European Leadership Forum 6

Thursday arrived a little early for me. This is the day when most Forum participants return home. Jerry, my room-mate, was catching an early flight so he was up before two taking a shower. When he eventually left, and I settled back to try to sleep there was a knock on the door. He though he had left some money somewhere, so at 2.30 in the morning I was on my knees looking under the beds, and in the cupboards, all to no avail! He left and I managed to catch another two hours sleep before waking again. As sleep was gone for the night I got up, showered and did some reading, going for breakfast at 6.30. Eight of us had a meeting at 7.00 to try to organise ongoing mentoring through the coming year. Then it was time to pack and head for the bus.

Many were saying farewell in the foyer, and I arranged to visit Serbia and Albania next April. Others came and made me promise to send them an email so that I could visit to serve them during the next two years. Eventually I got on the bus to the airport.

I haven’t mentioned the Americans much this year. The Forum has a steering committee which is made up of representatives from a number of European countries, and one American, Greg P itchard. The Forum is his baby in one sense but he is determined that it be owned by the Europeans. There are a number of Americans present, but they come to serve. About 70 come as volunteers, each one paying his own way. During the week they run the Forum in the sense of making the arrangements, recording, videoing, and generally stewarding the conference. Although this year there were a few European volunteers for the first time, the Forum wouldn’t work without these humble peole serving tirelessly through the week. There are a number of speakers who come from America also, but they come with a spirit of servanthood. Much of the sponsorship which enables Eastern Europeans to come is sent from the USA. Here is one example of the US having a truly positive effect. More and more European speakers are appearing, many of them previous participants in the Forum itself. This has been a real blessing.

One other noteworthy person that I met on the bus to the airport was Yasmina. She is a Serb from Novi Sad, married to a man from the Ukraine. They are both serving as missionaries in Nice in France. This is a turnaround – Eastern Europe sending missionaries to Western Europe!

So I boarded the flight from Katowiče, on the way home via dusseldorf and Manchester airports. Maybe I can catch up on some sleep!

European Leadership Forum 5

Michael Oh, Executive Director of the Lausanne Movement

Michael Oh, Executive Director of the Lausanne Movement

The last full day at the Forum arrived and breakfast time I was mentoring two workers from a church in Budapest. They were facing problems originating in the legacy left by the previous pastor. So often we are not good in preparing for our successors. We got so involved in our discussion that we were late arriving in our final Bible Reading. We were just in time to hear Ajith Fernando giving his final address, this time looking at Nehemia Chapter 5. Nehemiah was grappling with inequality among those who had returned to Jerusalem from Babilon. We live in a world of inequality, amd our faith must produce lives which change this. What gave authority to this study above anything was  the lifestyle of the speaker. Here is someone who has chosen to live a life of poverty with his people, rather than riches.

Our Apologetics track began with a discussion panel. Rik Peels, Stefan Gustavsson and Peter S Williams faced our questions regarding apologetics, and we had quite a reaction when one of the panel suggested how the church in his country dealt with pne moral issue. Then after coffee Stefan Gustavsson gave a paper on “The Hidden-ness of God”. As usual he was challenging, winsome and humerous.

Lunchtime was spent with a number of people from the UK, seeing if there was a way of promoting ELF within our country. Because the discussion was prolonged I missed an early afternoon discussion. However I met with David Hartnett of Solas, and we looked at whether there was a way Solas could be used by some of us in Wales to help our evangelism. Following this I attended a seminar by Peter J Williams who masterfully dealt with “Moral Objections to the Old Testament.”

I had my last mentoring session during Dinner. I met a young man who is pastoring a small church in Lithuania. His situation is difficult, to say the least, working full time to support himaself and his family. The church membership is old, the spiritual conditions are hard, and his family are not supportive.

