Thursday, November 15, 2018

FIEC Leaders' Conference 2018: A reflection

The FIEC Leaders' Conference is always good value.  For those of us in small churches, it's great to be part of a fellowship of churches that extends across the country and includes local churches of all sorts of shapes and sizes.  To actually meet with people from some of those churches is an encouragement.  I suspect that larger churches also benefit from being made aware of the need in other places.  Just as an expression of real fellowship in the gospel, and a chance to be with brothers and sisters from different places, the conference is invaluable.  I enjoyed that aspect of it this year.

And that's before you throw in the actual programme.

This year Don Carson preached two extraordinary sermons from Isaiah.  Extraordinary in length and content!  I thought the first one, from Isaiah 6, was never going to end - and I didn't hugely mind.  Having said that, the content was hard, or at least heavy.  It may be that, like Isaiah, we are called to preach in a context where people are blinded and deafened.  It may be that we will have to keep going without seeing much in the way of fruit.  The Holy Seed of Isaiah 6 didn't bear fruit for 700 years...  Am I up for it?  Will the vision of the glory of God in Christ (which Isaiah saw) sustain a lifelong ministry whatever the apparent results?

On the other hand, The Don took us to Isaiah 40 to remind us that it might happen.  We can't assume nothing will happen.  Is God still on the throne?  Yes, yes he is.  And the happenings of the world are insignificant in comparison to his great and good plans.

David Robertson led a couple of great seminars on evangelism in the local church.  The second seminar, thinking about evangelism and engagement in the public sphere, was particularly helpful.  I was reminded of The Pastor as Public Theologian by Vanhoozer and Strachan.  I suspect this is a much neglected aspect of the role of the Pastor, and one which I personally need to think about how to engage with.  David suggested that the devil has over-reached in our culture!  By going after gender, Satan has overplayed his hand, and thrown everything into a confusion which may well be ripe for the gospel.  Looking around at the curious alliances which the whole transgender thing has pulled together, I think there may well be something in that.  I think Bonhoeffer's Ethics speaks into this situation.

Of the other plenary sessions, the standout for me was Johnny Prime on Acts 4 and the importance of "together prayer".  Our churches are, I think, losing sight of the importance of corporate prayer.  Prayer meetings are poorly attended.  We can get more people to a business meeting than a prayer meeting!  CCC people, if you're reading this, expect me to be on your back about this in the next few weeks.  Johnny reminded us of Spurgeon's opinion that "we shall never see much change for the better in our churches in general until the prayer meeting occupies a higher place in the esteem of Christians."  Together prayer matters; it might, in the final analysis, be almost the only thing that matters.

The only thing that niggled for me in the conference was the music - which isn't a reflection on the people leading it, whose voluntary service we have to appreciate.  It's just that there isn't a common evangelical songbook nowadays, or an agreed style.  I didn't know about a third of the songs, and some that I did know had had their lyrics chopped about by someone more interested in accessibility than poetry or theological integrity.  And the theme of some of these new songs just seems to be 'our God is bigger than your god'; triumphalism run riot.  I wonder whether it might be possible in future to have different styles of 'sung worship' in different meetings to better reflect the breadth of the Fellowship?  As it was, I felt alienated at those points which ought to have represented the high point of unity in praising the Lord - and I doubt I am the most conservative leader within the FIEC.

But that's a quibble, really, and a tricky (impossible?) thing to settle to everyone's satisfaction.  On the whole, I return from Torquay encouraged, challenged, ready to go again.  The overall message was that there is a lot to do, an awful lot, and we need to crack on; but we also need to ensure that we are cracking on in deep dependence on the Lord.  If that message gets through to the churches represented at the conference, and if the Lord Jesus applies it powerfully to our hearts, the ripples that go out could be significant for the FIEC, for wider evangelicalism, and for our culture.  We'll see.


  1. Thanks, Daniel. Pleased to hear it's been an encouragement. Looking forward to hearing more once you're fully back.

  2. Thanks Daniel. Great to get an insight!

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