I’m sitting at the Madison airport on Sunday afternoon waiting for Flight # 4390, American Eagle to Chicago, O’Hare. The kids dropped me off. Under Josh’s capable direction, they’re going to paint the town red (go to the mall) before heading home this evening. From Chicago, I head to Charlotte, North Carolina where until Wednesday this week, I’ll be meeting with about 35 other pastors from around the country.
It’s a group called Team 500, for pastors in the Evangelical Free Church whose churches are between 500 and 1,000 in attendance. We’ve found that we share common troubles and joys, and it’s nice to get together and encourage one another once a year.
We’re led by Bill Hamel, our denomination’s president, and 2 or 3 other pastors from larger churches in the Free Church, guys who have been where we’ve been. One of those men leading the discussion this week will be Chris Dolson, pastor of Blackhawk church in Madison.
It was probably 7 or 8 years ago that I heard Chris speak at the EFCA National conference. His message was terrific, and I thought it would be great to pick his brain about preaching. At a district conference later that year, I mentioned to one of our leaders that I was blessed by Chris’ message, and this leader pointed to him across the room. I introduced myself and we got together some weeks later. He’s been a friend ever since. Interestingly, Chris received the Lilly Grant a year or so after I did, and he too went on a terrific sabbatical, not in Scotland and Europe, but lazily driving up the West coast and cruising around Alaska.
Back to Team 500: The format for our week together is interesting. We’ll first meet after lunch together on Monday and sit in a large circle with a number of white posters around the room. On these posters we write various topics we would like to discuss. (I have one or two I will write down.) After this, all of us wander around the room and place a mark next to topics others have suggested that we ourselves would like to bat around. The topics with the most votes get discussed. The discussions are always fascinating, even if yours doesn’t get picked.
Some of the topics we have discussed through the years include staff management, multi-site ministry, hiring and firing, executive pastors (most of us are approaching the size that such a hire is being considered), preaching, prayer, what we’re reading lately, and on and on. Occasionally we do “dumb tax”, which is where we share something dumb we have done lately to help everyone else not repeat the error. That’s fun. Team 500 is more work than the average conference where you simply go and worship and hear great preaching or teaching on relevant topics – I think these types of conferences are very important too – but at Team 500 you end up building in to others as well as being built into. All in all, it’s a very enjoyable week.
I’m staying with a guy named Steve from Indiana. I often share a room with another guy to cut expenses. This year I rolled the dice and sent a note offering to share a room to our mass email list, wondering if anyone would take me up on it. Steve answered, although after he agreed, he warned me that he snored…suffice it to say that I’ve brought ear plugs along.
So if you’re thinking about me, pray for the next three days in Charlotte, for good discussions, enjoyable conversations, safe and non-bumpy flights, and…maybe even a night or two of good sleep.