Bonhoeffer uses a similar phrase 'worldly Christianity'. It's J Gresham Machen that I want to line up most closely with. See his Christianity and culture here. Having done commentaries on Proverbs (Heavenly Wisdom) and Song of Songs (Heavenly Love), a matching title for Ecclesiastes would be Heavenly Worldliness. For my stance on worldliness, see 3 posts here.

Eccentrics 2011

I was sorry not to be at the Eccentrics Conference this year. I try not to go to more than one conference a month! This report from Paul Levy can be found here at Reformation 21.
I spent Monday this week back in Wales at a ministers' conference. It's something that my more famous brother runs (see pic). It's entitled the Eccentrics Conference (partly to mock the slightly pompous Eclectics Conference that used to take place). It's really a gathering of old friends who are now in the ministry. It used to be invitation only but so many got offended they didn't receive an invitation, now anybody can come on two conditions. You must be in church work (no para-church folk allowed), and you are not allowed to say 'the problem with churches in Wales is.....' (hence the reason why no para-church people are allowed). You can immediately be sent home for criticising the church!
There's no singing, people stay up far too late, there's lots and lots of banter, we eat like kings and there is merciless mocking of my slightly overweight big brother. The conference is slimmed down to the bare bones, unlike my brother.
Four things stood out for me this year:
1. The ministry is hard, it takes years off Mens lives.
Some of the men are in congregations in small towns where there is no movement of people at all. People don't move in and people don't move out. Problem people stay in a congregation for decades and outstay many ministers. Some of the best people in congregations move away or die young. These men who serve in churches like this are the real heroes. Week after week, preparing 3 messages a week, running the youth work, doing the pastoral rounds. On the last day when all is revealed I think that many of these men who would never be invited to speak at a conference, or be dreamed of for the 'big jobs' will be found to have kept the faith, finished the race and built a ministry with precious stones, not wood, hay and stubble. I'm more and more convinced that the real heroes are the faithful nobodies.
2. Geoff Thomas is a giant.
For the first 5 years Geoff spoke at the eccentrics as the main speaker. This year he wasn't speaking and yet he came anyway. He spent time with the younger men in difficult situations. He's over 70 speaks all round the world at various conferences and yet he came to this funny little conference to encourage the younger men. I want to be like that. I can't stand the attitude that if I'm not speaking I'm not coming. There's far too much of that around. I salute GT.
3. Hearing men preach in the flesh is good for me.
The main speakers were Vaughan Roberts from Oxford, Mike Reeves (who I understand has Carl Trueman as his agent in America trying to secure a big move to the US) and Stuart Olyott. Two Englishmen and one Welshman. I just loved it sitting there lapping it up. I started to take notes in some of the sessions but in the end just gave up. At conferences I want to be fed and stimulated and made to think but I need to meet with God in the preaching of his word. I can listen to sermons of folk on the internet but there's something so artificial about it. It's like a pre-made sandwich from a supermarket. It's ok but it's just not the same as a proper home cooked meal that you share with friends. As in every conference some sessions went better than others and people liked different speakers. No one bombed which is always a bonus. I'm told Stuart Olyott's sessions on Tuesday were the pick of the bunch.
4. Old friends are the best friends.
People who remember how much of an idiot you were when you were a teenager, youth leaders who taught you and prayed for you, men who gave you books. We need people who know us and won't put up with our pomposity. In some conferences you feel nobody is really being honest. I hate that feeling of having to say things are going well and encouraging. Amongst old friends you can be honest and real. As always old jokes are the best jokes, anecdotes which have grown and grown over the years until they bear little resemblance to reality, but nobody minds. As for Lloyd Jones being at the Levy family table with me as a toddler sitting on his knee and him saying to my brother those immortal words 'pass me the salt', nobody really knows if it's true but at 3 am in a ministers conference it goes down a storm. The time Downesey stayed up all night and then gave a paper on 7 marks of heresy (unbelievable you say, Martin Downes has an interest in heresy!). Within 20 minutes not even he knew what he was saying. Ministers conferences need to be places where we can blow off steam and laugh.
Each year we think it'll be the last time we do the Eccentrics. There's only about 50 of us who go but we'll see. I've come back refreshed and revved up for the new year. The motto of the story is, ' Go to conferences where you know people and you have good friends'.
(PS Doesn't Mike Reeves work for UCCF?
PPS Paul is now writing regularly for Reformation21 and has brought a breath of fresh air to it. he writes really well [yes, I was slightly surprised]).


dave bish said...

Quirky PS there... Wonder how Mike managed to speak without being there. Not sure that I like the assumption that parachurch = critical of church, prefer to think parachurch loves the local church...

Gary Brady said...

Paul does mention Mike Reeves (unknown to me I'm afraid). Is it a typo or a slip? Not knowing who he was I googled him. Clarification from someone? BTW I'm with you on the parachurch. The idea of local church Bibles or hymn books for example has never grabbed me.