I’m sitting on a plane after a rich six days jaunt to the East Coast. The majority of the time was spent north of DC at the Ecclesia Network National Gathering, followed by a few days north of Philly with Todd Hiestand and The Well.
Barring the fact that it involves being away from my family, the Ecclesia National Gathering is my favorite week of the year, and it’s the only Christian leaders conference I’m finding is worth the investment of my time and money. Among the reasons for that and the highlights of this year:
- This is a beautiful group of people. Most of my closest friends and encouraging relationships are found within Ecclesia. We were blessed to have Todd Hunter and MaryKate Morse, among others, presenting in our collective sessions. But the most engaging learning came as we moved the ideas they offered into the conversations that took place in the hallways, the dining area, and the after hours.
- Our topic this year was “Spiritual Formation in the Local Congregation.” Most church leader conferences focus on leadership, or practical skills for better church programming. But not many focus on the call to be those who help shape the spiritual maturity of a community is not sounded. It was yet another reason I am thankful to have fallen in with this group of people.
- There is a genuine, and very important, effort to invite and hear from voices that aren’t white males, and the makeup of those attending the gathering is shifting too. It’s not just happening because it looks good on promotional materials. It’s happening because we all know that we need to hear from and be challenged by these voices.
- More than all of the above, I’m moved by the continuing openness to the Spirit among my peers in Ecclesia. We are mostly thoughtful practitioners who relish good theological discussions. But in the three years I’ve been part of Ecclesia, there is a growing awareness of how God’s Spirit leads in and out of moments of the day, and I’m challenged by how others are responding to that. And, I might add, trying to learn something of it myself along the way.
After the gathering, I made what has become an annual trip up to Philadelphia to spend time with The Well, a church that has generously supported our church community in Austin. I preached on Sunday to a congregation that I always enjoy being with. I opened by telling them, as I think I’ve done each year, that when our church grows up, we want to be like them.
A unique part of the Philly portion of the trip was a lot of time spent with Alan Hirsch…probably more than he cared for! Alan is one of the most helpful voices in the North American church today, sharing from his experiences in Australia how the church needs to be re-forming itself in a time and place where Christianity is no longer anywhere near the center of our culture.
Alan led a workshop at the Well on Saturday morning, and then presented some ideas at their annual meeting on Sunday. In between, Todd and I shared every meal with him, joined by a few others along the way. I’m thankful for his tireless responses to our endless questions, but I will most remember our cross cultural experience of heading to a bar for late night theological ponderings, only to be stifled by a full house watching Ultimate Fighting on screens lining every wall. At least I confirmed that UFC holds no appeal for me, either as a participant or a spectator.`