Thanks to the kind generosity of a Christian couple, Jenny and I have had the opportunity to attend the European Leadership Forum gathering in Wisła (pronounced something like ‘viswa’), Poland. I write this in Poland as we prepare to return to Scotland.
This was an unexpected opportunity, and so neither of us had particular preconceptions regarding what to expect. I have always regarded attendance at conferences a key aspect of my ‘continuing professional development’ and I have attended many excellent conferences. I regard my experience at ELF this week as among the most positive. Here are some reasons why I enjoyed ELF:
- It brings Christians together. As is frequently the case at conferences, many of the dominant impressions of my experience relate to people I met. From the moment we got on the plane in Edinburgh, we began to meet Christian brothers and sisters, an experience that continued on the journey to the conference centre and throughout the conference. There were several opportunities to meet friends I already knew (including several friends from in and around Inverness). I also enjoyed conversations with many people of whom I was aware, but had not met. And then there were many conversations with people I had never been aware of before. One particular personal highlight was meeting a fellow Aberdeen PhD graduate, now serving in the Cairo Evangelical Seminary, who had been a fellow-student with me. We had not seen each other for around 17 years, but met unexpectedly in Poland! The organisers are to be commended for placing a significant emphasis on relationships throughout the event. One of the distinctive and positive features of the event was that most sessions involved time for praying in small groups with those seated nearby. Sessions of corporate worship and exposition of Scripture highlighted the sense of a gathering of the body of Christ.
- It brings Christians with different callings together. When I attend a typical academic conference, I may find myself among a group of New Testament specialists, or a group of theologians. ELF provides such opportunities for colleagues to meet through various ‘networks’. As a teacher of theology in a university, I attended the ‘Theologians’ network. But there were many other networks taking place at the same time, drawing together scientists, artists, mission leaders, counsellors, and many more. While we remained in our networks for part of the programme, we mixed in various workshops and during meals leading to many interesting conversations and exchanges of ideas.
- It brings the global church together. Although, the focus of the event is on Europe, we met Christians from all over the world. It was good to speak with men and women from the continents of North America, South America, Africa and Australia, as well as from nations such as Austria and Slovakia and Poland, and many other places. One highlight for me was a late-evening discussion between international leaders of the Lausanne Movement, Operation Mobilisation, and the Egyptian Bible Society.
- It brings gifted teachers together. Much of this week has been spent listening to an array of speakers with an astonishing range of areas of expertise. I was struck over and over again what a remarkable resource had been gathered into one place in terms of these gifted speakers. My mind is now full of fresh ideas and questions.
- It encourages Christians to support one another. One way in which this is done is through a substantial bookshop with books available at discounted prices. There was also opportunity for participants to contribute to a scholarship fund. On top of these tangible expressions, there was the constant encouragement to seek ways to encourage and support one another in our various callings.
Jenny and I are deeply grateful for the wonderful opportunity to attend ELF this year. I encourage readers to become aware of this organisation and to consider either attending the conference in the future personally or sponsoring someone in Christian leadership to attend.