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ELF 2023: A return to gospel integrity to renew the biblical church in Europe

The European Leadership Forum conference in Wisla (Poland) underlined the importance of public evangelism. Over 750 prayed together and networked for mission.

AUTOR 7/Joel_Forster WISLA (POLAND) 29 DE MAYO DE 2023 14:56 h
Julia Garschagen speaks at an evening plenary of the 2023 ELF conference in Wisla, Poland. / Photo: [link]ELF[/link].

In times of secularisation and confusion, the church needs to recover its integrity and a desire to proclaim the gospel boldly. These were the main messages heard at the 2023 European Leadership Forum (ELF) conference, in Wisla (Poland) between 18 and 24 May.

“Gospel integrity is a major need for the church now”, theologian Michael Reeves (England) told the 750 participants in the first evening of the annual gathering. “The moral deficiencies and spiritual dryness that Christians bemoan have roots”, he said. “We are astonished when evangelical leaders fail”, but this only shows that often evangelical leaders “minimise sin and offer shallow repentance”.

In a message that set the tone for the rest of the week, Reeves warned against “prioritising outward performance over inward reality”. “Friends”, he continued, “our need is not only for moral integrity but for a gospel integrity. There is no spiritual health without acknowledgement that we need mercy”.

[photo_footer]  Over 750 people from Europe and byond attended the 2023 ELF conference in Wisla, Poland. / Photo: ELF. [/photo_footer] 

The issue of spiritual dryness had already been put on the table by Dave Patty (Czech Republic) in a pre-conference seminar in which he called Christian leaders to identify “hidden idols” that stop them from fully trusting God. Meanwhile, cultural analyst Andrew Fellows (England) addressed the failings in churches and organisations in his talk “Smuggling Jesus back into the church”.

The week in the beautiful town of Wisla (one of the few historically Protestant areas of Poland) was packed with content from morning until night. This year’s increased presence of young leaders, most coming from Central and Eastern Europe, helped give the annual conference a festive atmosphere.

Participants said they enjoyed the lively worship times and the chances to listen to and pray for Christians from countries such as Ukraine and Belarus.


Malachi for European Christians

Conrad Mbewe (Zambia) exposed the book of Malachi in the morning plenary sessions. Under the theme of “The God who is there”, the Baptist pastor gave a gentle but powerful wake-up call to Christians in Europe who might be “tempted to think that it does not pay to serve God”.

Mbewe called to recover a glorious vision of God and not give up on “pastoral and personal faithfulness”.

[photo_footer] Conrab Mbewe from Zambia preached about the Old Testament book of Malachi. / Photo: ELF.[/photo_footer] 

“The Christian church is not a club, it is the church of the Living God”, the Zambian pastor said. “He seeks honesty and integrity. Instead of becoming 21st century pharisees, let us go to Jesus, his blood will cover our sin and we will find in him the strength to teach the Word consistently”. He said personal suffering and tiredness should be brought to God, bearing in mind that “the gospel will not advance with a half-hearted commitment”.

Mbewe called to envision the reality of justice presented in the last chapter of Malachi: “When the day of the Lord comes, we will see that all the effort made sense”.


Recovering public proclamation

Evangelists were in charge of three of the evening plenaries. Julia Garschagen (Germany) analysed the values of the Gen Z and called to listen to the youngest in Europe with “humility and courage”. This was needed to respond to a “shift in the last 10 years” through which “the Good News of Jesus have become bad news”.

[photo_footer] Throughout the week, there were multiple times of prayer in small groups. / Photo: ELF. [/photo_footer] 

Churches need to reach out again to non-believers and sceptics to show why the gospel is “emotionally fulfilling, intellectually inspiring and morally good”, she added.

Also Luke Greenwood (Poland) called to “go after the lost” in Europe’s secularised youth culture, “provoking spiritual hunger” with intentional evangelism. “We’ve made things for our young people too comfortable in the churches and they’re bored, we need to take them out”, he said as he shared about encounters with non-believers in street contexts. Greenwood called for a “new missionary movement” that is “bold”.

Lindsay Brown (Wales), a mentor of young evangelists in university contexts, pointed to the example of the Early Church. A commitment to evangelism, a distinctive ethics, a strong community, and the readiness to suffer for the gospel were all features seen in the first three centuries after Pentecost, he said.


Networks, seminars, national dinners…

Training and discussion sessions of the 23 thematic networks (including Politics, Science, Media Communication, Church planting and Youth leaders) were held every morning, with the aim to connect leaders in similar areas of work. A very large number of seminars were on offer in the afternoons, touching on issues such as Artificial Intelligence, mental health, church revitalisation, and Biblical apologetics.

[photo_footer] A session of the Media Communicators Network, one of the multiple options to choose. / Photo:  J. Forster.[/photo_footer] 

In the national dinner night, on Tuesday, a space was offered for those coming from the same country to strategise about possible mission initiatives back home.

Artists also had their space in several parts of the programme. Among them, was piano concertist Reinis Zarins (Latvia), who played pieces of modern composers that addressed biblical themes.

[photo_footer] Reinis Zarins performing at ELF 2023. / Photo: ELF. [/photo_footer] 

Several evangelical mission organisations used the week in Wisla to gather workers for side meetings and communion. International speakers from Asia, Africa and Latin America were also invited to attend ELF.

On Sunday, the conference had a moment to remember Christian apologist Tim Keller.

‘Evangelical Focus’ in Poland

This news website, Evangelical Focus, was represented at the 2023 ELF Expo, alongside other 20 organisations.

Daniel Hofkamp and Joel Forster had the chance to interact with many who visited the stand, learn about stories in different countries and receive feedback from readers.

It was also a chance to conduct several interviews.





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