As I write this article I am preparing to give what will most likely be my last Mid Year Conference Talk. It is a sad moment for me.
This has been a week of retirements. On Thursday my brother Peter officially retired as the Archbishop of Sydney. With him the Chancellor of the Diocese Acting Judge Peter Johns has also retired. There comes in life a time for the changing of the guard, of letting go of our responsibilities that others may take up their opportunities to serve, bringing fresh energy and fresh ideas to the tasks.
This is more than people retiring because they are getting too old to do the job. This is the intentional outcome of the training up of the next generation to take over. Christianity will be here till the Lord Jesus returns and so every generation must raise up the next generation to take responsibility and leadership. The church without a youth group will have no family ministry in the next generation and no old people in the one after that. It is critically important to always invest in the next generation (Psalm 78:5-7).
Mid Year Conference (MYC) has been such a large part of my life that it is a little hard to grasp that it has come to an end for me. However, the purpose of student work is to prepare the next generation to take over and for their sake I must leave the crease gracefully.
MYC started in my second year as chaplain at UNSW in 1976. Just over 20 students spent the week in the Speakers Lodge at Katoomba. It was a great week of Bible study and prayer, which bore astonishing results not just in the ministry on the university campus that year but also in the lifetime of those who were present. All but two have continued faithfully serving Christ in business, family and church. Many entered full time ministry, some went onto the mission field in Africa and South America, others are in pastoral ministry around Sydney and student work in Australia, and one even became a bishop.
Following the success of that first year we continued to hold an annual Mid Year Conference. The numbers steadily grew and other campuses started to follow the same model. We moved from campsite to campsite till we came to the largest one available and then filled it to overflowing. The logistics became ever more complicated, but the staff teams running them became ever more adroit at meeting the challenges. The emphasis never varied – it has always been a serious time of being confronted with the claims of Christ in our lives by prayerfully studying the Bible. Many have been converted at MYC and many more have come to understand and accept the claims of Christ’s Lordship over their lives.
The programme has remained remarkably stable over the years. It involves taking a topic and spending the time studying the scriptures in small groups and seminar gatherings as well as private times of reflection. The afternoon provided lots of time for sport and recreation as well as pondering what was discovered in the scriptures that morning. Then in the evening I was given the privilege of speaking and answering questions for some hours. The daytime study prepared people for the intensity of the evening sessions. I have never seen a better platform from which to preach Christ. An attentive inquiring audience keen to hear from God’s word, to engage with its message, and to change not only their thinking but their whole way of life.
Starting from that small first conference, thousands of students have now been to MYC. In 1993 some smaller campus groups around Sydney joined together to create a combined MYC for those campuses not large enough to hold their own. This was held the week before UNSW MYC and I spoke at both of them – spending a fortnight at the campsite. On leaving UNSW and becoming Dean, I retired from the UNSW MYC but continued speaking at the combined university MYC. And it is from there that I am writing this article.
However, this is the last combined MYC. Each of the ministries has grown enough to hold their own MYC. It is a sad moment for me – and yet a great moment – for the children have grown into the adulthood that I always wanted. They are taking responsibility to make their own conferences work. I am thrilled that we have reached such a stage of development.
Still, I have spoken at over 50 MYC’s over the last 37 years, spending more than a year of my life eating conference food and sleeping fitfully on campsite beds. I cannot calculate the hours of talks or questions and answers I have been privileged to be part of. I am now meeting the children of those who used to come and can recall how I knew their parents before their parents knew each other. Even more wonderful, sometimes I knew their parents before their parents knew the Lord.
I thank God for the great innings he has given me and the strength to enjoy it. Yet it is important to know when to call it a day. Not so much because I am getting too old, but because the next generation has arrived and need to take the responsibility to train up their next generation after them.
It happened at UNSW more than a decade ago. Their MYC next week is larger than any one I ever spoke at. They have great Bible teachers led by Carl Matthei, Paul Grimmond and Joshua Ng. I understand that the Annual Conference of Sydney University is similarly attracting huge numbers and is ably taught by Rowan Kemp. There are similar MYC’s run by other campus ministries around NSW and other states. It is a great time to be a Christian university student. Now even the smaller campus groups are ready to strike out on their own and I’m sure they will do brilliantly under the wonderful leadership of their staff workers.
As for me, I am a little sad but for the gospel of the Lord Jesus it's a great day. For out of those attending will come a generation of Bible believers and Bible teachers who in turn will teach the generation after them.