The past few days I’ve been suffering for Jesus in Carlsbad, California, attending to two critical features of my yearly schedule. One is a personal retreat; a time for prayer and reflection and dreaming and rest. This is something that the leadership at Bethel Church sees as very important; time that we want all of our ministry staff to carve into their busy calendars. It’s a must for gaining spiritual margin, strategic freshness, and physical revitalization. At another time I’ll mention in what way it has been a deep help to me.
The other thing attended to was a small gathering of fellow pastors from the Evangelical Free Church—the association of which Bethel Church is a part. These men come from all over the country, represent a wide variety of ages and styles, and gather together to encourage one another, learn from one another, and, well, just be together. There is no other conference-oriented opportunity I value as much as this.
A host of reasons shape my appreciation of it. Two or three may be worth mentioning here. One is that there appears to be a genuine respect and love for one another that defines the group. The men, to a man, seem to really care for one another. That doesn’t mean it is a mush-fest. Again, the men are quite varied in style and age and background. But despite these difference there is an authentic deference to one another’s opinions, hurts, joys, triumphs, and failures.
A second reason I really value this opportunity is that it is safe. This, of course, is related to the first item. When there is respect and care then safety is a natural result. When I mean safety I mean to imply that we are all going through the same stuff of life and ministry. Yes, it might look slightly different at that person’s place of ministry, or at the one over there, but it boils down to different shades of the same color. So often there is a fear that “we’re the only ones going through this or that.” Not so. There really is nothing new under the sun. When I realize that the struggle I have in such-and-such ministry matter is the same as what others have I relax. It is as if I can say, “Whew. Maybe we’re not so odd after all.” Frankly, it is freeing. And when there are joys and triumphs that we feel deeply, and we discover that others have those too, it gives us the reminder that God’s blessings in life are indeed God’s; we’re not inherently more special than someone else.
One last thing (for now) that I relish about this band of brothers gathering for the purpose of gathering is that it makes me feel good about the Church of Jesus Christ. Frankly I am a cynic. Too easily do I get sour about people in ministry and the effectiveness of the Church as a whole. But when I rub shoulders with these men at this annual gathering I am reminded that the Master of the Ages—Jesus Christ—has placed His Church in good hands. And then, on top of that, when I see the next generation of leaders coming up and taking the reigns of this mysterious and marvelous thing known as Church, I breathe a sigh of relief. The world may be spiraling out of control, but I’m confident that when our Lord Jesus sees this group, and those who are rising up and leading so well, He can indeed affirm with confidence what He says in John 17: 10: I am glorified in them.