The Generous Leader – The Bala Ministers Conference 2018

Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly, Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.” Isaiah 40:30-31

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(Photo by Hywel Meredydd Davies)

Amidst this busy period of events and various inter-church meetings I could not resist signing up to another Bala Ministers Conference. Owing to time constraints I booked late and did not even look at the program, such is the trust I have in the EMW for the content provided and I could guarantee the fellowship would be heavenly.

We arrived at Bryn-Y-Groes (Bala) at noon on Monday, registered and settled into our rooms. We were then welcomed into the dining area for lunch at 1pm where we caught up with dear brothers weary in the fight.

Jonathan Thomas began his three part series on “the Generous Leader”. We then broke for refreshments and gathered in small groups for a time of prayer. This worked incredibly well as we all shared our concerns and glorified God for the many blessings.

After Dinner we met again in the main hall to hear how a dear brother has “Bridged the Cultural Gap” between Christians and Muslims. I have been to many similar sessions but have not received as much insight into Islamic thinking as this one. I grabbed our friend during dinner on Tuesday and grilled him further on the topic. I now feel far better equipped to share the Gospel with Muslims, understanding their sensitivities and our areas of agreement.

The evenings were spent (as usual) in deep discussion and a gentle walk around Bala lake.

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“Lone Duck” – Taken on my Tuesday night walk

The morning prayer meetings were lead by Mark Thomas. They were insightful and devotional. Ministers prayed for over an hour before coffee and then Jonathan Thomas’ second address. After lunch Pete Campbell took us through John Newton’s letters and then after dinner Dave Gobbet gave a sobering lecture on “the Pastoral response to Suicide”. A Late night of discussion ensued.

We woke up earlier for breakfast on the Wednesday and went into prayer until 10am. Mike Reeves then gave a passionate talk on Spurgeon’s Sorrows. How he dealt with his depression and utilized it for God’s Glory in the ministry. After a “bacon butty break” Jonathan gave his final talk and then we said our goodbyes, collecting a packed lunch for the journey home.

As I said in last year’s write up (Bala Ministers conference 2017) these three days are more than just a conference, it is a family reunion where brothers gather to stretch our brains and swell our hearts.

Gwydion, Catrin and the team at Bryn-Y-Groes all make us feel so welcome, it is home from home. We are incredibly well fed and cared for, allowing us to relax into learning. The EMW team were superb, well organized and professional. We were all in safe hands.

I would recommend the Bala conference to any Minister who takes the scriptures seriously. Whatever your denomination the content is presented Biblically and drenched in Christ centered love. Newcomers would benefit from the spiritual feast and we would benefit from your input to.

The organizers have a great relationship with many who attend; they truly have their ears to the ground and make a concerted effort to address our real-time needs.

Such an approach can come at the expense of trendy topics and thus seasonal registrants, but this is a cost the movement are willing to make to ensure that we receive a pedigree of teaching that is given in the intimacy of our own contexts.

I want to say a huge thank you to all the speakers, for their preparation and warm presentations. If I had written down a list of what I needed from this conference, every box would have been ticked. Jonathan’s messages spoke so directly into my situation as a Valley Minister. I feel as if I have been lifted of the burden to balance out being a Mary and a Martha (Luke 10:38-42), a Mother and a Father (1 Thessalonians 2) and a lonely let down Paul (2 Timothy 4:9-18). I have spent three days at the feet of our Generous Leader Jesus Christ and have been refreshed by His word.

As soon as the messages appear online I am sitting down with my wife to listen to them all again. – And I recommend everyone does the same.

Finally

We are so blessed in Wales to have such a depth of teaching and theological understanding on our doorstep, but with the increasing threats to the church, our resources are dwindling fast. So I also want to say a special thank you to our friends across the Atlantic at Ligonier . We have a great respect for the organization and mourn with them over the loss of RC Sproul who is now in Heaven. Ligonier have been kind enough to gift each Pastor at the conference their latest edition of the Reformation Study Bible and other tools including Studies and DVD’s (distributed via our fraternals). I can assure our friends at Ligonier that they are deeply appreciated and the materials will be well used for Christ’s Glory and His Kingdom in Wales.

I will close by quoting Jonathan Thomas to some up the experience of the conference.

The best thing about Bala is that we can talk together, we are friends” Jonathan Thomas Bala 2018

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Better than the best thing I could ever think of – camp!

