What makes the Emerging Leaders Conference work?

By Adam Bonus


The word “conference” is not one of those words that inspires excitement and anticipation. An invitation to a conference often produces fears of sterile rooms, forced discussion groups, and slowly ticking clocks. The Emerging Leaders Conference is an obvious exception. For me, this week away was like a spiritual oasis.  It provided refreshment, encouragement, and motivation that I deeply needed. So, the question I want to ask is this: “What makes the Emerging Leaders Conference work?” Why is it so incredibly effective?


Toward the end of our week Dr. Jim O’Neill opened the hood of the car, so to speak, to show us the inner-workings of the engine.  As he described it, there are four key elements that make the Emerging Leaders Conference work so well.  I’d like to explain those four elements and then add two of my own.


The first element is Spiritual Formation.  Intentional time and energy is devoted to ensuring each person has the opportunity to spend meaningful times in prayer, wrestling with how God has been working in his or her life.  Some of my greatest memories from this trip were the prayer walks I took, drawing close to the Lord and casting aside the trash that had collected in the dark recesses of my heart.


The second element that makes the conference work is Worship.  This was my second time in attendance, and in both cases Josh Davis led our times of worship.  Josh is my favorite worship leader in all the world.  He is an incredibly gifted musician, deeply committed to musical variety, and passionate about praising the Lord.  His music is multilingual and multicultural and provides us the opportunity to experience in some small measure what it will be like to one day stand before the throne of God and worship with saints from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  His music is available online at Proskuneo Ministries.


The third element is the Word of God.  Every day begins with a time of examining the Scriptures.  These times were incredibly powerful, and months later I can still remember a significant portion of what was discussed those mornings.  Part of why these times were so meaningful is that these were “in house discussions” among people who are already deeply committed to serving the Lord.  This was not a pep-rally.  Nor was it a time for motivational speeches.  This was an attempt among faithful disciples to sit at the feet of our Lord.


The fourth element is a focus on Equipping.  A large portion of each day was spent learning from godly leaders who taught on a variety of subjects related to leadership in ministry.  These men and women were high-ranking leaders in their fields, with the experience to give weight to their words.  My favorite leadership quote of the week came from Bill Pollard, who observed, “The leader’s only decision is to lead or mislead.  There is no middle ground.”  My favorite leadership resource came from Tim Addington, whose book “Leading from the Sandbox” is invaluable in uniting a team around a common set of values and goals.


In addition to Dr. O’Neill’s four key elements, I would add two more.  The three laws of real estate apply here as well: location, location, location!  Our conference was located at a beautiful church with a large, sprawling campus nestled into the woods.  There were walking trails, green grass, and places to sit and meditate.  It was the opportunities for solitude in nature that provided some of the most meaningful times for me throughout the week.


Finally, I believe the best thing about this event is the people. There is a certain gravitas among men and women who have been tested and found faithful.  These are likeminded men and women who genuinely love the Lord and live accordingly.  But more importantly, these are also people who love me.  Jim O’Neill in particular is one of the most influential men in my life.  I’ve known him for more than 15 years and through that time he has demonstrated one simple message over and over: he believes in me.  That subtle message is what makes this conference so powerful.  Someone believes I will be among the next generation of leaders.  And if that’s what they think of me, I’d better go prove them right.