After coming home from Victoria full to the brim with refreshment, we had the normal round of activities on Sunday, Emma with Kingdom Kids, and me with Church. The following week was back to work for Emma, and I headed off to Stanwell Tops for the AFES Staff Conference. AFES (Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students) is the national fellowship with which FOCUS at the University of Canberra and the ANU are affiliated.
The AFES Staff conference was one of the best weeks of teaching and fellowship that I’ve had the privilege to be a part of in the past couple of years of full time ministry. It was a real privilege just to be there. My situation is essentially as a gap-filler for the position of Senior Staff worker at the University of Canberra. I’m more senior than a trainee, but I don’t have the theological training and experience of a senior staff person. The staff on the conference went out of their way to make me feel comfortable and I really enjoyed being able to talk freely with people about some of the unusual struggles and situations of full-time students ministry.
The programme for the week was varied across hearing from the Bible, prayer and report groups, seminars on work-related issues, and some theological discussion time. The Bible teaching was done by staff members from around the country. There was no set topic or book yet the talks fitted very well together and seemed to inform each other well. Funny how God speaks through his word… The AFES is blessed with some very fine Bible teachers, and the teaching time was really challenging and stimulating. It’s nice to have some time when the preacher has been thinking though the Word with a view to applying it to himself and people just like you. One of the pitfalls of ministry seems to be that the longer you spend doing it, the less you hear the Bible taught to people just like you. The challenge is to be teaching it to yourself, and applying it to yourself before you teach it to others.
The Prayer and Report groups were small groups of staff that meet together each year at the conference. When a new staff member joins AFES they will be assigned to one of the groups but otherwise the membership is very stable. These times were se aside for everyone to take a good sized chunk of time (around an hour) and talk through how they’ve been going throughout the year. We then spent some time praying for each other. These are special times for the staff, it’s not often in full-time ministry that you have someone sitting down with you who can identify with your experiences and who just wants to listen to you talk.
The Work seminars were pretty much what they sound like. We covered topics from OH&S to Fundraising, writing newsletters, dealing with intimidation, and a whole host of other things. I found particularly useful a seminar by Tony Rowbothan and Tracey Gowing on ‘being a team member’. It was designed for people who aren’t the team leaders in a ministry group.
The theological discussions were led by Keith Birchley from Brisbane. The topic was ‘the Word of God and Preaching’. Keith was keen for us to think again about the relationship between the Word of God, and the activity of the preacher in proclamation. It generated plenty of solid discussion. For me however, it wasn’t the rarefied heights of theology that were most challenging but the realization that I have been frequently forgetting the fact that God is living and active – that he didn’t just speak once, make sure it got written down, and then leave us to it. He speaks now to us. It has transformed the way I have prepared my sermons, and the way that I pray for myself and our congregation as we come to hear the word. I pray that God would speak. And I have been reminded also that he is powerful and capable of answering that prayer. It doesn’t depend on my tricks or slick presentation, I need to pray that he would speak and trust that he will to do. There was a lot more to it than that, but this was what I found most helpful.
The week also involved lots of football (soccer as its known when the World Cup isn’t on). A lot of the staff stayed up to watch Australia play Japan in the opening round of the tournament. It looked for a long time that Australia were going to lose – then we scored 3 last minute goals. All these normally reserved AFES staff were running around cheering and hugging each other. It was a sight to behold. I’ve included some pictures of the annual staff soccer tournament as well, known as the Kerry Nagel Cup. Tragically the ACT/WA team was knocked out in the first round. (we were the reigning champs).
It was a great week, I came back full of energy and ideas. Praise God for the fellowship we share with each other through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus!
“whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1Pet 4:11 ESV)