Every once in a while I get to go to Christian conferences. For the last few days, I have been at the Mission Nexus Stand Conference for North American Mission Leaders that was held in Dallas Texas. (or so I am told since I was in an airport hotel the entire time). Most conferences are intended to be informational, challenging and motivational with a strong dose of inspiration sprinkled in. That was what I was expecting.
Instead, I got keynote messages on Failure and Suffering. That’s right, I said failure and suffering at the “Stand” conference. So if I heard correctly Francis Chan left his prominent ministry to affluent evangelicals to minister to the poor and downtrodden and it isn’t going so well. He told us all about the many ways they tried to reach people with the gospel and it still wasn’t working. People were more than willing to listen (at least in some cases), but they weren’t willing to repent and turn from “their wicked ways”. Instead of using that story to make a point about the few exceptions where lives were actually changing or to make the case for a return to a different kind of ministry, Francis said it was hard, messy and not working. Despite that, God was calling him not to leave, but to a new level of boldness in his faith – to return to a time when he did not care so much what the critics had to say.
Ironically, David Platt did not even show up. Something happened at his church and he could not come at the last minute. He sent a video instead and preached the message that he had intended to do live and in person. Many people are accusing him these days of leading a movement of the “new radicals” and calling everyone to levels of sacrifice and devotion that just don’t square with what the church has been teaching. In the face of this criticism, I half expected a toned down or at least moderate approach to his teaching. Instead, if anything, he amped it up. He talked about suffering as not just being allowed by God, but actually intended for His purposes. He even went so far as to correlate a person’s level of suffering to their nearness to God. The clear inference being that the more comfortable you are, the further from God you may be. He actually made Biblical reference to a new generation of martyrs than will likely be called upon in the ongoing completion of the great commission and God’s unfolding plan. Not exactly the motivation that I was expecting.
At every turn, it seemed as if unexpected things were taking place. There was a panel of men representing the majority world church – one from Latin America, one from Africa and one from Asia. Instead of the typical challenges to Western Imperialistic missionary mindsets that I was expecting, they spent a great deal of time reminding us of the need for North American missionaries and not to give in to the idea that God did not need us anymore. While they certainly cautioned against sending more pioneering types to places that really needed empowering servants, they strongly made the case for North American missionaries in God’s plans for the completion of the great commission.
Around the dinner tables I got to meet people from other mission agencies and learn the new mission vocabulary. Apparently mission mobilizers (people who recruit new missionaries) are now being called mission coaches in some cases. One agency is aggressively increasing their commitment to recruiting the next generation of missionaries and has hired 20 new mobilizers (whoops I mean coaches) to help with the task. They have recently opened new locations in Knoxville, TN and in Wheaton, IL that they are calling “The Missions Place” and have created them with the vision of an Apple Store for missions as the goal. What a crazy idea – so crazy, it might even work.
I had prayed for divine appointments and there were some. The best divine appointment I had, however, was with God and his word. In my role, it is often very difficult to carve out time to simply be alone and silent in God’s presence. These last three days have given me lots of time for reading, listening, evaluating and reflecting. One of my favorite presentations was by Mike Breen as he did what he called narrative theology (or storytelling) and retold the life of Paul from the book of Acts in a way that I had never heard before. As a result, I couldn’t wait to read the chapters again for myself to see how I could have missed this perspective. I am looking forward to finding ways to carve out these moments in the days to come where I can see God in His glory as he speaks to me directly from His word. In some ways, I now realize that the concept of “completing” the great commission may actually be the wrong idea. Obeying God, living as He has called me to and leading His people is what I am called to do. He is the one who both writes and completes the story.