Episode 233: The Means of Grace – Hope in Christian Conferencing
June 7, 2022
Are Christian fellowship and Christian conferencing the same or different things?
Explore why the words fellowship and conferencing, which have come to mean very different things, are actually pointing to one of the essential means of grace for United Methodists.
Christian Conferencing as a Means of Grace
But first, a question: Who has impacted your life and leadership the most?
For most of us, it’s teachers, mentors, or coaches. People we’ve been in relationships with over a period of time. People who care deeply about us, about our well-being, growth, and becoming who God created us to be.
Why that question?
In this series, we’ve explored searching the scriptures, prayer, Holy Communion, and fasting. This episode on Christian conferencing concludes the series. As we conclude the series, we end with the means of grace that is focused on faith-forming relationships. As you continue to read and listen to Episode 233, you’ll notice we use Christian conferencing and fellowship interchangeably.
Here’s why: When John Wesley talked about Christian Conferencing he was using the verb confer. It was about Christians coming together to focus on their faith: to pray, share their experience of God, seek advice, offer counsel, confess their sins, and ask for forgiveness.
With that reminder in place, it’s easy to recognize that we can’t participate in Christian conferencing alone. Second, God doesn’t want us to do life alone. And third, when you experience Christian fellowship, you realize you don’t ever want to do it alone. But it wasn’t just John Wesley who talked about Christian conferencing. Let’s look at the scripture for reminders there too.
Biblical Basis for Christian Fellowship/Conferencing
- Genesis 1 – Adam and Eve are created to be in relationship with one another. Why? Because it’s not good to be alone.
- Luke 6:12-16 As Jesus stepped into public ministry, he didn’t do it alone. He chose 12 disciples to be with him on the journey.
- Acts 2 – The Spirit forms the church.
- Matthew 18:20 – Where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there among them.
- John 13 – a new commandment I give to you that you love one another, just as I’ve loved you. You also are to love one another.
John Wesley on Christian Conferencing
For Wesley, Christian Conferencing was about relationships. Faith-fueled relationships. The conferencing wasn’t a meeting. It wasn’t about legislation. Christian conferencing to Wesley was about being held in love and prayer by the people who cared about you the most.
He was confronted by the fact that he was inviting people into Christian conferencing. He said,
“That which never existed cannot be destroyed. The real truth is just the reverse of this. We introduced Christian fellowship where it was utterly destroyed and the fruits of it have been peace, joy, love, and zeal for every good word and work.”
–A Plain Account of the People Called Methodists
Christian fellowship remind us of the importance of being together. And that is both on Sundays for worship and at regular intervals of Christian conferencing. If you don’t have one of those, you’re not getting fully formed in the faith.
So in case it isn’t clear Christian conferencing is about recognizing yourself as one of God’s beloved among a group of God’s beloved so that you might love one another.
Means of Grace Series
Missed the other episodes on the means of grace? Find them here:
Episode 233 – The Means of Grace: Christian Conferencing (scroll up!)
Episode 233: The Means of Grace - Christian Conferencing
[00:00:00] Sara: Welcome to Leader Cast Episode 233.
[00:00:04] You're listening to Leader cast, Transforming Mission's podcast with Tim Bias and Sara Thomas. Providing you with resources to navigate the challenges and opportunities of courageous Christ-centered leaders
[00:00:20] Tim: Well, Sara who's impacted your life and leadership the most?
[00:00:28] Sara: Well, that's a big question to get us started, Tim. Hold on to it. As I've said in previous episodes. You can find show notes for this firstname.lastname@example.org forward slash 2, 3, 3 on the show notes page. You'll find ways to share the podcast as well as information we explore on the.
[00:00:48] Tim: today is the final episode in the series of hope and the means of grace. And they remind you that we've had a twofold purpose in this series. Number one is to encourage you as Christ centered leaders, to tend to your faith formation and number two, to revisit the means of grace as a source of.
[00:01:09] Sara: each of these episodes, we've explored one big idea, as well as answered to question. First what's the leadership message. And where is hope we've explored searching the scriptures, prayer, holy communion fasting. And today we're ending with Christian conferencing. So Tim let's return to your question about who has impacted your life and leadership.
[00:01:30] The most.
[00:01:33] Tim: I found for most of us it's it's. A teacher, a mentor or some kind of coach people we've been in relationship with over a period of time. People who care deeply about us, about our wellbeing, our growth, And really have had impact on us becoming who God created us.
[00:01:54] Sara: And you are getting closer to our topic for today.
[00:01:57] Tim: The individuals who matter to us the most who make a difference in our lives are people we are in relationship with. Now, when you, when you think that we'd be saying that but this is really we say it because it's true because throughout this series, we've talked a lot about our relationship with Jesus.
[00:02:17] And after all searching the scriptures, prayer fasting can be individualized. Holy communion by its very nature is not a solo event. And I say that because neither is our final means of grace, Christian conferencing or Christian fellowship at its very best.