EMW Camp

Two years ago at the EMW Aberystwyth conference I was accosted by a dear brother, regarding my potential involvement in the youth camps. He told me that they were “better than the best thing I could ever think of” (this side of Glory).

At the time I was juggling a full time job as well as the Ministry. I politely declined the offer to assist with the promise that if the Lord allowed the Ministry to be self supporting, I would give it a go.

Well the following year, the Lord provided and within days of leaving secular work I was contacted by the EMW (efficient as ever) and I agreed to be a chaplain at this year’s 10-13yrs camp (6).

I did not have a Christian upbringing (at all). Camp is an alien concept and as a result I was terrified. I was sure that my lethargic, miserable demeanour would simply not appeal to the children. I am way out of touch with today’s youth (despite having four children of my own) and I grappled with God for many hours to prepare what I hoped to be relevant messages and studies.

I had already met with the team earlier in the year, at a day conference for the camp. This made me feel a lot better. All but a few of them had grown up together through the camp system (and never left). They were a solid, tight, friendly and professional outfit. I could see that the Lord had blessed me with a unit that was strong enough to support my weakness!

I arrived at the elegant Pentrenant Hall, already exhausted and we began to welcome the families in. As the children settled the parents disappeared. It had begun!

Each camper joined a team and “we” came up with a theme song that would anthem every activity of the week. I was a proud Seahorse!

The typical day started early with a camp officers meeting followed by a time of prayer and devotions. The early bird campers then came down for prayer. Breakfast was served followed by announcements and the odd letter from home publically read (the parents knew this and made them extra embarrassing). After each meal a different team was assigned with the clean-up duty. “Seeeeeeeaaaaaa – horses”!

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We then went into the marquee for the mornings worship. We sang hymns, read God’s word, prayed, the children were recommended books and then I preached. We went through Ruth together looking at identity (more on identity here).

After the service we would invite the children to stay and pray. The officers were always on hand to discuss spiritual matters/concerns with them.

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The mornings worship was then followed by a plethora of activities; craft, swimming, archery, sumo, gladiators, table tennis, table football, pool, air hockey, volley-ball, football and wide games. Split by a healthy lunch that gave us time to rest and regroup before the afternoon shift.

Day trips to the beach, the farm or the lake for water sports were accompanied by a packed lunch and ice-cream/ fish and chips were also provided. The children also enjoyed seminars on biblical inerrancy, mission and Q&A.

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The evenings were spent in dorm groups where camp officers worked through the bible studies I had prepared. All were parables of Jesus that mirrored the morning’s message in Ruth. These intimate discussions gave the children opportunities to open up in smaller groups, among friends, pray and ask questions. We would then all meet up in the marquee for fun and games before settling with a hot chocolate and an epilogue from one of the officers. Then bed and repeat.

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I had to leave camp a day early to conduct the wedding, so I unfortunately missed out on the BBQ and the fancy dress on the Friday evening. You should have seen the costume that I had prepared!

It was a delight to serve the Lord in such a way with an amazing team. The camp leaders were so organised and caring. The officers were all young professionals or undergraduates, with a great heart for the Lord and gospel service. They were all fine role models and their evening testimonies made God’s working in their lives real to the children.

The children’s physical and spiritual wellbeing was of the utmost importance. Officers were staying up until 3am with some children (homesick or simply naughty) and then awake again at 6am, fresh and smiling to begin the next day. On the longer coach trips through the windy country lanes, they were the ones lovingly holding back hair, rubbing backs and scraping the sick from the seats. Whatever situation, they kept spirits high, always singing, playing games and always willing to join in. Despite their love shown, none were “soft touches” and they made clear boundaries so that everyone could have fun in a wholesome manner. All the officers were simply marvelous.

 

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Moments of any contention were few and I put this down to the food. I must have gained at least a stone in weight. Each meal was two courses, cooked in love. How they kept to budget I will never know. The meals were of the highest possible quality and offered a balanced diet with amazing desserts. They really went beyond the call of duty and there was little waste – the kids loved it. With filled tummy’s, the children had no room for arguments, and their minds could focus on the spiritual food.

The camp gave me several fantastic opportunities to speak with the children. Although having to sit in a minibus, facing backwards, through those country lanes, whilst answering 20 questions to some very inquisitive young ladies, did cause my stomach to turn.

During the down time, I was often sat with a book in the grounds, but this did not stop the children coming across to ask questions about the message, the Bible study, their life and their faith. We would pray, encourage one another and lift up Jesus together. The outings gave us all a real opportunity to bond and share. Often walking around in groups I had endless opportunities to speak and engage with these young minds at a deep spiritual level.