Then the last evening plenary was addressed by Michael Oh, the Executive Director and CEO of the Lausanne Movement. He came out fighting, boldly challenging us to be “HIP” leaders for global mission. The title may sound flippant, but there was nothing flippant about the message. HIP stands for Humitiy, Integrity and Purity. We are called to radical distinctiveness, and looking especially at Romans 8 we were called to be different. It was an appropriate end to a week where my mind has been fed, and also where my soul has been watered.

European Leadership Forum 4

Singing together at the Forum

Singing together at the Forum

Tuesday began with a deliberate decision to try to relax a bit more. My room mate gets up at 4.30, so I’m up at 5.00 myself. It gives me time to read and write. Then breakfast time I was mentoring once more. This time I met with a young pastor form Kiev yn the Ukraine. Alrhough we hear of terrible things happening in the east of the country, things are relatively peaceful in the capital. Having seen little growth in the past two years in a country which is used to people being open to the gospel, this pastor needed encouragemnt. We discussed many things, including how to choose what to preach, how to get the whole congregation involved in the work. The hour ended with an invitation to visit and teach in the seminary where he works part-time.

Ajith Fernando continued to look at Nehemiah, especially considering how to respond to opposition. Anyone involved in Christian work will face opposition of some sort. So the way we are prepared and able to respond is really important.

Four networks united this morning for our sessions. They were the scientists, the philosophers, the theologians and the apologetics track. We had two debates with papers sent out for us to read beforehand. The first was a debate between Peter J williams, of Tyndale house, and Peter S Williams, the philosopher. (For our convenience we were to refer to them as little Peter, and big Peter!) Peter J had prepared a paper on “How to approach any intellectual discipline from a Christian Worldview.” Peter S had then prepared a response. The debate was chaired by Bruce Little. After the two had presented, responded and debated a little then we were onvited to contribute. It was a stimulating time. The second debate asked the question “Are there any limits to Science?”. More people are looking at the world with a scientistic worldview, which claims that the only true knowledge is that which can be found out through scientific methods. Science can explain everything. Rik Peels from Amsterdam University proposed here, and Dr. Peter Imming, a German scientist specialising in the chemitry of drugs, responded. Both these sessions were an example of how debates should be held, challenging the mind, but done in a courteous and respectful manner. I was particularly struck by the humility of those leading the debates.

Lunch was spent with Bruce Little and two others who will be part of the apologetics group this coming year. We continued to discuss the morning debates. We also took time to share more with each other. It was interesting to hear Bruce telling us of some things happening in Nigeria. Although I could have gone to workshops and seminars in the afternoon I took time to rest, and speak to a couple of people that I needed to catch up with.

Dinner time I was mentoring a pastor and his assistant in Budapest who are looking to develop a new ministry in their church and wished for advice. This was a particularly difficult challenge for them and we spent an intense time, ending up in an invitation to visit Budapest to teach their church and some pastors, and a challenge to write a book!

The evening plenary speaker was Peter J Williams, who talked about the reliability of the Bible. He emphasised the principle of trust which every human has to exercise, even in eating a plate of food (trusting the one whose prepared the food etc.). When we come to the Bible we are listening to God’s words, and we need both to trust it, but also to listen to it. We need to be asking God What he is saying to us, but also what does he want us to do. It was a masterful treatment encouraging because it not only gave us confidence that the Bible is trustworthy, but also the passion to be people of the Bible.

European Leadership Forum 3

Ajith Fernando who is leading the Bible Readings

Ajith Fernando who is leading the Bible Readings

Monday was the busiest day so far for me. It began at breakfast time with a mentoring session. I spent time with a lady who, with her husband, have been leading a church in the Netherlands. They need to retire, butbthe church does not seem able to let go of them. This is where the principle of the ministry of the whole church is so important.

Ajith Fernando led us into the second chapter of Nehemiah in the morning Bible Reading. He looked at what sort of leader Nehemiah was. This was both encouraging and challenging. How to maintain our passion and integrity is always a challenge. How can we be passionate without being impatient?

