Report from the New Ground Leadership Conference

It took us eleven hours to get there, and less than two days after we’d arrived it was time to head home again – a mere eight hours this time. Thankfully, the New Ground Leadership Conference was worth it.

450 leaders were gathered in Burgess Hill of all places and some had come even further than we had: France, Holland, Italy, and Romania were all represented. Everyone in the group from Edinburgh said they'd been inspired not only by the teaching but by the news of what we're involved in together across Europe. Our excellent hosts, The King’s Church Mid-Sussex, made us feel welcome, and it was great to continue making and developing new friendships, as well as catching up with old ones. (One of the accidental pleasures of being part of this family of churches is that it includes the guy who was my youth leader and people who were in the youth work that I led subsequent to him.)

It won’t surprise anyone who has heard PJ Smyth speak to learn that he has two swords hanging in his office. His relish for the battle that God has brought us into is always evident, and in four densely-packed teaching sessions he gave an arsenal of expert advice. He’s an inspiring guy – among the stories he shared was one about the President of South Africa visiting his church to hear him preach on “What would God say to President Zuma?” – and he’s thoroughly worked out his philosophy and how to explain it. He spoke on the mission we have, the power of partnerships, the way God calls, how we should mentor people, and how to communicate the message we have. I made piles of notes and will have to spend a long time thinking through all that was said and talking with the people I work with about how we can put some of it into action.

Failure to do this would be to miss the point of the conference, as Dave Holden made clear in the final talk. Dave loves to tell us that we can’t go back to old ways, nor can we bask in the enjoyable present but we must put our energy into taking new ground (it’s a well-chosen name). If all of this sounds relentless, it was! But there’s a good way to be driven as well as a bad way, and this weekend was good: the opening talk by Chris Taylor reminded us of God’s grace for us, however we see ourselves; our times of sung worship were full of joy; every opportunity for fun or honesty was taken, during both the “formal” and “informal” parts of the conference. This is such a potent combination: the stretch of new challenges and the certainty of God’s love. I left encouraged and excited, and grateful to have been able to make the journey.

(Also, we found a massive chair.)

You can download the talks from the conference here.