Over 100 pastors and ministry leaders from Acts 29’s Mid-Atlantic region gathered in Baltimore, Maryland, on August 4–5 for The Upward Call conference. After a few years of chaotic culture, it’s clear many planters and church leaders face overwhelming fatigue and burnout. This conference, hosted by Redemption City Church with support from New Heights Church, focused on fellowship, encouragement, and discussing best practices in pressing forward.

The gathering was centered on Philippians 3. In one of the apostle Paul’s most joyous writings, he reminds the church at Philippi to rejoice and “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). Through hardship and suffering, we’re called to endure. This is encouragement all Christians need at times, no matter your ministry title or responsibilities.

Drenched in Love

On Thursday evening, just as attendees started to arrive, a massive downpour ensued. Those of us already inside the building watched as cars came to a stop and water rushed through the streets. The start time was pushed back to allow people the opportunity to make it in. Everyone arrived safely, but no one arrived dry. It is always a joy to gather with this network of brothers and sisters. I’m so encouraged by the faithfulness and growth in our region, and I'm excited to see what the future holds for these gospel-centered churches. - Will Basham Click To Tweet

This unforeseen circumstance could’ve caused chaos and bad attitudes, but that was not the feeling that filled the room. Everyone was at ease—just genuinely excited to be together. As we gathered to worship, these lyrics provided a bit of irony but were a poignant reminder of our reason for joy:

Oh, precious is the flow

That makes me white as snow

No other fount I know

I am washed, I am washed

I am drenched in love

Spending time with brothers and sisters who share similar experiences, whether in ministry or life, encourages our own endurance. No matter the things that come our way, together, we find rest in Christ and his never-ending fount of blessing.

Onward Toward the Goal

On Thursday evening, Chris Priestley from Crossroads Church in Morgantown, West Virginia, preached with an exhortation to remain faithful to the truth of God’s Word. It’s easy to be caught up in disappointments and failure, especially after a difficult few years of ministry. But the task at hand remains the same: preach the true gospel of Jesus, and make disciples in his name. As Paul reminds us in Philippians 3:7, “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Our gains, losses, and everything in between pales in comparison to the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:8).

Adam Muhtaseb from Redemption City Church in Baltimore continued this idea on Friday morning. He discussed the tension between arriving at a goal or milestone while keeping a posture of striving toward the greater goal set before those who follow Jesus. With a particular focus on church planting and pastoring, Adam reminded us that pastors aren’t most useful because they’re a good chief of staff, but by admitting they’re a chief of sinners.

Equipping Women in Our Churches

Before breaking for lunch on Friday, everyone gathered for a panel discussion focused on equipping women in the church. The discussion featured four women from different churches in the Mid-Atlantic region who serve in various capacities.

The panel began with an honest discussion on the errors churches are prone to fall into when it comes to equipping women. There are often clear paths of equipping for men in local churches (which is wonderful!), but a hyper-focus on developing male leaders may leave women behind. Also discussed were best practices in approaching women’s discipleship, wrestling with anxious thoughts, and the unfair expectations placed on pastors’ wives.

Learning from one another is essential to the flourishing of our churches. This time was encouraging for both men and women and offered practical advice in handling these discussions in the context of the local church.

Stand Firm 

On Friday afternoon, Derrick Parks from Epiphany Church in Wilmington, Delaware, closed the conference with the simple but profound truth that Christ is our highest gain. We can look upward in the midst of chaos because our citizenship is in heaven. He left pastors and leaders with a sobering reminder to “be careful not to love your strength so much that you lose it.” Learning from one another is essential to the flourishing of our churches. Click To Tweet

Will Basham, regional director for the Mid-Atlantic region, said this about the time spent together: “It is always a joy to gather with this network of brothers and sisters. I’m so encouraged by the faithfulness and growth in our region, and I’m excited to see what the future holds for these gospel-centered churches.”

There’s a different type of encouragement that happens at these smaller conferences. It isn’t your typical “do this, not that” advice; it’s hard-earned wisdom passed from friend to friend. There were no experts or amateurs, just brothers and sisters. Nursing mothers brought their babies and rocked them to sleep as attendees sang. New friends gathered for lunch in busy restaurants and coffee shops.

As we parted ways on Friday evening, I sensed a collective sigh of relief. Pastors and leaders were refreshed and ready for the task of ministry that lay before them—pressing onward toward the upward call.

Olivia Meade
Written by: Olivia Meade on September 12, 2022

Olivia Meade works as a content editor for Acts 29. She’s a member of New Heights Church in West Virginia, where she leads women’s ministry and discipleship. She’s the author of Ordinary Faithfulness and contributing editor for Church Out Here. Olivia is married to Matt and they have two daughters.