Bill Cummings is the director of Lemonade International, a nonprofit organization based in Raleigh, NC. Educating and empowering people in the largest urban slum in Central America – La Limonada in Guatemala City. http://www.lemonadeinternational.org
Last year (2010) was my first Ecclesia Network National Gathering. It was different than any other church/ministry/leadership conference I had ever been to. In a good way.I couldn’t begin to count or even recall all the conferences I have been to over the years. It’s almost embarrassing to think of all the money spent on sitting among hundreds (and in many cases thousands) of peers from all over the country who gathered in mostly non-relational settings to listen to elite-level leaders who had achieved more “success” in ministry than most in the room could ever imagine.
I know a lot of pastors who attend 3-4 of these conferences a year. They are so engaged in leading their local churches and attending conferences to learn to lead better that I often wonder if they understand much of real life outside of the context of leading a local church.
After years of doing that myself I was “conferenced out”. It had been a few years since I attended a conference. But at the invitation of Todd Hiestand, I decided to give the Ecclesia Network National Gathering a shot. Todd told me it was different. He said it was real, relational and relevant (he sounded like Rick Warren when he said it though… using the three “Rs” and all).
Even after Todd’s invitation I was reluctant to attend because I’m not currently local church leader nor a church planter. That was my past life. I now lead a nonprofit organization called Lemonade International (@lemonadeintl on twitter) that serves people living in an urban slum community in Guatemala City. I wasn’t sure how the Ecclesia Network gathering would fit in the context of what I do. But Todd assured me that it would be a great fit. He was right. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Here are some things that stood out to me:
- The setting for the conference was so casual and the facilitators and speakers were regular people, who shared rich insights and honest challenges from their life and ministry journey.
- There was a deep sense of community among the attendees. So many spoke of it feeling like a family reunion. For me it felt like a new family I was in the process of being adopted into.
- Every speaker shared about challenges they had experienced or were experiencing at the time. None of them came across as self-proclaimed experts who had it all figured out and were there so we could figure it out too.
- The conversations and connections made outside of the official sessions were just as meaningful, if not more at times, than what happened during the scheduled time.
- The attendees and speakers were passionate about following Jesus and leading others to follow him in the context of community.
- It was clear that there were very different theological positions represented by the members of the network, but it was also clear that the relationships the members have and their commitment to live and lead as followers of Jesus run much deeper than those positions.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am really excited that John Perkins will be a featured speaker at this year’s National Gathering, but I had made my decision to return long before I learned that. I am returning this year because I am looking forward to strengthening relationships, learning from peers and from those who’ve walked this path longer than I have, and sharing in the passion of God’s call for the church to function as centers of reconciliation.I hope to see you at the gathering.