Over the weekend, nearly 40 elders from various parts of Scotland came together for the first-ever Elders Symposium. The event's objective was to establish a platform for pastors and elders to connect through shared learning, providing them with an opportunity to openly network and engage in discussions about leadership challenges. During the gathering, there was a prevalent atmosphere of warmth, relaxation, and supportiveness that made a substantial impact.
The symposium featured guest speakers Karen Holford, the TED Family Ministries Director, and Julian Kastrati, the NEC Ministerial Association Secretary. A diverse spectrum of vital subjects was delved into, encompassing pastoral care, the essential groundwork required for effective outreach, conflict resolution strategies and techniques, the significance of engaging in difficult conversations, the planning of intergenerational services, and the cultivation of compassionate and caring church communities.
Leaders were reminded that the foundation of pastoral care lies in the essence of love. When queried about the greatest commandment, Jesus responded with, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:27-41) It was noted that within Adventism there is a tendency at times to give precedence to the Law and the Prophets and to interpret love within that framework. However, this approach has often demonstrated limited effectiveness. It is essential to prioritise love consistently, making it the central focus. Leaders were gently reminded that the practice of shaming and judging, which unfortunately occurs more frequently within the church than we might be comfortable admitting, is detrimental to fostering a compassionate and nurturing church community.
One of the topics that appeared to resonate deeply with many was the topic of conflict and conflict resolution. Conflict, in and of itself, is not inherently negative; rather, it's a natural facet of life that we encounter in various settings—whether at home, in the church, or at work. However, the way we navigate and address conflicts can profoundly influence our experiences and relationships. When approached constructively, dealing with conflict can bring about growth, understanding, and ultimately, stronger and more harmonious connections among individuals and within communities. Regrettably, a substantial proportion of individuals who depart from the church do so due to conflicts and the way in which they were managed. This highlights the necessity for each leader to acquire proficiency in conflict resolution skills, ensuring that conflicts are addressed in the most effective manner possible.
Jose, from Edinburgh, especially valued the practical conflict resolution techniques shared, such as beginning challenging discussions with positive statements or expressing gratitude more openly as gratitude has the potential to reduce the likelihood of conflicts. Jennifer, also from Edinburgh, expressed her satisfaction, highlighting her appreciation for gaining a fresh perspective on conflict resolution. She found the focus on understanding individuals’ perspectives and backgrounds particularly valuable.
In the context of outreach, which is a pivotal aspect of the church's mission, a fundamental point that was highlighted revolved around the necessity of patience in the outreach process. Outreach is an ongoing process, not a one-time event. Attendees were encouraged to shift their churches' focus from a to-do list to a more empowering can-do list. The key consideration is to realistically assess the spiritual gifts and resources within the church that can be effectively leveraged for outreach efforts. It's vital not to force something that isn't naturally present, as doing so can often lead to undesirable outcomes. Elders were encouraged to explore their values through a questionnaire, revealing that compassion, spirituality, teamwork, health, and integrity were the top values among Scottish Mission elders. They were also encouraged to embrace uncomfortable conversations, recognizing that these often constitute the most important dialogues to engage in and serve as potent catalysts for both personal and collective growth.
Several elders emphasized the personal growth and fellowship experienced during the event, expressing hope for more gatherings of this nature. Grant, from Crieff, felt the content was mind-opening and wished he had encountered it earlier. He recognized the immense value in these insights, recognizing their potential not only for personal growth but also for enriching the church community.
The President of the Scottish Mission, Jimmy Botha, expressed his delight at the remarkable turnout, with nearly 90% of all the elders from the Scottish Mission in attendance. He underlined the necessity of such gatherings, where pastors and elders could come together to discuss ministry and church development, fostering a sense of togetherness. Pr Botha was equally pleased that all the elders who attended the weekend event had the chance to engage in meaningful discussions about the challenges encountered in their respective local churches. Great value was found in sharing experiences with fellow leaders who also grapple with and work towards resolving wide-spread issues. Pr Botha stressed the significance of the church progressing in a positive direction and extended recognition to the elders for their pivotal role in shaping this trajectory.
For more information on conflict resolution resources, you can visit the following websites:
Scottish Conflict Resolution - https://www.scottishconflictresolution.org.uk/
Scottish Mediation - https://www.scottishmediation.org.uk/
Axis - https://axis.org/