I sat and looked around the room at the 26 participants and 18 Serge Renewal Team members who had gathered for the first-ever Sonship Week in the UK.
The group did not entirely fit the criteria of “people in ministry” for whom the conference was primarily planned, though at least half were in full-time vocational Christian work or married to someone in ministry.
Some were known to no one and had come as a result of seeing an advertisement, reading a testimony, or hearing a talk.
But what later became very clear to us was that those attending were handpicked.
We believe the Spirit picked them. For many, the decision to come wasn’t easy. After all, exposing one’s life to the implications of the gospel is a fraught and risky passage.
Taking a Big Risk
Why was this such a risk? Well, for one thing, this conference ran sharply counter to the “safe” British Christian conference experience.
Five risky days. Too long for holding one’s breath and surviving. Too long to remain holed-up in safe isolation.
And furthermore, a conference for applying the gospel of the Father’s liberating love to your heart and life? This might require some heart-searching and life reflecting—a daunting prospect.
Add to that, daily meeting in small groups and, to cap it, a one-hour one-to-one mentoring session every day (the latter unheard of in a British Christian conference!) This was not for the faint-hearted. Yet strangely, many faint-hearted were there.
In the middle of all of this anxiety, we saw evidence that the Spirit was at work.
From the main speakers, came deeply appealing honesty and reality as they charted the story of how their dysfunctional lives and marriage, which for years had been covered with a veneer of respectability, encountered God’s love for them as their Father. They shared about how they gradually became freer to acknowledge to God, and to each other, the mess their hearts were really in.
To be broken at the sight of their neediness and sin, and discover with joy a Savior whose love and rescue was greater still, the speakers were at pains to point out that this was not the work of a moment but ongoing, gradual, over a number of years. A constant work in progress.
It Is Hard to Keep Your Heart Hidden When Others are Willing to Expose Theirs
Small groups. Oof – this was tough. Our hearts shun pain.
But through conversations with others, especially as people felt free to discuss the implications of the talks for their own lives, new sights of the gospel started to appear.
Heaviness at sin.
Joy in being no longer orphans but much loved and delighted in sons and daughters.
Comfort in a suffering Savior whose mercy and forgiveness stretch deeper than our greatest shame.
Grace Propels us Into Mission
At Sonship Week, there was a palpable sense that every one of us – conference speakers, mentors, and participants alike – were listening throughout this week for God’s enlightening voice in our hearts.
In addition to the main speakers, John Benton gave a profound analysis of the nature of idolatry in our hearts, Chris Bennett spoke on the righteousness of Christ, Marcus Honeysett on sanctification by faith, and Bob closed the conference with a talk on how our getting hold of grace propels us to seek the expansion of God’s kingdom.
For me, as a member of the organizing team, this was no less an experience of my need for God’s grace than for any of the participants.
I realized afresh how much my heart needs to rest in my Father’s love, and how quickly I excuse as “weakness” the different ways I wander away from God and fail to bring my erring heart to my Saviour in sorrow over sin, sorrow for how I caused his suffering, and thereby miss out on the joy of knowing how much he loves me.
It was an alien but exhilarating experience also for me to work on a team where acknowledgment of gospel neediness is the currency, leading us to venture and adapt, slog and rest, certain that nothing can be achieved without the Spirit, and all the time waiting, watching, for Him.
And for the four British members on the team, this was new territory.
Though each of us had been through the Sonship course, and to varying degrees mentored others, we were freaked, excited, exhausted, and energized, all in a scary mixture, by the week.
But the Serge staff gave us daily mentor training, and their joyful calming presence was reassuring and wise.
Life from the Dead
It was an immense privilege to see the Spirit at work touching people’s lives in so many different ways. No one voice can sum it up for all.
But the words of one pastor and his wife after the conference does capture the work God was about:
‘I am writing to express my profound gratitude for Sonship Week. We are still taking in everything we learned. God used our time with you all to work some profound changes in our lives which have already begun to spread out to people in our church.
One example of how the Lord began to change me was a newfound ability to be honest and vulnerable with some people in our church. This has already led to honest conversations and opportunities to share about the implications of grace and the truths of adoption.
Interestingly, since we have begun to be more open, others have opened up in new ways too! It was a week that was to me like ‘life from the dead.’
May this, in God’s mercy, be the first of many testimonies like this as Christians start to enjoy the gospel more!
Join us October 22-27, 2023 for a week of transformative teaching, deep worship, honest small group discussions, and personal mentoring – all based on Serge’s classic Sonship curriculum.
We highly recommend this retreat for ministry leaders, lay leaders, or anyone who is looking to revitalize a stale or stagnant relationship with God.