UK Sonship Conference: It's Hard to Hide Your Heart When Others Expose Theirs

By Esther Bennett on July 30, 2015

Editors note: This past April Serge partnered with several ministry leaders in the UK to hold the first-ever British-led UK Sonship Week. One of the conference organizers testifies to the life-giving work of God’s spirit in the following reflection.


The First-Ever, British-Led Sonship Conference


The dates: April 19-24, 2015. The place: King’s Park Conference Centre in Northampton, an hour-and-a-half drive north of London. And what is happening? The first British-led UK Sonship Week! This description may be a little over generous to the British! However there certainly was a strong British contribution to both leading and organising this conference.


And so 26 participants and 18 “staff” gathered for a five-day residential Sonship Week. 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. Others were closely connected (mothers, friends…) to members of the organising team. Some were known to no one, and had come as a result of seeing an advertisement in Evangelicals Now, reading a testimony, or hearing a talk. But what had become very clear to the Sonship Team was that those attending were hand picked. We believe the Spirit picked them. For many the decision to come involved struggle. Exposing one’s life to the implications of the gospel had been a fraught and risky passage.


A Big Risk


Why such a risk? Because this conference ran sharply counter to the safe British Christian conference experience. Five risky residential days. Too long for holding one’s breath and surviving. Too long to remain holed-up in safe isolation. Too long. And furthermore, a conference for applying the gospel of the Father’s liberating love to your heart and life? This might require heart searching, 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, this latter unheard of in a British Christian conference before! This was not for the faint-hearted. Yet strangely many faint-hearted were there.


There in the middle of this anxiety, British reserve, cagey-ness, we saw evidence that the Spirit was at work. From the main speakers, Cassells and Hazel Morrell, from Greystones in Ireland, came deeply appealing honesty and reality as they charted the story of how their dysfunctional lives and marriage, that for years had been covered with a veneer of respectability, encountered God’s love for them as their Father. 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. Hazel and Cassells were at pains to point out that this was not the work of a moment but ongoing, gradual, over a number of years, and still a constant work in progress.


It Is Hard to Keep Your Heart Hidden When Others are Willing to Expose Theirs


Though all delivered in their reassuring gentle Irish lilt, the Morrells’ openness was hugely challenging. It is hard to keep your heart hidden when others are willing to expose theirs. This was tough. Our hearts shun pain. But through conversations with others in small groups and outside of meetings, and especially as people felt free to discuss the implications of the talks for their own lives in their one-to-one mentoring sessions, with ‘mentors’ who turned out (despite considerable apprehension on this score) to be believers in as much need of the gospel as them, 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


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 Heppe 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 acknowledgement 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.


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. Stu and Ruth Batstone, who came over from the States, gave us daily mentor-training, their joyful calming presence, 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 capture the work God was about:


‘I am writing … to express my profound gratitude for … the Sonship Week. We are still taking in everything we learnt. 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 new found 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 British Christians start to enjoy the gospel more!


Are you interesting in holding a Sonship conference for your local community? Contact us and let’s talk!


The first British-led Sonship week was made possible by generous financial partners. Make an investment help more Sonship weeks take place in the U.K.


Esther Bennett

About Esther Bennett

Esther Bennett lives in London with her husband Chris who is a minister of a church in north London. Her contact with Serge goes back a long way. She met Jack Miller in the mid 90s; his visit to London had a major influence on her husband's life and ministry. She, however, in her own words 'threw out the law, and did not find grace!' But when 5 years ago a young women's worker in their church joined Serge's Missionary Apprenticeship Program, Esther too came in contact with a life-transforming understanding of grace, and became deeply enthusiastic that other British christians should share her new-found joy. Esther has been the main organizer of the UK Sonship Week.