In the apologetics track we had two sessions again. In the first we were led by Peter Saunders, who works with the Christian Medical Fellowship, to think about hwo to raise up the next generation of apologists. Then after coffee we had a really thought provoking session with Professor Glynn Harrison on “Understanding and Critiquing Modern Ideas of Self and Identity”! This session included some good discussion as well as helpful teaching.

I have been invited tio participate in a group of eight who will over the next year be mentored in apologetics by Dr Bruce Little. We were provided with packed lunches, and then spent four houRs getting to know each other, and beginning to think about how to understand and evaluate arguments. It was a stimulating afternoon, but also called for real concentration.

For the evening meal we were placed on tables according to our nationalities. So I enjoyed the company of volunteers from Highfields Church who are here to help in the day to day ordering of the Forum. Also Lindsay Brown joined us, as well as Huw Williams and Paul Webber, both of whom are now working outside of Wales. It was surprising that more than one of our English brothers seemed to want to join us, rather than be on their own tables! (I suppose many would aspire to be Welsh!!)

Following Dinner I joined a group of other mentors to meet with Greg Pritchard who is the director of ELF. We were asked to consider if it was possible to extend the mentoring throughout the year. We spent two hours working out how to give the opportunity for those who needed to be mentored using the internet. This seems to be a new opportunity for me to help and encourage others.

So quite a full and tiring day! Bring on Tuesday!

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Sunday

Sunday dawned as a bright day, and early before breakfast I climbed the steep hill behind our hotel and enjoyed overlooking the valley with it’s forests and hearing the birds sing. Then at 7.00 I met with a pastor from Bulgaria over breakfast for a mentoring session. Following this we all gathered to worship God together. The sound of “Bless the Lord, O my soul” ringing through the plenary hall was inspiring. We were then led by Ajith Fernando into the Book of Nehemiah. His experience in Sri Lanka, and his humble scholarship added to the intensity of his appeal for us to take prayer seriously, even to pray for a burden for Europe.

Following the Bible reading we split up into our various tracks. There are many different tracks, ranging from Theologions, Philosophers, Scientists to Counsellors, Organisation leaders and Bible Teachers. My choice these past few years has been the Apologetics track. We opened with a session with David Robertson, pastor in Dundee in the church where Rober Murray McCheynne ministered, and current moderator of the Free Church of Scotland. He challenged us to think of how we look at Europe and how we find ways in to evangelize our continent. We were led to consider the mindset of Europe, and placing it in context to think of where we can find windows into the hearts of contemporary Europeans. My discussion group included one from Poland, One from Romania, and two from Sweden.
After coffee we then listened to Leonardo de Chirico, who leads a protestant church in Rome, as he explained to us some of the ways The Roman Catholic church looks at salvation.

Lunch was more relaxing than usual, as my mentee did not turn up, but i had a grat conversation with Jay Smith, who works with Muslims. Following this I took some time to write and read before attending a workshop by Dirk Jongkind on what the Bible teaches us about knowledge. That sounds a bit dry, but it was really thought provoking. What was wrong, for example about the tree of knowledge of good and evil? We looked at various Scriptures, and once again were left thinking about issues deeply.

Dinner was once again taken up by a mentoring session, and I was glad to be helping someone who was facing a deep issue in his own life. These sssions can be emotionally draining, but it is good to see someone finding relief and joy in talking through things.

The evening session faced us with the pain of the world. This was a mixture of worship and listening. Firstly we heard Jelena, a woman from Novi Sad in Serbia, who was faced with the challenge of her third child who is deeply autistic. Together with her husband she has started a charity called “Hannah’s Hope” to help parents with autistic children. It was humbling to hear of how she was dealing with the fears, disappointments and hopes for her own daughter, Hannah. Then we were addressed by Diana Langberg, who is a practising Psychologist who has worked with trauma victims for 40 years. She faced us with the awful statistics of trauma victims in the world today, and challenged us to face up to the dungeons of our own hearts, then to reach this needy group of people who surely must be open to the Gospel.