What shocked me the most was how tough it has become for these children to practice their faith today. Many said they were not willing to commit (although they did believe) because they felt that they would have to let Jesus down at some point to survive school. Others confessed that they were bullied at school for attending church, others were mocked publically by their RE teachers for believing in the Bible. Many told me how other religions were “tolerated” and thus respected and encouraged in their school, but this was at the cost of Christianity and as a result they did not feel comfortable enough to profess their faith in Jesus to their friends.

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Such conversations were a huge wake-up call! They brought me to my knees! For the first time I began to realise the utter importance of this ministry. These children that I had the privilege of spending a week with are our future! They are tomorrow’s church members, deacons, elders, missionaries and Pastors and they are already being ostracised and undermined by the world. Their faith is already being tested to its limits.

The EMW Camps are a most important provision for our next generation. They should never be viewed as secondary to any other ministry. They give such a unique opportunity for ‘our future church’ to take a week away, to rest in the Lord, to make memories and be with friends their own age who share the same trials. The camp allows ‘our children’ unrivalled access to spiritually mature Christians who can answer the questions they may be too embarrassed or ashamed to ask at home or in church. The week equips campers with answers to take back to school, it strengthens them as they face hostility and I pray it encourages them to share the gospel with their friends and family outside of the kingdom.

In the second letter to Timothy (2:1-2) Paul tells Timothy to take what he has heard (the gospel) and pass it on to reliable people for them to tell others. Paul is preaching with four generations in mind. For the survival of the church and the gospel witness in Wales, we must prayerfully do the same. We must embrace the EMW camps, pray for the work and financially support it.

We need to make every effort to send our children and encourage their friends to go with them, and if you have no children (or they are grown up) please help others send theirs. It is simply an unrivalled opportunity for these young minds to come and know the Lord as their own, for them to hear the gospel and share it with others back home, so that one day they may tell.

We can rejoice that by God’s Grace those who came to camp professing faith, left in greater assurance and those far off, grew closer to God in Jesus. By God’s Grace…camp works!

The day after camp, I went down to my study, I began to prepare my notes for Sunday, but I could not resist browsing through the uploaded pictures of the week. I was quite emotional as I realised that I was already missing the team and the children. Camp was truly “better than the best thing I could ever think of” (this side of Glory). I have clearly caught the bug! 51 weeks to go!

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Random Open Air service on the Beach

Bala Ministers conference

I have just returned from the EMW (Evangelical Movement of Wales) Bala Ministers conference at Bryn-y-Groes. The theme this year was “the Glory of Jesus Christ in His Person and Work”.

Stephen Clark gave the three title addresses, Andy Pitt spoke on our identity in Christ, Lindsay Brown on Calvin the missionary, Mark Barnes on the current views held by non believers, Adrian Brake preached on the life and Ministry of William Williams, Pete Campbell lead the prayer meetings and I spoke on Tuesday evening on what God can do with a little oil (2Kings4).

I do not wish to go into too much detail regarding the programme, just to say that it was well thought out with a real concern for the current needs of the delegates. I was greatly encouraged and stimulated by the content. As a speaker, I stuck out like a sore thumb among such titans of the EMW (Evangelical Movement of Wales).

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I do not wish to elaborate anymore on the programme for two reasons.

  1. I scribbled so many notes down that this review would soon turn into an essay if I went any further.
  2. I feel it helpful to distance the programme from the conference, because as good as it was (and it was excellent), it is the other attributes that make the three days truly special.

There are many conferences that offer the high level seminars akin to those expected at the Bala Ministers. They are all well organised, valuable and of course offer great discounts on books! However, the Bala Ministers conference is unique! For reasons you can only understand if you come! Yes, it shares in all the benefits of the aforementioned learning but it was packaged in a gentleness and sincerity that I had not experienced elsewhere.

The prayer meetings were fully attended each morning; the more academic material was not coldly presented but given in the love of Christ, the discussions (that included strong rebukes and challenges) were shared in a spirit of unity.

This was more than just a conference; it felt like a family reunion, young and old gathered together from all different circumstances, some had been coming for decades, others were there for the first time, but we all loved each other as brothers in the Gospel.

