Well, another Midwest Region Conference annual convention is now over. This year was a little different in several ways, but it was still a good time. Once again it was held in Decatur, Illinois at the New Beginnings Church. It started Tuesday, June 19 at 2 pm, and ended Thursday, June 21 at 11 am. Delegates and attendees from Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana gathered for three days of learning, serving, eating, and visiting.
As for some of the differences... For one thing, personally, this was the first time since I have been a pastor that Jane and I were the only people from our church to attend. Everyone else who was supposed to go backed out - though I was less than encouraging for anyone to go. It was sad to not have anyone else along, but in some respects it was kind of nice for Jane and I to not have to feel like we had to be responsible for anyone else while we were there.
The main difference this year was that there was no "major" speaker this year. They didn't bring in an author, or an "authority" of any kind in any certain area of expertise. They just had three of our own pastors speak: Mark Smith, Eddie Hammond, and Jeff Rockey. We only heard the last couple minutes of Mark's sermon, but Eddie and Jeff both did a good job. I had no problem with just using our own pastors as speakers (as long as it's not me). Then on Wednesday they had what they called "Extreme Breakouts." There were ten different service projects around the Decatur area where we could choose to go and serve from 1-5 pm. Some of them involved landscaping, or painting, or visiting at a nursing home, and various things like that. Jane and I were somewhat skeptical of this at first, and thought about not participating (there were many who didn't), but I didn't want to be a malcontent complainer, so we waited to see which project needed more people and we signed up for that. We went to a place called "Baby Talk" and helped them move their facilities. They had been spread out in three different buildings around the city and had just acquired one building where they could put everything. So they dropped a few people off at each of the old locations and had them load all the office equipment and furniture and everything onto trucks, and then Jane and I (along with about 6 other people) were at the main building and unloaded all the trucks as they arrived. Oh boy... this ended up being the most work of any of the service projects, I think; and being at the main building seemed to involve the most work too. I would guess we unloaded probably 15 truckloads of stuff. A lot of it was pretty darn heavy too: desks, and cabinets, and refrigerators, and tables, and toys, and all kinds of stuff. Plus it was 97 degrees out that day! We all worked up a pretty good sweat, and were pretty darn sore by the end of the afternoon, but we drank plenty of water and everyone survived. I was actually glad we did it when we got done.
Baby Talk is an interesting place too. Apparently it is becoming a national organization that ministers to teenage mothers who want to continue there education. They serve as a childcare facility for teenagers who are still attending high school, getting their GED, or going to college. I think they have seven classrooms, with eight kids in each class (four per teacher). It seemed to be very organized and well-run... at least the people we talked to were.
Anyway, Wednesday night we had the usual nice meal at the church, and then just kind of shared our thoughts on the day. Most of it was your typical churchy, feel-good stuff, but it was ok. Again, I was pretty skeptical of the "extreme breakout" idea, but I actually enjoyed it. In fact, I wouldn't mind if they offered something like this again. My only problem is with the fact that so many people thought this somehow made it all "missional." It's nice to do service projects, but simply doing service projects does not make one missional. I was glad when we went to Lance Finley's breakout sessions on "Pastoring Missional Churches" that he really drove this point home and explained the theological basis behind being missional. **Note to self: I need to have Lance come and share that message at our church sometime.
So... all in all... while it was weird not having anyone from our church there, it was an ok three days. It seems kind of anticlimactic to not really have anyone to talk about stuff with now, but... such is life. Now it's back to the grind.