that I have a tendency to suppress anger in a way that is sometimes unhealthy. It helped me own my feelings and see more clearly how I need to process them. Because I became I aware I was able to be more intentional about how to interact with others. We learned that this awareness is critical for the development of healthy teams.
3. Suffering and pain is inevitable, but how we handle it determines who we are.
God surfaced a theme for the ELC that no one anticipated or planned: His plan and presence in suffering. Through brave transparency of speakers and conferees, focus on the Suffering Servant (Jesus) and intentional community, the Holy Spirit allowed us to bear each others’ burdens and gave us a space to process this deeply personal and theologically foundational topic: suffering. I gained a new appreciation of the value that our suffering has in our understanding of who Jesus is and our ability to be his representatives before others. The question isn’t “if” we’ll suffer, but “how” we choose to handle our suffering. How we handle it will define us as people. As someone once said, you can get bitter or you can get better. But you will become one of the two based on how you respond to suffering. Many of us were beautifully broken and the Holy Spirit met us there, and even for those who were not in a place of pain, we were made better by being with others who were allowing their struggles to be expressed enabling us to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice.
4. We must be serious about prayer if we truly desire to see God work in and through us.
While there was no specific message on the topic of prayer, it was taught by example throughout the ELC. This was perhaps the most dynamic lesson for me. I was humbled by the realization that it is unfathomable to attempt to do things for God, without a deep reliance on our own prayers and those of others around us. As we prayed and interceded for others, (and as the group prayed for my wife and me) it became evident that prayer is the “work” we must be committed to wholeheartedly. We were challenged to have a few “takeaways from the week”. One of mine is a commitment to form a prayer team this year. Ultimately this is a spiritual battle that must be fought using spiritual weapons. And prayer is a key one in this struggle.
The ELC contributed so much to the lives of those who were fortunate enough to be in the building, and to an untold number who will be influenced by those who were in the building. The ELC gave me encouragement, support and tools with which to keep running in faith knowing that the Lord Jesus Christ is with us every step of the way and at many times carrying us. It also reminded me of the picture we get in Hebrews 12:1-2.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
When we continue to focus on the person of Jesus Christ, we become more aware of the ‘weights and sins’ that we need to lay aside. Once that happens, we can imitate Jesus who also suffered but through constant prayer and communion with the Father endured hardship and finished His race well. By His grace, and through the help of ELC, I feel more equipped to finish this race of faith.
*FIRO-B, compliments of Clarion Model, consultant Sterling O’Neill