I shared meals with men who will go down in church folk law as bastions of the faith, I discussed philosophy and theology with leading and respected academics (embarrassingly asking them to sign copies of the books I purchased after the discussion), I enjoyed coffee with young prodigies set to take on the mantle for tomorrows church. We were reminded of old truths, and given new ideas to meet the needs of a changing world.

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This week battle weary brothers had fun together, we enjoyed each other’s company, we walked, we debated and we relaxed in the idyllic setting of Bala lake.

We were all cared for so wonderfully by Gwydion, Catrin and the team at Bryn-y-groes, they truly are called to serve in such a way. The food was tremendous, you could almost taste the love that went into its preparation. Nothing was too much trouble for them to ensure our stay was as comfortable and beneficial as possible. Thank you!

In conclusion

You can pay for the Carson’s and the Keller’s, you can hire out a room, book a hotel and prepare a programme. The content will be good, and the time worthwhile. But what other conference do not give you is the spirit of love, care and gentleness that I received from Bala Ministers this week.

We were not professionals meeting, we were broken men seeking our saviour and He came and met with us and bound us together in love.

By God’s Grace I hope to see you all next year!

Isaiah 53

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence,  nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Time Flies

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

I have just returned back from the EMW Theological Training Course (TTC) in utter disbelief that it was my final session. I have a summer of essay’s to write and then we are all done, the last four years have passed in a blink of an eye.

The course runs in a four year cycle (A-D) with the Systematic Theology and Biblical Studies working alongside the chronology of church history. I was fortunate enough to start in year A, so have had it all in order, learning from the revelation and mistakes of our forefathers to get my doctrinal ducks in a row.

This final session was most enjoyable as it brought everything to a rounded conclusion. We went through the 19th and 20th century church (with Roger Welch), covering world mission and (my favorites) Spurgeon and the good Dr! Stephen Clarke took us through an in depth study of Eschatology, Chris Bennett gave us great insight into Colossians  and both letters to the Corinthians. Phil Swann lectured Pastoralia where we discussed Cultural Context in Evangelism and Spurgeon’s sermons to win soul’s.

The evening discussions looked at the New Testament in the Old Testament and Dispensationalism, the Pastoral issues and battles with Pornography and we closed on the Thursday evening with the usual question and answer session  (a debate that usually continues to the early hours).

I went to Bala in the final stages of what was a bad bout of the flu, it had me bed bound for the week before. I was exhausted so had to manage my time better. I went to bed earlier and woke up later than usual and rested in the afternoon break, this included an advised Sauna in the local leisure centre (to clear my chest) in Phil Swann’s trunks that he kindly lent to me. This strategy paid off as I got to Thursday without feeling like my brain was in a cement mixer.

I have said this in previous ‘write-ups’; The TTC offers a study like no other I have experienced, in that it is not just head knowledge but also heart knowledge. This is tremendously challenging because as you grow in the knowledge of Christ, your failures and imperfections become clearer. The conviction you undergo at times can be unbearable, yet you leave feeling refined and strengthened in the Lord as His Grace overflows.

I have enjoyed the four years of the course; the challenge of the lectures, the fellowship with my brothers (and their families) I have made friends for life, the discipline of writing the essay’s and working through the quality reading lists.

The TTC has been a real journey, knowing what I know now, I can look back and see how young I was as a Christian when I started, how worldly and skewed my reasoning was. But by God’s Grace this course has knocked me into shape. These four years have given me a better understanding of Scripture which has had wider ramifications in both my ministry and in my home life.

As Harriet and I have grown in head and heart knowledge of Christ together, because of His love we love each-other more today than I thought possible and the children are also flourishing as a result.

With that all said, I must be clear the job is far from done, I am still a baby and need your prayers!

I started the TTC paddling in the shallows, still with dry sand from the beach life I left behind stuck to my knees. The course has done an excellent job in giving me the confidence to brave deeper waters and its lecturers and mentors have taught me the basic swimming strokes. I do now feel more at home in the water, but remain humble as I look out at a deep dark ocean of life long study, filled with dangers and threats. As I begin to think about leaving the shallows, in faith I go out to swim holding onto verses like Isaiah 41:10.

I want to publicly thank my wife for her love, support and grace as we have worked through the challenges of this course together, Pastor Bernard for his constant support and regular meetings, all at Emmanuel and Noddfa for your prayers, support and for all the book donations (you know who you are).

Please continue to pray for all the men that remain on the course and for their families, also for the hosts Gwydion and Catrin Lewis who have been so loving and welcoming in their service at Bryn-y-Groes.

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