This was another full day, enjoyable, inspiring and challenging.

European Leadership Forum 2015

This week I am privileged to be at the European Leadership Forum (ELF), which is this yrar happening in Wisla, Poland. I’ve been coming for a number of years, and find it to be one of the most encouraging events of the year. Around 750 participants from all over Europe and beyond come for teaching, fellowship, encouragement and planning. Continue reading

Final Day

The last day of the Forum arrived. Today I was free of mentoring, so meal times were opportunities for less intense chatting with friends. There were Jonathan Stephen and Joel Morris from WEST, the evangelical college at Bridgend. Then there was a young pastor from Hungary, whose wife had really been helped last year in a workshop I led. Then there was Ellis Potter, who is a lovely man from America originally, but has been in Europe for years. Continue reading

The Call of Guiness

Tuesday at the Forum was a less intense day for me. The morning began with another mentoring session – A young pastor from Romania with a small church of 17 members in a small village. His needs are great and he does not seem to have much support, so it was good to share his burden. Then the morning session with Stefan Gustavsson was encouraging. He led us to look at the story of Asaph, by studying Psalm 73. Continue reading

Jacob wrestling, evolution and Al Capone’s cousin:

These were some of the highlights of Monday at ELF. The day began with mentoring a Pastor’s wife from Belgrade in Serbia. They planted a church three years ago, and there is much be glad about the work that is going on there. But there seems to be lack of wisdom in ordering the churches, with a reluctance among some pastors to work alongside others. We had an encouraging time in discussion and I will probably visit the situation within the next year to help them. Continue reading

Day 2 in Poland

Sunday was the first full day of the conference – and when I say full, that seems to be an appropriate word to use. Saturday evening’s plenary talk by Glynn Harrison on identity was both challenging and heart-warming. This was followed by a late night showing of the first couple of programmes in a series called The God Question. This looks at whether science leaves space for God. With contributions from people from all sides of the argument, it leaves the listener to make his mind up. For more information, and how to get the series, look up www.thegodquestion.tv .

Sunday began with meeting a man involved in ministry in Moldova at 7.00 for breakfast and an hour’s mentoring. Then we had the morning Bible Study with Stefan Gustavsson. His theme for the week is “Encounters with the living God”, and he led us through the story of Jesus calling the first disciples in John 1. Then we broke up into our different networks. In my network we had a session with Os Guiness: The Journey: A thinking person’s quest for meaning. It was an impressive talk, helping us to see how to engage non-believers in a serious quest for meaning in life. This was followed by a talk by Becky Pippert on Seeker Bible Studies.

After a quick lunch I led a workshop on “The Temptation of discouragement: Maintaining the passion of Christian Ministry”. Often these workshops are attended by about ten or less, but about sixty came. Obviously there are many who are struggling with discouragement and how to remain passionate about ministry in Europe. I led them to see how Paul faced these questions in his letter to the Philippians.

Then I attended a workshop led by Os Guiness, outlining how consumerism has affected the way we think. Evening dinner (with a brother who is working in St Andrews) was followed by an evening celebration. We were given a talk on church planting, and a very meaningful time of prayer followed at the end of the session.

The evening came to a close with sitting down quietly for a late informal conversation with Ann, a missionary in Belgium, Peter (warden of Tyndale House) and Martin (a Theologian and scholar from Germany).

This was a day of worshipful fellowship. We were given much to think about and to challenge us.

It is wonderful to enjoy the fellowship here with Christians from all over Europe and beyond. Many Americans are here as volunteers to be stewards and to run the conference. Their service (most of them give up their holidays to come and give tirelessly of their energy) is both gracious and loving. Meeting old friends from Albania, Serbia, Romania, Germany and many other countries gives great reason for gratitude.