[00:02:41] Sara: Yeah, and you're going to hear us use Christian and conferencing and fellowship interchangeably throughout this episode. The word fellowship. has been So watered down that we want to remind you what scripture and John Wesley pointed to. So using the language he used, Christian conferencing may be helpful, but there are also some challenges with that word as well.
[00:03:04] Tim: I like what you're saying, but it might be confusing because we think of conferencing as a meeting.
[00:03:11] Sara: Touché. So we're pointing to the limitations that we have within the English language and why we'll be using Christian conferencing and Christian fellowship to point to the same thing throughout this episode. And hopefully our illustrations will help draw out the true nuances of what we're getting.
[00:03:34] Tim: so Christian conferencing as a means of grace. It's interesting to me that the. That the community oh, by the way, there's another word. We've we've slaughtered.
[00:03:45] Sara: We might be, we might be coming up with words a whole, another series of podcast episodes, words that have lost their meaning.
[00:03:53] Tim: As we've prepared for this, we were talking about it. That community aspect of faith is highlighted in one particular way.
[00:04:04] Sara: Yes. So before we dig into the scripture and what Wesley had to say about Christian conferencing, let me remind you of a couple of things. One, we can't participate in Christian conferencing alone. Two God doesn't want us to do life alone. And three, when you experienced Christian fellowship, you realize you don't ever want to do it alone.
[00:04:32] Tim: Sara. I apologize because it throws us off a bit, but Christian conferencing alone.
[00:04:37] may get you committed some. Because you're talking to yourself,
[00:04:41] Sara: And what I'm thinking is he.
[00:04:47] Tim: So you, you were setting us on the right path and being very serious and I apologize. So you've just pointed out the way the scriptures open and Genesis Adam and Eve are created to be in relationship with one another. Why? Because it's not good to be alone. And more importantly, when Jesus stepped into public ministry, he didn't do it alone.
[00:05:12] And in fact, he.
[00:05:13] found 12 disciples to be with him on the journey now, because I'm in this humorous. I may say that he was an introvert because much of the time he wanted to go off by himself to pray.
[00:05:26] Sara: Yeah, there, there was a, there was a balance there. He had his people around him, but there were moments. I'm going away. I need to go pray maybe, because I've been spending some time there recently, but in acts two, as the spirit forms the church, what do we read?
[00:05:43] They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship to the breaking of the bread and prayers over and over and over again. We see that the Christian life is not a solo act.
[00:05:58] Tim: So what made I may offer a couple of more and in Matthew, the 18th chapter, I think it's the 20th verse. Where two or three are gathered in my name, I'm there among them. And then from John's perspective, 13th chapter, a new commandment I give to you that you love one another, just as I've loved you. You also are to love one another.
[00:06:26] Sara: So if all of that is not enough of a reason, John Wesley echo the scriptures, he also got a bit testy. I would say with the people who claimed he was dividing up congregations in the church of England. This is what he wrote when.
[00:06:42] He was confronted by the fact that he was inviting people into Christian conferencing. He said that? Which never existed cannot be destroyed. That's what I call I gotcha. Was Wesley went on to say something.
[00:07:02] Tim: either. He wrote this. This is again, his words. The real truth is just the reverse of this. We introduced Christian fellowship where it was utterly destroyed and the fruits of it have been peace, joy, love, and zeal for every good word and work. Wesley also talked over and over again about watching over one another in love.
[00:07:30] And if you want to read more about it, it comes from a plaintiff account as the people called Methodists.
[00:07:37] Sara: Okay, can I hit the pause button for a moment and say what we're not talking about?
[00:07:44] Tim: Sure.
[00:07:44] Sara: not talking about the time after worship on Sunday morning when there's coffee and donuts. We're not talking about getting together with people to pass time. Christian conferencing is focused on Christ work in and through us and the transformation that our relationship with Jesus and one another brings about.
[00:08:07] Tim: And Sara, you, as we are talking about Wesley and about Christian conferencing this is where I get excited. He uses a verb confirm. So it's about Christians coming together to confer with one another confer about faith to pray, to share their experiences of God, to seek advice and to offer. To confess their sins, ask for forgiveness, but they're, they're conferring with one another.
[00:08:40] So that they're learning from one another. They're sharing what, what they're learning there. They're listening to what others are learning. I've heard this in times past, not always liked it, but it's kind of like iron sharpening iron there with people who are helping them become who God created them to be.
[00:08:59] That's really what the Christian conference is all about.
[00:09:02] Sara: Yeah. And that was where Wesley had classes in bands coming into play, as people were being formed as disciples and their essential role. That was the means through which. Christian conferencing happened. So that's why when I said here's what we're not talking about. We have so watered down what Christian fellowship and Christian conferencing means.
[00:09:29] Hold on to what Tim just pointed to. And in terms of that verb confer and the breadth and depth of that,
[00:09:37] Tim: so Sara, just what you were talking about, the depth and breadth of Christian fellowship, remind us of the importance of being together. And that is both on Sundays for worship and at regular intervals of Christian conferencing. If you don't have one of those, you're not getting fully formed in. They're both go together.
