Last month I went away on the Proclamation Trust’s Senior Minister Conference. It was my first time. I’ve done Younger Ministers’ loads of times and before that, the Theological Students’ Conference. But I hadn’t been for a few years. I got a personal postcard from David Jackman reminding me of that fact. It shamed me into repentance.
I didn’t really need a ‘refreshment’ break, I’d just had a fabulous holiday with the family in France. But spiritually speaking I could always do with a shot in the arm. But principally I went because, having not been on a Proc Trust Conference for a while, I was beginning to exclude myself from my theological constituency. Of course, there’s never a good time to go away on a conference. I’m always too busy. And so there are always good reasons not to go. But I just thought that it would be good to catch up with some mates in ministry and show support and appreciation for PT. I guess I thought that if David Jackman thinks I need it, then who am I to argue! One of the great blessings about the Co-Mission staff team is that I’ve got my band of brothers (and sisters) already. Our two trips a year are hugely encouraging. So I’m not in the isolated situations that some of the guys were. There’s a sense in which I don’t need wider networks of contacts. But others do. And it was great to hook up with them.
There were a smattering of more junior senior ministers. But there were a fair few of the generation ahead of me. I had one of those ‘outer body’ experiences when I realised I was leaning at the bar with a bunch of senior evangelical leaders whose tapes I’d listened to throughout my 20s. Tapes not MP3s note! It was odd being on a conference and feeling like the youth academy. But it made me realise that, God willing, I’ve got years of ministry ahead of me. Mark Ashton didn’t start his life’s work until he was 40. In ministry terms the best years may not necessarily be behind me.
There was a different feel to this conference than to the Younger Ministers. And it wasn’t just the more frequent toilet breaks and elasticated waistbands. It really enjoyed the absence of the hearty testorone fuelled competitiveness amongst the youngsters who think that they’re ministry will change the shape of the church in England for ever! I was (probably) one of these irritants at one time! The men on the Senior Ministers were battle weary saints who’ve been doing the hard yards for years. Some have seen growth but many have ploughed on in the face of discouragement, disappointment and opposition.
I was in a preaching group studying Luke led by William Taylor, the Rector of St Helen’s. It was good. Remarkably I avoided a humiliating mauling at the hands of one of the Church of England’s most senior evangelical churchmen. My exposition passed muster. I came away realising that I need a more regular involvement in a preaching group. And I’ve now joined one. I also realised that I need to meet up with others to keep me sharp theologically. And I’m on the case.
The talks were stimulating and Barry Webb’s material on Ruth and the Song of Songs was useful. Paul Williams, the Bishop of Kensington spoke twice on the issue of leadership which set the grey cells going. But the highlight was spending some time with the guy that read the Bible with me when I was at university. I lived in Warwick and he lived in London but he travelled up the M40 a handful of times to study Romans with me. It was great to be able to reflect on that time and to thank him for his input. Who’d have thought that a clueless, zealous 20 year old would end up in full-time ministry. Theer was a notable absence of organised sport. Vaughan Roberts tried to tempt me with tennis but he’s good and I hate being humiliated! In the end I opted for being beasted on a nine mile run with Willie Stileman. The man may be 25 stone but he’s like a steam locomotive; whilst there’s fire in his belly there’s no stopping him. It’d be fair to say that he took me well out of my comfort zone. That’s usually about four miles. But despite that experience, I’m already looking forward to next year.