What’s the purpose of our Pastoral Refreshment Conferences? Well, it pretty much says it on the tin. We encourage Christian leaders and spouses in the grace of God. Our goal is to care for the souls of those who pour themselves out to feed and nourish others. It’s a moment in time when we invite leaders to come and be fed. Some have called it a grace-oasis and ‘the genuine antidote to Christian conferences.’
Pick any normal year, and we’d be meeting face-to-face; we’d be worshiping together, there would be prayer, teaching from God’s Word, good food, fellowship and relaxation. But 2021 isn’t any normal year. So we had to ask which parts of this – if any – could be mirrored online. Most know how exhausting Zoom can be. And however nice it is to see people on a screen, it’s just not the same.
What to do? Could we organise a conference online?
After a lot of prayer, and with input from a dream team of volunteers, we decided that we could. At least, we’d try. So Pastoral Refreshment at Home came into being. Can you worship together online? Turns out you can! Can you receive soul-nourishing teaching through a screen? Absolutely. Small group discussion, praying together in groups? Devotional times? Yes to all of those. Breakout sessions for mining the wisdom of the community? Not a problem.
But what about fellowship? What about good food?
We encouraged our delegates to step away from their work. We suggested that they turn off email (including notifications) and create a restful space in their homes. What about getting ready with some home-made cakes or ordering a take-away? Many took up the challenge and then took advantage of the informal lunchrooms and lounges we offered on Zoom. ‘How wonderful to see you! How have you been!?’ The joy of seeing friends after a long absence turns out to be possible through a screen. Praise God.
Our teaching was led by Matt Searles, who reflected on the need to rest in God, and enjoy the sweetness of Jesus and the gospel. He spoke into all our lives about the importance of resisting the perpetual demands of our more-bricks-less-straw tendencies. He set the tone beautifully. Later on, Ray and Jani Ortlund joined us from Nashville Tennessee to talk about churches being places of deep friendship in Christ. Living Leadership staff and Associates* were available during and after the conference to pray with people.
By God’s grace it was a terrific day and a half, a real oasis amidst the struggles we all face during a pandemic. We heard from God; we were refreshed. It was wonderful. Sure, it wasn’t the same as meeting up face-to-face. Nevertheless, there was a real sense of God’s presence, and of him providing a feast for us. There was a lovely sense of connectedness and encouragement among the group. In addition, going online meant that people could join from around Europe.
All in all, Pastoral Refreshment at Home exceeded my highest expectations. Many find Zoom challenging, we know, but the two days we shared together online were refreshing and uplifting. It was worth all the effort that went into it and it turns out that God is more than able to work through online platforms.
* The Living Leadership Associates’ Network provides gifted people, who are available to encourage Christian leaders and spouses all over the UK and Ireland. If you would value someone to walk with or mentor you on your leadership journey, please get in touch.