ALWAYS FORWARD REFLECTION
BY JAY TRAYLOR
It was the final evening of the conference. We had all just come to the Lord’s Table together. We had communed with Christ and feasted with our brothers and sisters. And then we prayed over one another and were prayed over in turn. Brothers and sisters of all ages and stages, praying for one another with fervor and specificity. Worshipping God and trusting in him, asking for guidance and strength for each of our paths. That’s what I’ll remember the most.
I went to the Always Forward conference not really knowing what to expect. I was excited to see some old friends. I was also excited to hear more about church planting, given that planting is such a central and vital part of our identity. And I was praying that this would be a time where I would start to discern whether or not I was called to planting myself. I’m about to graduate seminary and am seeking God’s will on whether or not planting is in my future; I figured this conference was a great way to learn more.
What I found was a group of men and women of divergent backgrounds at different stages of life, who nonetheless coalesced around the important work of planting. The degree to which everyone mixed together was heartening. At any conference in any vocation, it’s so common to see little knots of people who already know one another, huddling together like kids at a high school dance, turned inward so they won’t have to engage with new people. Here, though, I saw at every meal period and between every session, people having real conversations with strangers and making new friends at every opportunity. We feasted together, we prayed together, we worshipped together, we confessed together, we were assured of forgiveness together, and we learned together.
The structure of the “tracks” was quite welcome. Rather than having breakout sessions that would need to cover the whole waterfront and speak simultaneously to the veteran planter, the current planter, and the potential planter, the leaders wisely segmented the groups so that their specific situation could be better addressed. In my case, the potential planters got to hear from a nice variety of people, from Winfield Bevins mixing anecdote, theology, and theory, to Tom Herrick talking about the nuts and bolts of planter assessment.
The humility and grace with which Archbishop Foley and Bishop Steve spoke to us.
The wry twinkle in Aaron’s eyes as he preached.
The warmth and hospitality that Billy and the people at Wellspring showed all of us.
Meeting people who were in my same track and stage of discernment, talking about what might be coming next.
Meeting people at very different stages, talking about planting in ad hoc conversations over a meal.
Praying together, praying with one another. Praying FOR one another. As I said above, the singular moment of the conference for me was at the end of the worship service where we each stood up with the other members of our “track” and all laid hands on one another and prayed for God’s guidance and blessing and strength, for holiness and a Christlike posture in whatever our stage, for the Holy Spirit to turn us towards Christ and bind us to one another… that moment encapsulated the conference for me in a very tangible and worshipful way. It was, in that sense, the sum total of everything we heard and saw.