Matt Heard encourages Life with a Capital L
By Myra Holmes
The 2016 Pastors Conference was a breath of “life with a capital L” for the pastors and families who gathered July 27-29 in at the Westin Westminster Hotel in Denver’s north metro area.
Matt Heard, who spoke at four general sessions, encouraged attendees to take hold of deeper life. Heard, a teacher, speaker and former pastor from Colorado Springs, Colo., used his book, Life with a Capital L, as a springboard, then added storytelling and an abundance of Scripture to push pastors and spouses to engage the gospel in every aspect of life.
He talked about the gospel as having two parts, as expressed in John 20:31: Part A, “that you may believe,” is salvation through faith and is the part rightly emphasized by evangelical churches. But often, he said, individuals and churches forget Part B: “that you may have life.”
“We’ve relegated the gospel simply to forgiving our sins and going to heaven,” Heard said. “But that’s not the only reason Christ came.”
In one memorable illustration, he talked about a painting by Nikolai Yaroshenko, “There is Life Everywhere,” which depicts five prisoners in a rail car observing some birds, while a sixth prisoner turns away. “I really have good news for you; there’s life everywhere,” Heard said. “The life of the gospel is to be embraced in the midst of whatever you’re dealing with.”
Heard also challenged attendees to live out the gospel corporately. He noted that a culture in crisis calls for a proclamation of both part A and part B of the gospel: “Oh, for a vibrant community of people who have that living faith to come and not just give a religious prescription but to say, ‘Here’s Life!’”
In addition, Heard noted that the USMB’s forward-looking vision, outlined in the Future Story, is a “wonderful opportunity for there to be a resurgence of the gospel in your churches.”
Attendees were clearly engaged, listening in pin-drop silence or laughing at appropriate places. In a hallway conversation, one pastor commented that Heard “sneaks up on you,” telling an entertaining story that seems to have no relevance, then using it to drive home a profound point.
A team from The Rock of Southwest, a USMB congregation in Littleton, Colo., led worship for general sessions. Brad Burkholder, pastor at Hesston (Kan.) MB Church; Dan and Susanna Strutz, pastoral couple at Community Bible Church, Mountain Lake, Minn. (thumbnail photo); and co-pastors Andy Basilio and Aris Tolentino of Friends of Jesus Ministries, a USMB church in Los Vegas, Nev., shared stories and testimonies of their ministries.
Networking and equipping key goals
A key goal of the Pastors Conference was to provide opportunities for pastors and spouses to network and connect. Breaks, meals and generous free time allowed for informal interaction, and attendees clearly enjoyed these times, often lingering in conversation.
Four workshops on Thursday and affinity groups on Friday gave time for more formal networking. The workshops aimed to equip and encourage those who serve in ministry.
By far the most well-attended was the only workshop specifically for pastors’ wives. Guest speaker Daisy al’Ahmad (photo right) shared her personal story of seeing her Muslim husband come to Christ and finding deeper faith as she faced chronic pain and health issues. Before the conference, al’Ahmad said she hoped the workshop would encourage women to view trials as a way to learn more about God’s character and love: “I want to inspire people to not give up when faced with trials of many kinds but instead to recognize the sovereign Lord, who is intimately aware of our struggles and trials.”
Jon Wiebe, president and CEO of MB Foundation, the stewardship ministry of U.S. Mennonite Brethren, led a session on saving for retirement intended to help those in ministry calculate their need, determine what they can control, receive tools to help and learn how to build a strategy that works.
Two workshops focused on personal and spiritual wellness for those in ministry. Jeremy Jordan, pastor of Memorial Road MB Church, Edmond, Okla., provided practical ways to strengthen a personal walk with Christ, which he said is the both foundation for effective ministry and the key to preventing burnout.
Terry Brensinger, president of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, addressed burnout and crisis more directly in “Pressing on when the bottom falls out.” He said “pressing on” doesn’t mean tenacity in spite of obstacles. Rather, he offered hope, explored ways of “being, thinking and doing” during crisis and addressed preventative measures for those not yet facing such difficulties.
Friday morning, attendees were encouraged to meet in affinity groups—small gatherings of those in similar ministry situations. Again, the group targeting pastors’ wives was very popular; Arlene Heard, wife of speaker Matt Heard, participated in this group and shared her experiences as a pastor’s wife.
Other groups focused on areas of ministry such as lead pastors, children’s ministry, youth workers, worship and outreach (photo right). Groups didn’t have specified leaders or topics of discussion, although a list of possible conversation starters was provided to encourage those in ministry to share ideas, resources, challenges and encouragement.
A reception for children’s ministry workers Friday afternoon between the Pastors Conference and the start of the National Convention gave yet another opportunity for networking.
Forum increases understanding
A forum during breakfast Friday morning provided time for conversation specifically between USMB pastors and presidents of the two Mennonite Brethren-owned colleges around issues facing both schools and churches “with the goal of understanding issues facing each other in relationship to same-sex relationships.” USMB Board of Faith and Life chair Larry Nikkel opened the forum and Richard Kriegbaum, president of Fresno Pacific University, Fresno, Calif., and Jules Glanzer, president of Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kan., led the discussion.
The presidents outlined recent developments on the federal and state level that impact the schools. These include 2014 changes to Title IX, a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on sex for all educational institutions that receive federal loans and grants; President Obama’s executive order in 2014 that sexual orientation and gender identity are to be a protected class; the 2015 Supreme Court decision that marriage is a 14th amendment right and California State Bill 1146, the Equity in Higher Education Act that would eliminate state funding for schools that have filed a Title IX exemption, a shift that many say would severely limit religious freedoms for faith-based colleges and universities in the state.
Pastors were then invited to share how their congregations are dealing with same-sex issues and to ask questions of the presidents. Many expressed gratitude and support for the way the schools are engaging the issues and for the leadership of Kriegbaum and Glanzer.
“The Board of Faith and Life is pleased with the way our schools are approaching the issue,” said Nikkel in an email following the Pastors’ Conference.
Conference accommodates families
Large blocks of free time Thursday afternoon and Friday afternoon between the final Pastors Conference session and the start of the USMB National Convention gave pastors and families time to enjoy the many area attractions or to catch up on much-needed rest. Some headed to the mountains, explored new cuisine at local restaurants or played golf. The Butterfly Pavilion, an invertebrate zoo located next to the zoo, seemed especially popular among families with children, as was the hotel pool.
Some 146 pastors, spouses and guests attended the 2016 Pastors Conference, compared to 119 in 2014 and 136 in 2012. The Pastors’ Conference is held every other year and precedes the National Convention.
Photos by Connie Faber and Pam Rasmussen