There was a meeting going on in England this past couple of days, which I believe is of enormous significance to the future of the UK. There were probably some underlying tensions, as there always are when sinful human beings gather together, but overall the message was positive, challenging and encouraging. And it had nothing to do with Brexit.
The FIEC leaders conference took place in Torquay – with Don Carson and a number of other speakers including yours truly. Without going into a great deal of detail there are signs of great encouragement for the Church of Jesus Christ in the UK through this the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches. Here are some of the things I learned.
- The FIEC is growing – ten years ago this conference would have had 50 plus, last year it was 750. This year is was 900. Numbers are not everything, but they are also not nothing. Heaven will be filled with a great multitude which no-one can number. The new FIEC has been described as ‘Presbyterian Light’….I think that is fairly accurate. They are independent churches who are co-operating together….a good way to be…
2. Don Carson has still got it. His two messages on Isaiah were excellent. He has been such a faithful servant to the church in the UK over the years – coming over here regularly to give us his unique style of deep bible teaching. My only concern was that he looks older and I suspect he won’t be able to do much more of this in the years to come. Where are the great bible teachers to come from? Perhaps we should adopt Simon Manchester and second him to the UK after he retires?
3. Growing organisations and churches need good leadership. In my view from what I can see the FIEC has that – or at least is developing it. John Stevens (national director), Adrian Reynolds, Andy Paterson, Andy Hunter (Scotland director)
4. There seems to be a genuine interest in the work of reaching the poorest. Mez and the 20Schemes team were here and were clearly a key part of the whole set up – not just a fringe element. I found this particularly heartening.
5. The geographical spread was better than I had expected. It was not mainly people from the South East – I came across a lot of Northerners, Brummies and of course the Scots. FIEC in Scotland is a small but growing group, ably led by Andy Hunter. It would be good if more independent, including some of the ‘independent Presbyterian groups that are springing up, threw in their lot with FIEC.
Were there any negatives? It was very intense – it felt like a three-day conference crammed into two. I struggled a wee bit with the praise at times. And I think there is a danger of hubris and self-satisfaction. The leadership are well aware of this problem but it is something that all of us in growing situations have to be careful about (the opposite is the temptation to cynicism and despair when you are in a declining situation). I think we all need to remember that in one sense we are not leaders – we are undershepherds of the one Great Shepherd. We also need to grasp that 900 is not enough….we need 9,000 if there is to be any real impact on this nation. This is a day of small things – but we long for more.
In terms of my own personal involvement, overall I was encouraged. I did not give any of the plenary talks but instead led three seminars. It was good to see the room packed for all three (even the graveyard shift in the afternoon) as we looked at evangelism within the changing culture of the UK. I was tired and not feeling great (that is my excuse!) but it was good to get a positive response from so many – despite the inadequacies. It was also good to meet several people who have been in St Peters and who regularly pray for the work. An old student from many years ago, Paddy, is now working for FIEC. It was encouraging and gratifying to meet so many who said thanks for the blog and the podcast….I think I should get a t-shirt printed with the words…”I read your blog and enjoy it…but I don’t agree with everything on it’! It is however good to realise that some of one’s work done for the Lord is appreciated by his people.
I am writing this from Manchester airport (a situation greatly helped by having my ‘brothers in arms’ Paul Rees and Liam Garvie from Charlotte Chapel, with me), with much to think about and reflect upon. Not least that in a world of lies (the EU, the Government and FlyMayBe keeping telling us every five minutes that we will be boarding in 5 minutes!), its great to have the certainty and truth of the Gospel.
I am being serious when I say that the decisions, teaching and inspiration provided at this conference will in the long-term be far more significant for the well-being of the United Kingdom than anything going on in Number 10 Downing Street….the latter will be a fury, fuss and fudge that will only last a short time. What we are talking about is work and people for eternity. The politicians are not Masters of the Universe, they are not even masters of their own country. There is only one Lord. We pray and plead that he would bless and add to the number of his people. Only then will this country know the blessings of peace and prosperity. Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord.
(Scream: the plane is delayed yet again….I am now of the view that FlyMayBe are an airline that almost make Ryan Air look efficient and caring!)…