“Take a deep breath.” A simple request at a doctor’s visit to check our health. 

Many in ministry have not felt they have had the luxury or ability to breathe, to live, let alone flourish. These past few years have been overwhelming and exhausting in life and ministry. We have been caught up in a series of, as Ed Stetzer describes them, “cultural convulsions.”  

These times have been more than convulsions. They have been more akin to being in the corner on the ropes of a boxing bout and being relentlessly punched by your opponent. We went from Covid (punch) to mask mandates (punch), to racial injustice (punch), to vaccines, to pre-election, post-election, insurrections, impeachments (punch, punch, punch) and more. They occurred one after another with no time to come up for air, no time to breathe, no time to flourish.  

The debates that raged in our culture also infiltrated our ministries. Where once you felt you could stand together against cultural tirades, the “convulsions” fractured Jesus’ Church. It was no longer “us vs. them” but “us vs. us,” and on any given day every decision you made in ministry was being challenged. 

“Flourish,” a conference of the National Association of Evangelicals, was the first large scale event I have attended over the past two years. I needed to hear some outside perspective. I quickly discovered that Flourish was not just another conference, but a long overdue conversation that gave you permission to breathe again. 

We have been living in two years of non-stop monologues and 140-character tweets passed off as dialogues. By stark contrast, Flourish was a place to engage in meaningful conversations and be able to do so in a safe, constructive and God honoring way. The NAE’s vision to connect us with each other, to always take on tough topics in a thoughtful way and be a transformative influence for God’s goodness in our culture was prevalent all through the Flourish conversation. 

Thoughtful, articulate, session leaders took us through topics of today. Starting with an analysis of where we are in our culture by Rebecca McLaughlin and Ed Stetzer, the sessions built from there. Sessions ranged from, “Capturing Gen Z for the Gospel” by Nick Hall, to “The Gospel and Racial Justice” by Derwin Gray, to “What’s Next after Roe v. Wade?” led by Kelly Rosati.  

Day 2 began with tending to the bruised souls of those who minister. Led by Jimmy Mellado and Curt Thompson, we journeyed into a deep dive into Psalm 23, and the power and healing of the simple verse, “The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want” for our souls, and the need for everyone to be “seen, soothed, safe and secure in their life.” This has now become a daily reflection for me, and has helped in the transformation of my soul, which had been left parched and gasping prior to Flourish. This session provided a bridge before diving into the tough topic of gender identity and its impact on real people and seeing people as God sees them. 

The main session conversations continued around tables and meals together. Small, confidential table groups after each session provided a safe place to be honest, to talk, to disagree, to learn, to pray, and be in a true dialogue with each other, so we could learn, grow and find life together. 

Flourish provided a way forward out of the “floundering” of many these past two years. Surveys will tell you about four out of 10 pastors have looked to quit over these past years. Many like myself had ceased to live and thrive in the call of God.  

Zephaniah the prophet wrote this to encourage God’s people, then and now. 

The LORD your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you, 
but will rejoice over you with singing
(Zephaniah 3:17). 

God promises to sing a song of joy, love and life over his people. 

Flourish was an opportunity to take a collective deep breath and live in the thriving kingdom of God. Once again to say together, “God is here. Let’s move forward together for the kingdom.” A kingdom not restrained by culture, but a bringer of life to culture. My hope and prayer is that in the years to come, the NAE will continue to provide timely, restorative teaching and fellowship for evangelical leaders across the country as they seek to respond with wisdom and biblical clarity to whatever challenges they may face. 

Take a deep breath. It is time to flourish again.  

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