Tractor-Fixers - New Ground Leadership Conference 2023

This year’s New Ground leadership conference carried the strapline: “The Holy Spirit. Received. Lived out. Passed on.” For the 28 members of Everyday Church that attended, the three-day event was marked by personal encounters with the power and love of God through the Holy Spirit, expressed in tongues, prophetic words and a miraculous healing. Schedules changed and running orders shifted to make room for the Spirit to move freely among us; the theme of the conference was practiced in real time.

The ministry times were preceded by teaching on the Holy Spirit by leaders from New Ground churches. Early on the second day of the conference, Lex Loizides from Jubilee Community Church in Cape Town challenged the idea that we can become “experts” at encountering the Holy Spirit. We must remain like children who are totally dependent on God in the moments when he shows up in our gatherings, Lex urged.

The child-like hearts that God is eager to pour his Spirit into are described in Mark 10:15, when Jesus orders his disciples to: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” The verse was shared by Charlie McDonald from East End Church in Bethnal Green in her seminar on children’s ministry, where she used Jesus’ words to bring a gentle challenge: are we hindering the children in our churches by not making space for them to encounter the Holy Spirit in our gatherings?

This challenge was a recurring theme at the conference; at least seven speakers emphasised the importance of teaching young people to cultivate the presence of the Holy Spirit. On the final day, Katherine Brown from New Community Church in East London tackled the view that the charismatic gifts can put the next generation off the Church. She argued that the opposite is true: young adults leave the Church because they haven’t experienced enough of the Holy Spirit.

Katherine urged churches not to allow “operation thinking” to get in the way of young people  encountering the Spirit in our gatherings by excessively siloing off kids and youth work from our main gatherings. Raising the next generation must be something that every church member participates in, not only the childrens’ workers, she added.

Hannah Silley, also from New Community Church, brought a similar message, noting that our children will learn more about dependence on the Holy Spirit by seeing it practised in the everyday lives of their church family than what is preached from the pulpit. Hannah reminded us that we are not imparting methods or traditions to our children but whole-hearted devotion to a person, Jesus Christ. She called on parents, biological and spiritual, to take hold of God’s promise in Isaiah 44:3 that he will “pour out my Spirit on your offspring”.

The day after the conference my dad posted a photo in our family WhatsApp group of my nephew’s toy tractor parked beside a real one. Dad explained that while he’d been fixing an old tractor in the barn that afternoon, the four-year-old had pedalled into the barn, propped up his ride-on tractor and started trying to ‘fix’ it to copy what his grandad was doing underneath the real tractor.

I’m praying for a generation of young ‘tractor-fixers’ in our churches who will pursue genuine dependency on the Holy Spirit after witnessing this in the lives of their parents and church families.

Sam Fry