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Rural and Small Congregations Conference February 2015

It’s late summer in Gore, Southland and around 80 people from Otago and Southland gathered for the 2015 Rural & Small Congregations Conference

A bi-annual event, this year’s conference was held at St Andrews Presbyterian Church, Gore on Friday 27th & Saturday 28th February. It is organised by a subcommittee of the Synod of Otago & Southland.

The two speakers who spoke over the conference were John Gullick and Martin Campbell.

John has been minister at Riversdale for over 26 years. Over 10 years ago, John began the 3D [Disciple, Develop, Deploy] course of Discipleship Training in Riversdale. The local church also trains Youth interns. Riversdale is a “sending” church with a full-time supported missionary in Tonga, & numerous ministers & church workers have been sent out from there.

John is a visionary & an encourager who believes in helping Christians to become wholehearted followers of Jesus, then replicating this. His heart for evangelism, incredible energy, and his longing to see God at work in all aspects of the community was evident in his 2 messages to the conference.

John’s first talk was called “Seize the moment” and was based on Matthew 14: 22-33 where Jesus acted ‘immediately’ three times.  A church dies because of individual failure, but one person can start a forest fire and one person can also bring in revival, so seize the moment.  His second talk considered “Changing our Church through Maturity” - establish Jesus as the cornerstone of our Church and change will happen; we are most effective and fruitful when we stay In Christ; when Jesus is truly in me there will be a path to the poor and the unlovely.  He quoted Juan Ortiz: ‘the Church is divided because we are not dealing with our differences, and this will cripple us.’

Martin Campbell is co-Principal of Eastwest College of Intercultural Studies in Gordonton, Waikato. He has been in cross-cultural Christian work for almost two decades, mostly in Central Asia. He has experience in organisational management and governance, and human resource management. Martin has skills in leadership and a passion for seeing Christians equipped to serve in cross-cultural and challenging contexts.

Martin often referred to his experiences in Afghanistan while speaking, saying he had seen lots of ‘Religion’ but Jesus was not religious.  He picked up on the theme of being deeply rooted in Christ, using the example of a Bonsai tree having limited soil which stunted its growth.  He challenged us as to whether any of the following are limiting our growth in Jesus – Legalism, Tradition, Control, Pride, Fear, and if so to confront them.  His second talk was on Strength, especially our roots: true strength is seen when it is tested; be rich toward God (‘pluck out’ the things that are separating me from God); have the right attitude to our weaknesses; keep in step with the Spirit.  He challenged us to be careful that we are not feeding ourselves the values of the world.

On Saturday afternoon instead of the usual workshop format the conference saw groups of people in “Table Topics”. These are open forums for ideas and questions on various topics.

Participants could wander around the tables asking questions, getting and sharing ideas.   Several chairs were at each table with nibbles.

It’s a concept that builds on the idea of sharing over a cup of coffee in a café, or more relevantly for rural folk, talking over the farm gate.

Feedback after the conference was positive about this format with people liking that they weren’t committed to a workshop but were able to pick and choose. One person said that “rural does it this way” and another that “so often you wish you could go to two workshops but they are on at the same time”; and “we really enjoyed this relaxed format and meant didn’t need to sit though stuff not interested in”.

Topics included: Discussion about the issues many are facing around church buildings and earthquake regulations; Pastoral Care in Crises; How can Presbytery help?; Missions; How to get the most from your Bible; Reaching Multinationals, newcomers, transients, migrant workers, vacationers;  Connecting with the community; Puppets – lots of fun; We Have no Minister, what can we do; Alpha Resources; Children and young people.

Manna Christian Bookstore opened for the afternoon so that people had an opportunity to shop.

Worship for the conference was led by teams from participating churches. Worship was meaningful and varied and this encouraged participants.

Presbyterian Synod Of Otago and Southland.
Phone: {03} 477 7365
Fax: {03} 477 6736
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Level 5, Evan Parry House,
43 Princes St, Dunedin.
P O Box 1131,
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