We finished with our regional conference convention yesterday. It was Monday through Wednesday (June 20-22) in the lovely Decatur, Illinois. It was held at New Beginnings Church, and we stayed at the Decatur Conference Center & Hotel (room 3109). There were seven of us from our church who attended: Me, Jane, Carrie, Anna, Joan, Scott & Linda (though I guess Anna wasn't a registered attendee since she's only 5 months old). This was actually probably one of my favorite conventions - in spite of the jerkface encounter we had on Wednesday morning. The title of this year's convention was "Released: Setting the Church Free to Build the Kingdom." The main speakers were Pastor Corey Brooks, from New Beginnings Church of Chicago, and Neil Cole, from Church Multiplication Associates. Both were very different, but both were excellent. There were also some good breakout sessions on being 'released.' I would guess there were maybe 150-250 people in attendance from our three-state region of Iowa, Illinois and Indiana (but I'm not a very good guesser).
Jane and I left with Carrie and Anna in tow on Monday around 10 am our time. We drove through rain until just past Indianapolis (and Indy was flooded big-time. I had never seen cars stranded in water like that), but it wasn't bad once we got on I-74. We stopped and ate lunch along the way and arrived in Decatur right about 2 pm their time (so it took us 5 hours). We checked into the hotel and headed over to the church for the start of conference at 3 pm.
The conference was to start with some worship and the first keynote presentation by Pastor Corey Brooks, followed by breakout sessions. However, Pastor Brooks wasn't there yet, so we had the breakouts first, and then the keynote session - even though some of the breakout leaders weren't there yet. It was kind of a rough start, but no one really seemed to mind. We went with the Klings to the missions breakout. Pastor Brooks then ripped into us about our racism and sexism (not really "ripped into us"... but I was glad he got on us about it).
We were then dismissed for supper, so Jane, myself, Carrie & Anna, and Scott & Linda headed to Cheddars for supper. Joan met us there, as she arrived later after having worked in the morning. We had a nice supper, then headed to our hotel. Jane and I sat up and talked into the night with Scott and Linda, and then Eddie joined us after awhile.
This day started off well, then got real ignorant, but then ended splendidly. We had breakfast in the hotel restaurant, then all headed off for the start of sessions at 8:30. Scott and Linda arrived there first and got us all a table so we could sit together. However, a pastor from another church and two people with him put their stuff down at the table and then left. When they came back Linda told him that those spots were saved for our group. He said something smart about not saving seats, and she said something back, and he got all ignorant. We were just arriving, and so we decided to try to find other seats. Except we couldn't find other seats for the seven of us, but there were groups of three all over the place. So I suggested that they just take the three seats at the very next table, and he said "no." I said, "You mean to tell me that you won't even move over one table so we can all sit together?" And he just looked straight ahead and ignored me. That's when I got pissed off. And... to make a long story short... as my daughter said to someone, "It's never good when dad let's the f-word fly before it's even 9 am." So anyway we ended up getting some other people to change seats with us, and we all got a table together. Linda was crying and left, Scott was as mad as me, and the whole lot of us were just dumbfounded that someone could be such a baby over their seat. At break time Scott asked the guy if he could talk. I was afraid Scott was going to apologize, but he didn't - he was mad too. But the guy was just an arrogant, entitled, idiotic jerk about the whole thing, and he blamed the entire thing on us. I was fuming the whole morning and could not concentrate. Here we had people from our church - all of whom had to take vacation time from work, had to travel a great distance, had to leave family and make other adjustments to their life, some of whom had never been here before, just so they could attend a conference for our church/region... and this supposed church leader is being a cry baby... OVER HIS SEAT!?! I felt so bad for Scott and Linda, and everybody else in our group. I felt bad for the people who were with Dennis (the jerk pastor) too, because you could tell they were embarrassed about the whole thing. I honestly wanted to just punch him in the face. Anyway... I finally cooled off and forgot about it. But I'm still going to write him a letter.
So... after all that, Pastor Brooks did another keynote session; I skipped the morning breakout; there were a few reports; and we had lunch. In the afternoon Neil Cole arrived and he would be the keynote speaker for the afternoon, evening, and Wednesday morning. I was looking forward to hearing him, because I've read several of his books - which I really liked - so I wondered what he would be like in person. I introduced myself to him when he arrived and we chatted briefly (introduced him to Anna too). He's a big guy, but looks much younger than his years (and I liked his Converse All-Stars). He was just about like I'd imagined, and I really enjoyed his talks. It was all stuff I had pretty-much read about, but it was good to hear it in person.
I guess I did attend another breakout session in the afternoon - on "hub planting." That was pretty good.
We had supper at the church (which was good, but the chicken either wasn't cooked enough, or too much, so I didn't eat that), a session at night, and then we headed back to the hotel. Our group got together and we had some super great discussions about our church and our own personal ministry ideas. That was maybe the best part of the whole three days for me. I am really pumped about some of the stuff we talked about, and actually wish we weren't going to be gone for two weeks now. I guess I can suffer through vacation.
Anyway, Wednesday morning we had the final day - approval of reports, installation of officers, another session with Neil, and the consecration and close of conference (all before 11 am). It was all good - except Neil was going to take a break and they ended up telling him that he was actually supposed to be done - so he just wrapped up real quick and ended. Probably not the ending he had in mind. They did invite anyone who wanted to stay to go to another area and we could talk to Neil more, but we had stuff to do and whatnot, so we didn't. At any rate, I always like how Andrew Draper leads us in closing, with communion and prayer. He is one of my favorite people. So we closed, I caved and bought another book, we all said our good-byes (the hardest of which was saying goodbye to Anna and Carrie), and another MRC Convention is in the books.
Jane and I went back to the hotel and checked out, then headed north to my parents house. We stopped in Bloomington/Normal for lunch at Pizza Hut and arrived in Buda around 3 pm.
Overall, I thought this was a great conference. Neil Cole was definitely the best part - aside from the discussions we had with our group. We had a great group - I only wish more people would have come from our church.
This year I liked that we just had the speakers and breakouts. I don't like when they have 'entertainment.' Not that there's anything wrong with that, but... I just don't think it's necessary. We always do pretty good about limiting the reports and business stuff. Even I can admit that our leaders put on good conferences.
There are really only two things I have a problem with: One, I wish someone would tell people before they go out to speak that they need to introduce themselves. The first three people who spoke went out and didn't say who they were or what they were doing. I don't know if people just think everyone knows them or what, but we don't. Just say your name, where you're from, and what you're doing. I don't think that's too hard.
Second, something one of our people said has really stuck with me. They said their first impression was that there was just "no joy." It's like we don't like each other, and we're not happy to be together. That's really true. Our director is one of those 'behind-the-scenes' guys, and I think that attitude carries over to everyone. We need someone like Andrew Draper to kick the thing off (or someone like that). Someone who actually likes being there, likes what they do, loves Jesus, and is glad to be together with other people who love Jesus (assuming everyone else there DOES love Jesus).
But overall I thought it was good. I don't even mind that it was the first three days of my vacation. I can't imagine a better group of people to spend it with.
Peace out; and in, my friends.