It’s been a couple of weeks now. I’ve recovered. I feel I can be objective now that there’s some distance from the event and I’ve started sleeping again properly! It’s time for some reflections of this years’ London Men’s Convention.
I’m not an impartial judge. My objectivity is hopelessly compromised by my involvement on the organising committee (though it’s worth saying that no one ever listens to me and if I had the reins it’d look very different – but nobody would probably come). I also hosted the day. And together with Tim Thornborough we cajoled those without the requisite strength of character to say ‘no’ to contribute to the LMC book ‘The Big Fight’. I bear some responsibility for what we did and how we did it. But mainly it’s Stephen Fletcher’s fault. And the others’!
I don’t have to be involved. It’s not part of my Co-Mission job spec. It’s a big time commitment. And my life would be easier if I wasn’t. But I’m happy to be a part of it because I reckon it’s valuable. I think that, for the last ten years, the London Men’s Convention has served the churches of London and the South East. And presumably, since people keep coming back year after year, others think so too.
Speaking now as a small church pastor, the LMC offers our guys things that we cannot offer them at Christ Church Balham. None of these things are essential. We can do church and be church without them. But they are beneficial. And I’m keen for our men to benefit.
Principally, the LMC provides a big event feel. That was perhaps less obvious this year with our cost cutting move to the Westminster Chapel. It’s felt more convention and less ‘intimate’ at the ExCel Centre and the Royal Albert Hall. But we still had over 1,300 men present at each ’bout’. That dwarfs the average weekly attendance of every single evangelical church in London that I’m aware of. And the scale of the event enables us to offer things that otherwise most Christian men wouldn’t get. Here are some of them.
1. Guys get to sit in a sizeable crowd of people who share the same convictions as them. They get to look around at others who are pouring over the scriptures, listening intently to an explanation of God’s word and taking notes to help remember what’s been said. That counts for something. And then they can turn to the person sat next to them and talk about what they’ve heard. They can go and grab a bite to eat and chew over what’s been said from the front with a crowd of like-minded friends who’ve all experienced the same thing. They can travel back to their homes together and continue to debate what changes need to be made in their own lives or what’s encouraged them to persevere in Christ’s service. The size of the event seems to encourage guys to take what’s said more seriously than we otherwise might. There’s a buzz and a vibe that helps concentrate. And it presents an opportunity for guys to make decisions, to resolve to be different and to make themselves accountable to others that can help them. And that’s not nothing!
2. Andy Fenton can recruit a fabulous band to provide a level of musical expertise most congregations can’t manage (for the record, we come close at CCB – this may save me some awkward conversations!). But the music was fabulous. Inadvertently I was the focal point of the singing. Standing underneath the projector screen meant that I was met by a wall of sound. And it was incredible. And as one or two others observed, it was so encouraging to hear blokes singing God’s praises at the tops of their voices. On more than one occasion I wanted to bring out the worshipful air guitar. But, worried that I may never live it down, it sadly remained in its case.
3. We can persuade speakers with a gift for preaching to men or with an area of expertise to come and address us. There’s a reason that the likes of Al Stewart, Richard Coekin (not to mention Tim Keller, Rico Tice, Vaughan Roberts, Mark Driscoll, Phillip Jensen and others) are flown around the world and I’m not. And it has to do with the gifts that God has given them and the use to which they’ve put them. They are very capable speakers. And they’re much in demand. At the LMC we can ensure that lots of guys gain access to their gifts of teaching the scriptures. With Al we got a bloke who’s brilliant at speaking straightforwardly to men. His two talks on the world and then flesh were accessible, helpful and enjoyable. He made one or two really profound points that have stuck with me. His point about the transition from boyhood to manhood having to do with caring for others being one. For my money we needed more on how we fight the influence of the flesh in our lives. I think there’s more to be said than we need to exercise self-discipline. Richard’s talk on the Devil was incredible. He managed to compress three talks he’d given at Dundonald into one. And it felt like it! I think he probably wanted it to be the definitive talk for the evangelical constituency on the Devil . It was certainly exhaustive. And having sat through it twice I can tell you it was also exhausting. But it was brilliant. If you only ever listen to one talk on the work of Satan, this should be it. Though you might want to listen to it on half speed! But it is a thorough and comprehensive biblical treatment of an issue on which there is much confusion. He’s done us a great service through his work in preparation.
There was lots we got right this year (cost, music, theme, videos and vibe). There were a few things we got wrong. And there were a few things we could do nothing about (the location of the ‘nearby’ cafes, the temperature and discomfort of the seating arrangements in the upper tiers and the stench from the inadequate number of toilets). But overall, I think it was a winner. By the grace of God. And Stephen Fletcher.