Reflections on the GATHER Conference

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This last Thursday and Friday in Chattanooga, TN, the inaugural GATHER Conference met. I’d been invited to speak at this event which was geared toward church leaders, and by the end of it, I was thankful that I went. Unlike other lectureships and workshops I’ve attended, this one focused on leadership from a perspective unlike others I’d attended. This isn’t to denigrate other conferences, but it is to say that this is not another conference competing with other such meetings. It’s unique in that it focused on contemporary issues and explored avenues to help make leaders better at leading. The addresses, I found, to be different from what I’ve heard in the past.

My address was Leading God’s People Into the Past. I explained a few scenarios from church history and how they contained great leadership lessons. I chose two from the first account of church history—Acts. In chapter six of Acts, I highlighted points from the issue of the daily distribution while from chapter fifteen I noted lessons from how the Jerusalem Council was handled before and after. My last two lessons came from the martyrdom of Polycarp, and the famine in Cappadocia while Basil the Great was at the helm. My admonition, then, was to urge those attending to read church history as a part of their study so that they could better grow in leadership. Finally, during a Q & A, I had the chance to explain how I sometimes use church history in preaching, and I was able to recommend some books as a primer. The books I recommended were Augustine as MentorThe Spirit of Early Christian ThoughtAncient Christian Worship, and Early Christians Speak.

It’s one thing to be a speaker at such a gathering, but to be a hearer was what made this conference significant to me. I have avoided going to any brotherhood lectures and workshops for a few years because I came to feel that it wasn’t a good use of my time. I, for one, would spend most of my time visiting with people that I don’t regularly see rather than attending the actual lectures. When I would attend the talks, I found my mind wandering to and fro and unable to focus. A part of this was my own limitations while another part was just that churches of Christ tend to focus on particular topics over and again. My wife even commented that the talk for the ladies was unlike what she’d ever heard at the conferences we’ve attended. She remarked that she too had grown weary of ladies classes on modesty, being a good wife, mother, homemaker, etc. Kathy Pollard’s address on being a Deborah in a Martha World, or something to that effect, was just what she needed. She even made our daughter listen to it, and our daughter found it encouraging.

In summation, I told the organizers, Michael Whitworth of Start2Finish and Robert Hatfield of The Light Network, just how much I enjoyed the conference. I would recommend that anyone make GATHER a part of their calendar if not but only once. For those who would have interest, the audio addresses are available for a modest price here.

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