“You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart.” – 1 Peter 1:22
Full tank of gas — $40. Total US highway tolls paid going to Atlanta — $6.25. Two dozen Jim N’ Nick’s cheese biscuits — $10.46. Brothers forged in the Lord for each other and for God’s work — priceless. Cheesy introduction? Maybe. But that pretty much sums up our experience at the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta.
After 21 hours of driving from Toronto that started Sunday afternoon, being excited about the prospect of what this trip would mean, finding out at the border that Nico is also named ‘Paul’, through dark, foggy interstate highways, we made it to Atlanta around lunch time on Monday, October 3rd. During that trip, there was certainly enough time to banter, engage in serious conversations about the ministry, and really just get to know each other in a more intimate setting. We did just that and more as decisions and commitments were made for a deeper, richer, and more intentional connection as brothers-in-arms. Our one-and-a-half day of rest before the conference gave us a chance to connect with my family in Atlanta — my mother, my sister, her husband, and their adorable little girls who beamed with excitement at having us all share this time with them.
The day before, we managed to sneak in a few hours to visit the Georgia Aquarium for some more bonding time. It was a chance to see downtown Atlanta — a city much like Toronto — skycraper-lined skylines and rush-hour traffic that seemed to have extended through the day. That Tuesday was our first full day.
By Wednesday, it came time for the Catalyst Conference Labs. Each one of us picked a session that appealed to our yearning for personal, spiritual development as we sought to enhance our service in the Lord’s kingdom. And there were certainly enough sessions to choose from: tracks that centered on Influence, Engagement, Mission, Community, Culture, and others. Thursday marked the highlight of the conference with Andy Stanley leading the way with an inspirational address on Uncommon Fellowship. It’s much better seen and heard, as I wouldn’t be able to do a good job summarizing his appeal for unity within the Church — both the broader and the local. With our All Access pass to all these rallying talks with video downloads, we should be able to get a chance to hear these important messages again.
As Tyler Reagan, Executive Director of Catalyst, noted in his written address to the conference participants in our welcome kit, “To leaders who love the church, this week will not be easy, true change rarely is…what we promise this week will be Jesus-centered, Holy Spirit-driven, and challenging because whether they know it or not the culture is watching the Church in these days of division, fear, and injustice. It’s time to stand together. It’s time to look inward. It’s time to push boundaries, break old barriers, and leave behind what has kept us apart for so long. Welcome to the family meeting.” And a family meeting did take place with God at the head of the table. The Father has called His people again, and this time with a stronger, more compelling clamor for Church unity. I sense that your pastoral staff heeded that call, and they’re much better for it.
I look at these men that I journeyed with, and all of us as a group and realize what an uncommon fellowship we have — a fellowship forged in an uncommon time of GCF Peel’s church history. Uncommon circumstances brought us together here in Canada. We found ourselves in an uncommon, opportune time in an uncommon arrangement of doing ministry within a bi-vocational context. We remain excited to see the realization of God’s purpose for this uncommon blend of men, desperate to see the Lord’s work advance in our own personal lives and in the lives of our family and the community God calls us to.
We left Toronto with no absolute certainty what this will be all about. I’m not so sure that we still know after this conference, but there is one thing we know for sure — we are not the same men anymore. God has unraveled our biases, exposed our vulnerabilities, and raised our awareness to our limitations — all to make sure that we recognize our continuing dependency on Him, and to allow Him the room He needs for deeper change in a broader context. Thank God for this uncommon fellowship for a common goal.