[00:10:05] Sara: So in case it isn't clear, Christian conferencing is about recognizing yourself as one of God's beloved among a group of God's beloved so that you might love one another. If that makes sense, it's not about legislation, it's not about. Unless it's about you loving and being loved. And hear me that can take the form of correction, guidance, confession, all, all of the things that happen when we are together in relationship with people,
[00:10:40] Tim: so you just pointed to something that I want to underscore. You always have me thinking about something. So here it is. We live in this hyper individualized society. And Christian conferencing counters that by reminding us that we belong to God and that we matter to others in the Christian community, it also reminds us that we're responsible for the wellbeing of others in the community.
[00:11:07] And that can impact what we might call freedom. Oh, is another word that we've kinda messed up in our.
[00:11:17] Sara: Sometimes we have to act for the good of others in a way that denies what we might want for ourselves.
[00:11:26] Tim: And isn't that where the hope is. I mean, The church by its very nature is built on relationships. The Christian community by its very nature is a community because of relationships.
[00:11:41] Sara: The investment care and faithfulness that Christian conferencing reminds us of is hope for our local communities and for our world. It counters that hyperindividualism, that Tim was referring to and reminds us that we belong to one another and we belong to Jesus. Tim, as we bring this episode to a close, maybe you can speak to the leadership element of Christian conferencing.
[00:12:06] We've pointed to it, but didn't name it directly.
[00:12:09] Tim: Well, thanks for that softball. Sara I think there are two things that come to mind and one of them is and I I'm going to speak personally for me for the first one. And that is Part of Christian conferencing for me. I mean, we've talked about being in relationship with one another.
[00:12:30] The part of it for me is, is that God sends people to me or puts people in my life so I can become more who I'm supposed to be. So I'm developing relationships with people that I might not necessarily pick out for myself. And, and, and the reason for that is. Somebody may think differently than I, and, and the cause of that, I might begin to see a different way of, of looking at the world or looking at people because that's personal personally affects me and I'm a leader.
[00:13:04] Then I think that then sets in practice, how I then, and helping other people find their way into becoming who God created them. So when Christian conferencing you and I may sit down together and you may ask how it is with my soul. And I may say to you, you know, my soul was said, because I met so-and-so. that's part of what comes to mind for me. Another part that comes to mind is just recently I was in conversation with the church, that's getting a new pastor. And so it means that there was a pastor who was leaving and the pastor who was leaving was one that they loved very much. And they were willing to receive the new pastor.
[00:13:51] They, everything was working out well. But I stopped and said to them, I want to thank you for helping shape the pastor you're leaving, because what you've done for her, she is going to take that to the next place. And the next place is going to benefit from your goodness in, in her life. I don't know that, that we actually understand how we take, how we're shaped from one place to another.
[00:14:20] To group, to another group, to the people around us, but that's really what Christian conferencing is all about to being shaped. And then living that life in such a way that other people are being shaped and eventually, and I do believe this, although it looks like we're losing the battle. Sometimes I think the world would be transformed because we are.
[00:14:45] Loving caring and shaping one another and who God created us.
[00:14:51] Sara: Yeah, you're, you're pointing back to 10. The fruit that Wesley talked about when we participate in Christian conferencing, it's the same fruit, the fruit of the spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. And so the, the need that we have for one another and how we do help to form and shape one another, we see that in the fruit and sometimes.
[00:15:20] I'm going to be selling out. Sometimes that fruit goes to another basket and, and gets carried on and then it has another opportunity to multiply and grow. And isn't that the beauty of the connection that we are a part of as United Methodist, isn't that the beauty of this thing that we call church and community, that we have the opportunity to do life together and, and to participate in.
[00:15:48] And helping to form and shape others at the very same time that we are being formed and shaped.
[00:15:56] Tim: that's what it's all about. That's what the means of grace. That's how it brings us hope is that is our encounter with one another. And I would say. Our encounter of God's love in and through one another. And, and, and then looking as we've talked about before, where have you seen Jesus lately? And you know, I know we can, and I apologize for being offensive.
[00:16:20] I know we can find God in the butterflies and in the warm weather and in the spring. But I think God shows up. Impactfully and the people around us and how we cut ourselves off from God most likely is because we cut people out of our lives.
[00:16:40] Sara: So as we conclude this series on the means of grace searching the scriptures, prayer, holy communion, fasting and Christian conferencing are vital to who we are as United Methodists. Each one of these means of grace as a reminder of the hope and love of Jesus Christ. We're also reminded that each of the means of grace is about nurturing, tending, and developing a relationship with Christ and with one another.
[00:17:05] May you be surrounded in the days and weeks to come by. People who love you for who you are and love you so much that they won't let you stay the way that you are. May the blessings of God be with you today. And always, as a reminder on the show notes page, you'll find a list of the episodes in this series, along with what we've mentioned in this episode.
[00:17:26] So head over to transforming mission.org forward slash 2, 3, 3. And if you haven't been there in a while, maybe head over to the blog and the podcast. And see what you've missed summer is covering coming. You're going to be traveling, walking, resting, and beaching. If I can create another verb, we'd love for you to take us along for the ride.
[00:17:47] Remember who you are, is how you lead bye for now.
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