Why is it that life’s highs are so often followed by the deepest lows? After the Transfiguration in Matthew 17, when some of the disciples saw Jesus revealed in glory, they came back down from the mountaintop to find a crowd gathered round a desperate father and an afflicted young boy. At the heart of the crowd were their fellow disciples, who had been trying and failing to deliver that poor boy from demons. Not only is that a familiar Bible story, it’s a familiar experience for many of us…
Perhaps you’ll be attending a Christian conference or celebration in the coming months. These can be wonderful times of celebration, refreshment, encouragement, and renewal. If you’re like me, you’ll probably leave those encounters with a renewed excitement about your faith and a fresh desire to tell others about Jesus. You might even wistfully feel that you wish it could last forever! Being with other believers, focusing significant time on your spiritual life, enjoying great worship, teaching and fellowship… it can be like living in a little bubble of blessing, even something of a taste of heaven on earth. But so often, it’s back down to earth with a bump on the next day. We come back home to all the problems and difficulties that we left behind, and nothing’s changed. Perhaps your year-round experience of the Church doesn’t compare well to the conference. ‘Why can’t it be like it was there? Why can’t life be easier, people nicer…? I was feeling so close to God, now where has that feeling gone…?’
The truth is that conferences and events aren’t the real thing. They are, by definition, the gathering of the like-minded. God’s plan for His Church, however, is that we are on mission, engaged in people who are far from Him, who don’t share our faith but need to encounter Him in us. Conferences and events are never meant to be opportunities to escape from the everyday world, they are meant to equip us to transform it when we return. In the movement of which I’m a part, New Wine, we have a saying: ‘The meeting place is the training place for the marketplace’. Every time the Church gathers, even on Sundays in our local churches, what God wants to do is heal us, encourage and equip us, so that we are recommissioned to reach the world.
So how can we make our conference experiences last, rather than simply being an annual ‘recharging of the battery’, inevitably fading as the year goes on? Firstly, remember that, as wonderful as the encounter is, the purpose is always that we pour out to others what we receive from God. Don’t leave your context behind when you go to an event – take it with you, metaphorically, asking God to help you see how what you’re hearing relates to the life He’s called you to throughout the year. Secondly, share what you learn with other Christians on your return. Putting into practice and passing on what we receive helps us remember and more deeply understand it. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, find ways to keep the fire alive by plugging into a network or seeking out local events where you can experience the same sort of ministry. What excites us at the conference shows us what’s possible… and Jesus never changes!
Paul Harcourt is National Leader of New Wine England, a network of leaders and churches that exists to see the nation changed through the renewal of the local church. To discover more about New Wine’s network, events and resources check out www.new-wine.org. He has written two books about discipleship and the spiritual life, Growing in Circles and (with his wife Becky) Walking on Water.