Invitation and challenge at Collective

30 Nov 2023

By Emily Ferguson

Almost 220 people from churches of Christ in NSW & ACT gathered at The Tops from 8-10 November for Collective, our annual conference for pastors and leaders.

The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Be’, and participants experienced a different format from previous years.  With a spiritual retreat-like feel, the conference replaced keynote sessions with a series of curated experiences – an invitation to cultivate orientation towards ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’.

Naomi Giles, Ministry Team Leader at NationsHeart Christian Community in the ACT, reflected on her experience:

“I felt less rushed at Collective this year. There was more time and space to listen deeply to God and to others, and I found I had deeper conversations with people rather than rushed connection. I came back truly refreshed – like I’d been on a personal retreat; I usually come back exhausted.

Instead of more words to inspire or problem-solving seminars, we sought God together. I believe that was powerful and really important in a time where we are being re-made as leaders and churches.”

The conference began on Wednesday evening with BEHOLD: an opportunity to stop and be with God through various creative means. On Thursday and Friday mornings, participants broke into regional groups of 50-55 and rotated through three experiences centred around how to be: BELONG, BELOVED and BE GROUNDED.

A network celebration was held on Thursday night as Keith Farmer launched his new book, we honoured and prayed for the Conference Executive board and its Chair Emily Drough, and we heard from churches in the process of affiliating with churches of Christ in NSW & ACT.

The conference concluded with a final all-in session, BE STILL, as we grew in our capacity to be still before God. This time beautifully led into heartfelt praise and worship, personal reflections and powerful words God had laid on people’s hearts.

Lee Beamish, Youth Justice Chaplain, initially felt unsure about Collective but found himself deeply impacted.

“I had mixed feelings and apprehension about this year’s Collective, not knowing what to expect with the new format or who I would spend time with. But I wanted to be present, to engage and to receive. In the end, it was probably the best one I’ve attended in my eight years.

“In the session when Daz [Farrell] led us into 20 minutes of silence, I asked God for a word to use to reset when distractions come knocking, and I received ‘(Be)loved of God’.

This word I have continued to put into practice and speak out non-verbally, or as a gentle whisper, when unhealthy thoughts arise. It’s holding me and arming me to continue in the calling.”

Collective participants had space between main sessions to ‘be’ in various ways. These included walking a labyrinth, connecting over a meal or wine and cheese, worshipping in song, joining a live podcast recording, playing golf, hiking, going to a pool party, and hearing about a new opportunity for women in leadership.

Yoonah Choi, one of the leaders at Heartbeat Church in Concord, Sydney, said, “Hearing directly from God is a lost discipline. When we stop and give Him time and space to speak, He never disappoints. He knows exactly what our heart needs and gives specific, tailored-made encouragement. As leaders it was wonderful to stop the frenzied activity and look to God, and only Him, to refresh our hearts and to help us be a channel to encourage others.”

As we took the time to slow down and listen to God’s voice together, Collective became a space where ministers received affirmation of who they were – not what they did. Whether it was through laughter at the end of a bushwalk, the sharing of blessings in small groups, the bubbling of conversation over dinner, or the roar of worship on our last morning together – Collective was where our hearts learned again that, in Christ, all we need to do is to be.

Read more stories from churches of Christ in NSW & ACT HERE