WHY DO PASTORS AND LEADERS GO TO A MINISTERS ENRICHMENT WEEKEND? WHY WOULD THEY DRIVE MILES AND MILES OR FLY ACROSS THE COUNTRY TO ATTEND ONE? WHY WOULD SOUTHERN PEOPLE GO NORTH IN JANUARY KNOWING IT'S GOING TO BE VERY COLD?! WHAT HAPPENS THERE ANYHOW?!
We just returned from a Ministers' Enrichment Weekend and I wish I could give you a glimpse into why pastors go to weekends like this.
Pastors and leaders gather from all over the United States and Canada. From as far west as Oregon, as far north as Alberta and Toronto, as far east as Maryland and Virginia, and as far south as Texas and Florida they come. Those who serve on boards or committees gather early to have their bi-annual meetings and make plans for the future. As the men gather in their meetings, the women shop the little stores in the area or just spend time relaxing and enjoying the warm peace and quiet of solitude in their hotel rooms or places of lodging.
This year the place of gathering was in Arthur, Illinois, a little Amish and Mennonite community in the heart of Illinois. Seeing the wide open fields for as far as you could see told you they were no small-time farmers here. They were familiar with real farming. Large implement businesses seemed to be in every little town, well-stocked for the coming spring. We, from the south, had a special appreciation for the sunshine and higher than normal temperatures that graced us this particular weekend.
North Vine Mennonite Church bustled around every day preparing delicious food for lunch and dinners. They served the meals in a very orderly fashion and looked like they were having fun doing it. A weekend like this does not take place without much planning ahead of time and lots of work. As you gather you glance over the crowd looking at who all came this year. It is a special time of renewing friendships, encouraging each other, praying together, solving problems together, and playing games when we can.
The theme this year was "Shepherding the Flock" so all topics and workshops were tied into this theme. The first evening's message was "Christ-like Shepherding" by Leon Martin. He did an excellent job of teaching how Jesus shepherded as our role model. He gave us a lot to think about. Due to much visiting afterwards, it is often 9:30-10:00 before you leave for your hotel. You are greeted there by group of pastors and their wives unwinding. The men usually pull their chairs into a large circle and their topics soon turn to current church things and events. The women gather their chairs around a table or two and unwind with an interesting game of "Take One". Sometimes we have to double check to see if a word is an actual 'word' or if it has just been invented. Whoever is not in the actual game stands alongside and offers assistance to those playing. This scene usually goes until 11:30 or midnight.
Early the next morning we gather in the hotel lobby for breakfast before we leave for the convention. Friday morning we get together in circles of which ever region we are from. We represent the Southern Region with Sam Mast serving as our overseer. Sam also serves as overseer of the west and far north so we had a large group. Someone usually shares a few verses, we pray together, then churches take turns sharing what is happening or needs they may have in their churches. Due to the size of our group this year, sharing was rich but limited by time. Following the Regional Meetings we gathered as a large group and listened intently as a brother shared his spiritual journey. His openness, honesty, and humility was uplifting as he shared how God led his family through several 'unknown' times; you know, times that are tough and you wonder if God knows what He's doing, but then when you look back you can see that God clearly had your best in mind. His testimony was refreshing. Several times through the weekend we have prayer times, when we gather in groups of four to six. It can be a mixed group or you can separate into men and women groups, and just spend time praying for each other in specific ways. We were privileged to pray as couples, sometimes with new friends and sometimes with old friends from 'way back'. It's always a special time.
Often over meal breaks you plan ahead to eat with someone you specifically want to catch up with or spend time with. Other times you just eat with whoever you sit next to and get to know them. Sometimes personal sharing together gets extended into the next service time. It is not unusual at all, at any given time, to see people praying together.
Right after lunch Sam Gingerich shared on "Honor in Leadership". This was a challenging message on how important honor is in our relationships. It is amazing how much easier it is to share when we extend honor or are given honor and respect.
Friday afternoons consist of a variety of workshops. It is very hard to pick only two of them when they all sound like something you would like to hear. Our first workshop was "Pastors Promoting Purity". Keith Beiler shared ways to be pro-active against the beast of pornography. He did an excellent job of presenting the subject, covered it well, and offered numerous books, free of charge, for anyone who wanted them. A generous Amish man donated the books to be dispersed as desired. "Free" was so refreshing because usually everything comes at a price and most things aren't cheap. A short break later we went to workshop two which was given by Jason Reed on "Preparing Couples for Marriage". It's the best I've ever seen offered. I have been quite disturbed at some "pre-marital counseling".
After a two hour break which included dinner we gathered again for the evening session. Jason Reed was the speaker and did an outstanding job on the subject of "Foundational Needs of the Sheep". He offered an enormous supply of resources and invited pastors to edit his material and 'make it better'. Our minds and hearts felt filled, pushed down, refilled, and packed full at the end of the session.
We were both fighting colds and flu bugs so we 'wisely' went to bed early this night, although the next morning we heard about all we missed out on.
Saturday morning began with the sound of rich singing and prayer, as every service did, then Jason Reed filled us up again with "Shepherding the Sheep" followed by a time of Q&A with Reed and Gingerich. That, too, was very interesting. After lunch another brother shared his spiritual journey, which was very good, then it was time for the Men's business meeting. The men go over all the business part of BMA. The ladies gladly make themselves scarce during this time (smile) and head to the Ladies' Tea. We walked into a room beautifully decorated, in a way that women appreciate, and lovely tables of delicate food and beverages. At our tables are multi-colored papers that each of us are to write on; words of encouragement that will be sent to missionary and pastors wives around the world. After feasting and fellowshipping we moved into the auditorium where Mrs. Ulrich shared on "Lessons for Ministry Wives from Psalm 23". It was so very fitting especially since she has a husband who raises sheep. After her time we listened to a panel discussion on "Practical Ways of Caring for Women in Our Flock". We jotted down tidbits as we listened to them share. They gave us many practical ways to minister to ladies.
Time to eat again?! As good as it looked, I skipped. There was too much food accumulating in one spot in too short of a time. After dinner we were treated to some special singing led by David R. Miller. It was obvious that pastors are some incredibly good singers. We enjoyed special singing each evening which we all enjoyed. The evening message was "Authentic Shepherding" by Henry Blank. What is 'legit' shepherding? He did an excellent job. People want and desire the real thing, the real Truth. Then it was more visiting, more special little prayer meetings, more talking, then back to the hotel for..... more!
Sunday morning there were more times of good singing, prayer time, scripture reading then DestiNATIONS presented their program and introduced new people heading to the 'fields' and also missionaries who are home. Sam Mast brought the final message of the weekend on "The Rewards of a Faithful Shepherd". Due to coughs, colds, and many miles ahead of us, we opted to leave early this year. Normally we don't leave until Sunday afternoon but this year we felt it would be wise to head for home early. They were able to live-stream the morning service so we listened in as we traveled along. We were glad we left early because the sickness got worse by the time we got home.
So now you know WHY pastors and leaders drive thousands of miles to gather together in one place. They leave feeling encouraged, refreshed, refueled, and ready to keep going.
If you have a pastor that is interested in attending Ministers' Enrichment Weekend... encourage them to come!
(Soon all these messages will be available to listen to at biblicalmennonitealliance.com. CDs and an MP3 are available, too, if anyone is interested.)