I want my money back

I am prone to buyer’s remorse. I am. Particularly if it represents a large investment. I keep receipts just in case I renege on my initial infatuation.

REFUNDS ARE THE FINAL VESTIGE OF REJECTION.

I thought I would like this but no. I want my money back.

We just returned from the Vineyard Global Conference. With no idea when the biennial conference will ever be this close again, we took our entire staff from church. Here’s hoping it would be worth it. Here’s hoping Phil Strout would pull off a conference we are proud to show our staff. I mean we pumped it, publicized it, and invited our folks to livestream when registrations sold out. No pressure but don’t let us down, conference planner people.

WILL I WANT MY MONEY BACK?

IMG_3940Well, conference sessions aside, our staff had a good time. GroupMe was our lifeline for the week where clearly our youth minister snagged the best selfie of the week. It’s not everyday you are in the same room with a renown South African theologian and the fairly famous Mumford, leader of the United Kingdom’s Vineyard churches. Another check in during down time proved our staff could find their way to a tattoo parlor and invite the local tattoo artist to church. And over a meal we sat and processed staff member to staff member with another church, sharing wisdom and things we would never do again.

IMG_3951IMG_3949IMG_3950After 22 years of ministry and a decade of academia, I have a few national and regional conferences under my belt. Why do we even do it? Reconnect? Hobnob? Namedrop? Gain influence? Smugly celebrate membership? Drink on the University’s dime?

Walking into my first Vineyard Conference, void of connection, nervous about expectations, and sensitive to my freshmen status, I expected to be the outsider for quite a while. But as the first chords of worship were struck, it failed to matter.

I WAS HOME.

Worship didn’t tap any nostalgia, rather worship overwhelmed me with tears as the presence of the Holy Spirit became palpable. This week’s conference was no different. The players and the songs were new but the Spirit was familiar.

I’ve often wondered about the purposes of those who plan such events. It seems to me that if a large lumbering national congregational body has the unique opportunity to gather its leaders into a single space for several days, it is a holy ground not to be lost or taken lightly. It is a sacred space to build unity, demonstrate leadership, and cast vision.

THAT WAS DONE THIS WEEK.

11738042_742201904895_798480933845371901_nAs a body, we were reminded of our common core values. We were given the chance to say “unhuh” in our souls. This is particularly fun when delivered by a lively Brit with the last name of Mumford. She became queen in 40 minutes flat. We were reminded of the things we hold dear. If this did not resonate with you on the very first night, the rest of the week was a wash. Good leaders explain where we are. They describe the playing field and remind us of the boundaries.

WE WERE ALSO REMINDED OF OUR TASK.

We were challenged to remember our calling and stay on course for the long haul. Some days leaders want to quit. Some days we admit it out loud. The battlefield is bloody. The wounded pile up. We are sleep deprived and wonder where we will find the will to carry on. Furthermore, there are messy jobs to be done. Someone might have to lose a limb in order to live…who wants to deliver that news? Much less be the surgeon. A leader does the hard stuff when everyone else shrinks from the task. But not because they are more courageous or honorable or wise, but simply because they recognize they can do absolutely nothing else and remain obedient.  With 3000 war torn church leaders in one space, it is essential that we refuel them for their posts.

Most leaders are so busy leading they fail to seek or receive ministry from anyone else, particularly within their own flock. But not at a Vineyard Leadership Conference, folks flood the front in droves or simply seek one another out in the commons areas to pray over each other. It is refreshing beyond description to participate in that kind of ministry – leader to leader. No judgment, no stigma. Just honest humility and recognition that we don’t do this alone. Not very well, at least.

AND FRANKLY, EVERY ONE BENEFITS FROM A GOOD SPANKING EVERY NOW AND AGAIN.

Not that a spanking was planned, but let’s be honest, it happened. As the sixty-plus nations gathered were challenged to consider our own prejudice and bias, a holy moment of unprecedented reconciliation broke out. Conference schedules flew out the window as the Spirit did business in our hearts and minds. Folks said stuff that made us gasp. Things we think but would never say in polite company were voiced. Repentance was extended and forgiveness received. Tears were shed. The work is not complete but it was started. Difficult conversations were breeched in unscripted fashion. Shoot, no one could have scripted that. Instead, we watched as wise leaders followed the unction of the spirit, laid their egos on the floor, and wisely embraced the move of God among us. Healing has begun.

FINALLY, WE WERE ENCOURAGED TO HAVE “MORE DREAMS THAN MEMORIES.”

Memories are powerful for building inclusion but they do not constitute vision. As I walk away from this conference, my heart is full. My dreams are burgeoning. I have projects sprouting in my heart.  Writing projects begging to be written. Courses to formulate. We head home dreaming of how we can further implement the vision God has laid on our hearts.   We leave thankful for this group of believers. This may not be the biggest church. It may not be the best church. But it is the church where God has called me to participate.

We leave without any grand fix for our problems, but with fresh courage to face them. We certainly don’t take home any extra sleeping hours, yet we leave refreshed with more energy for the task. We leave reminded of our heritage but are  unwilling to let it merely define our past. We determine to let it shape our future.

UNITY WAS BUILT.

LEADERSHIP WAS DEMONSTRATED.

AND VISION WAS CAST.

This is worth the cost of admission. I certainly don’t want my money back.

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