The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
More than 700 participants at the European Leadership Forum conference in Poland. Networks, seminaries and plenary sessions gave biblical perspectives on current issues. John Piper: “Prayer is central, the world does not need more Christians with powerless ministries”.
More than 700 participants from across Europe took part in the 2016 European Leadership Forum conference (21-26 May) in Wisla, Poland.
Experienced leaders in many areas led dozens of sessions in a very rich programme which aimed to “promote, unify and strengthen evangelical Christianity in Europe; and provide biblical, intellectual, and spiritual resources to feed and encourage Christian leaders.”
JOHN PIPER ON PHILIPPIANS
Theologian and author John Piper led the Bible expositions in the mornings, speaking from the letter to the Philippians. “Every part of creation, every star and every human being in the world displays God’s glory”, Piper said, “God even exalted Christ for the Father’s glory”.
“All over the Bible, God is ultimately committed to the glory of God”. This is “a stumbling block for many”, he admitted, and quoted the opinions of people like Oprah Winfrey or Brad Pitt and others who see the God of Biblical Christianity as an “egomaniac.”
But the reality, Piper argued from the teaching of the apostle Paul, is that God’s glory is the answer to what people need. Not pointing to Him stops mission: “If you glorify yourself, you distract people from what can satisfy their souls.”
“Christ is magnified in you when he is more precious and more satisfying than all what life can offer and all that death can take”, the theologian said. “Christ will be most magnified in Europe when Europe is most satisfied in Him.”
To live a “life worthy of the gospel”, as the apostle Paul described it, means to “have unity in love for the cause of the gospel; and a life of fearlessness, even when the odds are against you in Europe.”
PEOPLE ARE DESPERATE FOR LOVE AND AUTHENTICITY
“Europe is not impressed”, he continued, “and doesn’t care about Christian organisations, about our buildings or congresses”, Piper said. “What is impressive is when Christians give their life for others. People want to know if we care for one another, the world is aching for love.”
He also called for a a life of real humility, in which Christians leaders look for the interest of others (“the family, health, reputation, education, success, happiness, salvation... of others”) as much as for their own.
“To count others more significant than ourselves is to stop assessing whether someone deserves your ministry. You regard them as deserving. We are counted righteous because of Christ.” The model to follow is Jesus: “Christ loved me, died for me, forgave me, justified me… when He owed me nothing.”
JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH
In a following session, Piper argued that justification by faith alone is central to Biblical Christianity. The theologian described “five distortions” which threaten the understanding of this doctrine: “The blurring of the line between the evangelical understanding and the Roman Catholic teaching; the claim that the doctrine of imputation is not biblical; the ‘new perspective’ on Paul; merging faith and the fruit of faith in obedience; and the redefinition of righteousness, only seen as a virtue”.
“The Reformation is not over”, Piper said. “We need to preach Catholics justification through faith alone. If you focus on thousands of things you have in common with them, and do not touch on this difference, then how will they meet Jesus?”
“IS PRAYER CENTRAL IN YOUR FAMILY AND MINISTRY?”
Piper spoke about the need of prayer in his last session. “Prayer is the visible engine that drives the work. Is prayer central in your life, your family and ministry?” he challenged the ELF participants. “Prayer is the means by which God gives us supernatural help. Without it, we cannot accomplish anything of what the letter to the Philippians calls us to do.”
“The world does not need more Christians with powerless ministries”, Piper continued. Success is not measured in numbers, he added_ “In the USA you can build a church of 30,000 without God. It’s easy!”
“Prayer speaks volumes of the nature of God”, Piper suggested, and added: “Paul makes the success of his ministry dependant of the prayers of new believers.”
Prayer brings a peace which “reasoning” cannot bring, and depending on Him in everything “makes Christ look magnificent. This is why your family and you ministry exist.” So, “how can we make prayer peripheral?”
NETWORKS: PREACHING, SCIENCE, YOUTH, MEDIA….
Every day, the plenary sessions in the mornings (which included times of worship) were followed by 16 simultaneous networks. Each participant had chosen to be in the two daily workshops related to his area of ministry: Academic Leaders, Apologetics, Bible Teachers and Preachers, Church Planters, Counsellors, Disciple-Making Leaders, Evangelism, Leaders of Christian Organisations, Marriage and Family, Media Communicators, Mission Leaders, Organisational Development and Fundraising, Politics and Society, Scientists, Theologians and Youth Ministry Leaders.
After lunch, a wide variety of seminaries were offered in which all kind of topics were addressed. Some of them were: “How to keep a growing church theologically solid”, “The effects of ISIS on Europe”, “Understanding and evaluating the Roman Catholic view of Mary”, “The four theological mistakes that evangelicals are making today”, “Grace-filled sex”, “What kids need most from their Dad – especially if he is in ministry” or “Media engagement in youth ministry: The Disney universe as a case of study”.
A bookstore and special off-programme meetings and discussions made the whole programme even richer. The main hall of the hotel was a meeting point in the evenings, while many used free time to enjoy the good weather walking nearby the river.
As in other editions, the Forum Expo booth was a place in which ministries and participants could connect (Evangelical Focus had one of the stands).
THE GOSPEL IN NOWADAYS' EUROPE
Every day closed with an evening session on burning social issues. These were led by Terry Virgo (“Paul’s aim and method in ministry”), Stefan Gustavsson (on the gender debate), Ken Sande (“Life, family, ministry and witnessing are all about relationships”) and Dave Patty (“Seeing what Jesus sees: two views of Europe”).
An open discussion about the case of the Bodnariu family, in Norway, was another interesting highlight one of the nights (an article about this discusssion will be published soon).
During the conference, participants accessed their outlines and connected with other participants through a special mobile app. Many also used the social media to share their impressions using the #2016ELF hashtag
— Mike Reeves (@mike_reeves) 23 de maig de 2016
— Olga Bidnenko (@festajoy) 22 de maig de 2016
— Peter Mead (@PeterMead) 25 de maig de 2016
— Kjetil Fyllingen (@KjetilFyllingen) 25 de maig de 2016
Listen to an interview with European Leadership Forum Director Greg Pritchard here.
More pictures of the this year's conference: