In June 2012, the Center for Global Mission hosted their fifth Emerging Leaders Conference. The interesting thing about the Emerging Leaders Conference is that there are all kinds of people there. There are people who have been in ministry for a long time; there are people who are just getting their feet wet in ministry. There are People serving in all different countries, facing all sorts of difficult challenges. It is small and personal and intense, despite the great diversity. The common thread, is that all the attendees love Jesus and want to see the world changed for Him!
In order to give you a little bit of context into what I would like to say in this article, I would like to tell you something about myself. I am a 28 year old female who spent the past five years as a single woman in the Muslim world. I moved overseas right out of college, and had no idea how much I didn’t know. Five years later, I have a strong sense of how little I know, having spent my entire independent adult life in a culture that has very few similarities with my own culture. I lived in a place where is doesn’t make any sense for a woman to have any sort of leadership gifting because even talking to men, let alone instructing them is by and large, inappropriate. By nothing other than the Lord’s grace, he used me to develop some really neat relationships and help open a couple coffee shops in West Asia. It still came as a huge surprise to me that my presence was desired at a conference concerning leadership in global missions. “Don’t they realize I am a woman?” I thought to myself. “Do they remember that I am still in my 20’s and know nothing?”
I first attended the conference in 2010 so this was my second time around. I was a little more comfortable with the fact that I would be one of few women and would be on the younger end of the scale, but I also knew something about the heros of the faith that would be there, people that I deeply respected and admired. It would bless me immensely to be able to just listen to them speak. I knew that I would be expected to offer my thoughts too and that was intimidating. However, it is the lie of the enemy for me to think that because I am inexperienced and female, that I have less of the Holy Spirit dwelling in me and empowering me to speak truth to his people. I had to resist this lie as I made my way to Philadelphia.
In the sixth chapter of John’s gospel, the disciple that Jesus loved records a story that all the other gospel writers also wrote about, namely the feeding of the five thousand. John, however, is the only one to mention the conversation between Jesus, Philip and Andrew. In this scene, the disciples find themselves in a new and somewhat unexpected situation. Here they are in the wilderness with a huge crowd of people and nothing to eat. So Jesus asks them, “What should we do?” “How should we feed them?” Philip has no idea. Andrew also has no idea, but he gives the Lord what he has. He can’t imagine how it will help, but he presents it to Jesus anyway. He has found a boy with five loaves and 2 fish. What seemed like nothing at all, when presented to the Lord Jesus, became enough to feed the masses.
When it comes to seeing the world reached for the gospel of Jesus Christ, I think I often feel like Philip and Andrew. I can see the masses and the Lord asks me, “Ok, what are we going to do about this?” to which I reply, “Lord, I have no idea.” My
gifting looks a lot like five loaves and two fish when faced with five thousand hungry people. Maybe I could help one or two people, but what I have to give could never be enough, right Lord? It’s important to note that the Lord never expects me, all by myself to go out and make anything miraculous happen. It is the combination of the little we have brought to the Lord, and his almighty power that makes the impossible, possible. He showed us how true this is throughout the Scriptures, and is still doing it today.
The truth is that even when we have no idea what to do, the first step should always be to bring what we have before the Lord, knowing that he will do something with it, maybe something that we didn’t expect. In that his thoughts are higher than our thoughts and his ways higher than our ways, it will likely look, to us, to be new and creative. The Emmerging Leaders Conference is a place in which I have been able to bring the Lord the things that I have, things that I have no idea what he is going to do with, and ask him to feed those who are without spiritual food. It is amazing how the Holy Spirit shows up when we are recognizing our shortcomings and bringing what we have to the Lord. When God’s people gather together asking the Lord to show up, He does just that. The temptation sometimes is to see the miraculous things that the Lord does and spend all our time marveling at the work rather than the one who made it happen. I experienced this conference as a time when God’s people gathered so that they might attend to Jesus, and in so doing, the Spirit of the Lord moved, and it was beautiful.
The conference is designed so that no matter what we are bringing to the table, we are encouraged to be who we are. The Lord has uniquely designed each of us so that we might contribute to the body of Christ. This conference is a place where we have the opportunity to hear the voices that are not often heard and learn from them. The Lord also knows exactly what we need and where we need to be challenged. Over the past several years, the Lord has been teaching me what it means to pray like the widow at the judge’s door: with persistence. Our faith, Jesus says, is connected to how persistently we pray (Luke 18:1-‐8). Another brother at the conference has made it one of his missions in life to help the church remember to be thankful to the Lord and pray with thankfulness in all things. The Scriptures say, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thes. 5:16-‐18) When this brother and I connected later on the issue, I found that the Lord had something to teach both of us. He desired to lead the church in praying with thankfulness, but he needed to be reminded that he was missing the “pray without ceasing” piece. I, on the other hand, was missing the piece regarding giving thanks in everything. The Lord wanted to push both of us a step further in our journeys, so he brought us together and let us sharpen each other. When iron sharpens iron, both blades end up sharper, not just one or the other. I was so blessed to learn from the depth of wisdom of this man, and couldn’t believe that I could say something that would be truly encouraging to him. But, isn’t it just like our Lord to give us ears to hear the Words that are from Him, even when they come from unlikely suspects?
One of the early sessions at the conference focused on how essential it is for leaders that are serving the Lord in any capacity to be deeply rooted in spending time with the Lord. This will empower our leadership. This will allow us to know the right way to go. Spending time with the Lord does not JUST make us a better person. Surely it does do that, but it also fills every part of our lives and makes us better at everything we do because the Lord is the God of all things. We, in the West, have such a tendency to compartmentalize our lives. Our walk with Jesus is deeply personal, but if we want to see the world know the Lord, it needs to infiltrate every part of our lives. That comes with making time with the Lord a priority, especially for those in both secular and religious leadership. This will bring the sharpening we need when we don’t have the luxury of other brothers and sisters in the Lord speaking wisdom into every situation.
As I listened and observed throughout the week, this is what I saw over and over again: a sharpening. The Lord met with us there and filled in the gaps in our lives. He helped us to see where we were falling short, through the gifting of others and from the teaching from the Word. This was not a place only for the strong, only for the confident, only for the learned and vocal. This was a place for the people who have compassion on the masses to come to the Lord, even those like Philip who see the masses and know that there is a problem, but may have felt like they had nothing and no ideas. In this story, it was not just James, John, and Peter that saw the Lord do something great. All of the disciples went out amongst the people and brought the miraculous feeding to them. Here, the voices that were not often heard in the gospels were brought forward. He used all of his disciples and gave them all a role, even those who needed some help on the front end.
I left the conference, having communed with Jesus, and now feel I am going out and telling the crowds to sit down. I don’t know exactly what the Lord is going to do with what I gave him, but he sent me back out, with instructions to obey and now I am waiting to see the miraculous happen. I am waiting to see people fed with the bread of life. The Lord is about to do something miraculous in this world! I am so thankful to have had a chance to be sharpened and affirmed at this conference so that the Lord might use, even what little I feel like I have to offer, so that He can change the world as we know it.