Author Julie Ackerman Link writes in the Our Daily Bread devotional this morning of a solitary tree that sat across from her office. She wondered why only one tree was left in the field. As she investigated the history she discovered that farmers would remove all the trees of the field, but would leave one to serve as a resting place when the summer sun began to take its toll.
That reflection was particularly poignant for me this morning as I feel like I have spent time under a “resting tree.” I went with a colleague to the Atlanta, GA area earlier this week for the Large Church Initiative. The Large Church Initiative (or, LCI as it is more often called) is an annual gathering of (primarily) United Methodist clergy and staff who pastor large churches across the country. The LCI was hosted by Mt. Pisgah UMC in Johns Creek, GA.
Large church pastors gather for three days to love on and be loved on by God through worship and preaching, to learn together, and to discuss and discover new ways of leading their congregations and the denomination. I must say (and already have in other venues) that I can’t say it was the best UM sponsored event I’ve ever been to, but I can’t remember a better one. From top to bottom (or, I should say from beginning to end) the three days together were incredible. The worship was excellent, the preaching was stellar, the facilities were comfortable, the hospitality was amazing, the food was awesome (they had a good Louisiana boy catering!), and the fellowship was nourishing.
The lineup of keynote speakers (yeah! they were really preachers) included Jorge Acevedo, Chip Ingram, Mark Batterson, Dr. Timothy Tennent, renowned fashion photographer Michael Belk, and the pastor of the congregation, Dr. Steve Wood. For me, the highlight of the preaching was Rev. Sharma Lewis, who preached the first day. She preached on power, and that was the power of the Holy Ghost (that’s right, I said Holy “Ghost”), and she issued an altar call to close the service. Talk about power! The worship ended with a powerful image of nearly 400 UM pastors kneeling in prayer at the altar of that church. I wouldn’t dare say it was all down hill from there, but Rev. Lewis set the bar awfully high for those who would preach after her.
Music for the event was great, as well. I was transported back to my roots very early in the event when The Nelons (an historic Southern Gospel group) led worship for the opening of the event. My! How they’ve changed through the years, but they did a fine job staying true to their roots while embracing a broader, more contemporary audience. They even joined with Contemporary Christian music artist Natalie Grant (In Better Hands, Your Great Name, etc) to lead worship Monday evening, and Tuesday morning Natalie Grant returned to lead an awakening worship experience to begin the day. The rest of our time together was led by One Sonic Society, a Nashville-based worship band known for songs including Forever Reign and Never Once. And, that was just the people anyone had heard of. The local church worship pastor was amazing, as well as their 150-voice worship choir and orchestra. The church even had an “artist-in-residence” (Regi Stone) who was a great worship leader in his own right. The organizers went all-out to make the time together meaningful and refreshing.
Of course, the Twitterverse was abuzz during the event. The organizers went all out to encourage folks to “tweet” throughout the event (#LCI2014), and tweet they did. Yes, I spent time in the Twitterverse with the rest of the “twits.” Here are a few of my tweets–if you were interested:
- “Sometimes you have to risk your reputation so God can establish His reputation.” Mark Batterson #LCI2014
- “Do you think Lazarus ever went back to put flowers on his own grave.” Mark Batterson #LCI2014
- “When you pray to God regularly, irregular things happen on a regular basis.” Mark Batterson #LCI2014
- “Jesus will not answer 100% of the prayers you don’t pray.” Mark Batterson #LCI2014
Obviously, I was quite taken with Mark Batterson’s message.
I left the event feeling restored and refreshed. I left feeling as if I’d been under a resting tree, but I left absolutely worn out! I don’t know…perhaps it was just too much. By the third day, we were running on adrenaline, I suppose. Monday started at 10 a.m., and ended after 9 p.m. Tuesday began at 9 a.m., and ended at 9 p.m. By Wednesday, it was all we could do to make it to the event by 9 a.m. It was exhausting and exhilarating, all at the same time. I made the statement that “restoring the soul sure took a toll on the body.” I really needed to come home to rest from my time under the resting tree. And, don’t even ask me why I slept on the floor all week. That’s another story altogether. Maybe I’ll tell you sometime. Right now…I’m just tired from all this resting, and I’ve still got to preach Sunday!
Until next time, keep looking up…