I have just spent the last two days in Woodstock, Georgia with over two thousand missionaries, pastors, denominational servants and church planters. This is the North American Mission Board's Send>>North America Conference.
It's a new day at NAMB and for the Southern Baptist Convention. I know this to be true because that phrase was stated from the stage over and over again. The thing is. . .it really is a new day and it's looking bright.
This conference feels less like a typical SBC event where programming and church-focused iniatives are promoted. Rather, this gathering is more vocally and practically focused on that which many of us as members of the SBC have been saying must be paramount - the Kingdom.
It's refreshing and deeply challenging.
As I listened to God speak through many people this weekend (some on the stage, others at the meal table with me and some riding in the van with me) here's what we know to be true:
- Churches that are inwardly focused are or soon will be dead.
- Some churches need to die.
- Churches that believe the answer to life's problems is anything but Jesus are or soon will be dead.
- People do not start churches. Jesus already started THE church. Called out people plant churches. However, the truth is that Jesus does the planting as well. Those we call church planters just follow in obedience in this great story of multiplication and Gospel outreach.
- We like the idea of evangelism a lot more than we like the work of evangelism.
- Evanglism and discipleship are partners. We cannot have one without the other.
- Change is necessary.
- Here's a quote I love that was shared this week. "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less." - General Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff, US Army
- The focus of the church is the Gospel.
- Cultural relevancy is vital.
- Cultural relevancy does not mean moral or Scriptural compromise.
- Skinny jeans do not work for all men (in fact, they don't work for many.)
- Goatees and diptick beards are essential to plant churches in certain urban settings apparently.
- Any size church can and should be involved in church planting.
- Do the hard things.
These weekends are vital for guys like me. As a pastor, it's essential that I remain laser focused on what my role is as a shepherd/lead servant. I must remain focused upon the Gospel which compels us to love God and others. Otherwise, I get distracted.
I hear for two days straight what really matters. I agree and know it to be true.
Then, I check my email and Facebook and see the latest things happening in my community and beyond and I am saddened and shocked. I'm not shocked that those who do not know Christ live like they do not. I'm not shocked with much of anything in the news relating to the status of the Middle East, the latest polling and news regarding current elections, the hijinks of celebrities or even the latest sports upsets. What does shock and sadden me is when Christ-followers use so much time and energy on endeavors that will not matter for eternity and in most cases for the current time either.
We are wasting time.
We are missing the opportunity.
It is almost too late. . .but not yet. There's still time. We can still pull this diving plane back up and fly even highter.
What will it take?
Here are some things, in no particular order, and not a complete list.
Repentance. We're going to have to repent as Christians for pretending that we're doing the full job of the Gospel and Great Commission. We're going to have to repent for putting other idols up equal to or above Christ (and this means anything from tangible items like cars, money, homes to ideals like patriotism, political parties, pride and personal rights.) Our God is a jealous God and when anything is placed as equal or above him in our lives. . .well, it's sin.
Kingdom Shift. We are going to have to break out of the Church-Focused Framework we have all been taught and even our culture has accepted, to a Kingdom-Focused Framework that the Gospel of Christ espouses as our only model. Read more here.
Prayer. It's simply key to this. Apart from God, our efforts are fruitless.
Strategic Engagement. As Christ-followers and churches we must do more than vicarious missions by dropping some change in a plate. We must connect. We must relate. We must break out of the bubble we are in to embrace the cities and the people in our nation and beyond.
This is hard.
It's time to do the hard things.
I don't want to be irrelevant (and I don't have to be.)