To be honest, I'm generally no great fan of conferences. My experience of the National EFAC Conference however was one of pleasant appreciation. Put simply, it had a well considered mix of 'components', and importantly, a genuine sense of fellowship. Well catered for by the hospitality at the Port Hacking site, not even the inclement weather could dim the experience.
Given the plethora of glossy conference advertising that crosses our desks these days, it is worth asking why we should consider participating in such events. I'll return to that question in concluding, but let me say that this conference was more than an opportunity to hear quality input - although such quality input was indeed presented in abundance.
The keynote sessions addressed the conference theme 'Growing Gospel Passions': Passion for Christ (Peter Jensen); Passion for Prayer (Steve Abbott); Passion for Ministry (Lyn Sarah), and Passion for God's Glory (Glenn Davies). I usually reckon that if I come away with one memorable presentation I've done well, but these were delivered with such a consistent mix of insight, challenge and passion, they are worth acquiring and giving an ongoing life. If you haven't heard them, download them and pass them on to home groups or fellow-workers.
The keynote sessions were complemented by three morning Bible studies from Wallace Benn, Bishop of Lewes. I had heard much about Bishop Benn, and the opportunity to hear him first hand was a significant area of anticipation. And his studies did not disappoint! I had mixed thoughts on hearing the studies were drawn from Philippians, being especially familiar with the text through research, and often feel expounding such rich material can sound inadequate and superficial in comparison to the treasures so powerfully expressed by St Paul. Yet Bishop Benn's reflections were profound, well directed and a very real ministry of the Word. Once again, they are well worth following up and circulating.
The sub-title for the Conference 'Building evangelical networks across Australia' was addressed in a variety of ways. One was the opportunity to mix informally and spend face to face time with fellow evangelicals from all around Australia. This is actually something we are not good at in Australia - developing a sense of national evangelical (Anglican) identity. We are not in any significant contact and suffer from very limited and parochial horizons. Hearing the stories and experiences of others who share the same commitments and gospel affirmations was an unanticipated blessing.
Another avenue for 'building evangelical networks' were via the 20 workshop options available, gathering together those who shared common interests and experiences. The repetition of a number of these meant that four could be attended in all, with presenters given instructions to balance input with facilitating discussion. Material drawn from a number of these will hopefully find its way into Essentials in due course, but again the feedback has been positive - not the predictable fare so often trotted out.
I have left another especially rich aspect of the conference until last: gathering together to praise, hear God's word read and ministered, to pray - again, all things we do all too infrequently as evangelicals on a regional or national scale. This was a conference that had that something 'extra'. The conference theme of 'Growing Gospel Passions' was no mere marketing exercise, but reflected the heart of the occasion, giving rise to a strong sense of partnership, renewed commitment to such a great calling, to the grace, power and glory of God, and to a quickened appreciation of the gospel hope we share.
So revisiting my initial question, how should we consider opportunities to participate in such conferences? We often think in terms of 'what will I get out of it?', and compare quality input now easily available through the Internet and other avenues. We should think more in terms of 'what can I contribute?' And here I should note my one disappointment with the conference - that so few Sydney people took part, even though the conference was on the doorstep. Sydney people may not need such input in their ministry-resource rich context, but we missed the wider fellowship we could have shared (although quality more than made up for quantity in terms of Sydney representation!)
Tim Harris Archdeacon for mission, evangelism and church growth, Adelaide Diocese, senior minister at Kensington-Norwood, and chair of EFAC-SA.
EFAC National Conference 2006 Reflection
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