There was a larger-than-expected crowd of 80+ in attendance. People were there from Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, and some other places I can't remember. And it was a nice time. I didn't even notice that there wasn't any heat in the place. It's an old school apparently, and has those cool old urinals that go all the way to the floor. I love those. I hate the "urinalette's" that most places have. I want my urine going as far away from me as possible before it splats on a hard surface. But anyway....
I liked the format of this conference (oh, that's right, it wasn't a conference). There were four speakers. One person spoke for about 20 minutes, then we had a bit of discussion (and Dave would sometimes just call on people randomly to give input), then we would read Luke 10:1-12 and meditate on it for several minutes, then pray. Then we'd have a short break, and do it all over again. Two speakers in the morning, two in the afternoon, and we called it a day. No music, no videos, no powerpoint, no announcements, no hummers on stage... just talk, meditate and pray.
Dave Fitch from Life On The Vine was kind of the host (I think). And he began by briefly describing what missional is. The idea that the church is on God's mission; the people of God are to be driven incarnationally; salvation is broader than the individualistic idea of "receiving Christ." Then the four talks were about:
- The Sunday Gathering - how does it function; why; etc.
- The Idea of A Missional Order - values, what is it, as a way of planting churches.
- Conversion & Evangelism - the role, importance, etc.
- Financial Survivability - this one was a bit vague to me (or I didn't get it).
TALK #1 - "The Sunday Gathering (weekly rhythm)" by Ben Sternke
I thought this was the best talk (or my favorite). Ben talked about the need for missional people to be intentional about worshiping God. It doesn't "just happen." Some random things I wrote down:
- Entertainment-driven worship is a problem because it forms people into consumers, rather than being a part of God's mission. It creates a temptation to abandon the worship gathering. But the gathering is needed; it's important in helping to "form us" as missional people.
- Worship as a "Formative Encounter" with God (good stuff). It should be the most important gathering as a missional community. We are shaped (formed) by who we worship (otherwise missional can become nothing but angry activism).
- Mission is theo-centric rather than anthro-centric (centered on God, not on man's need). Mission should come from our response to worship, not because of the needs of man.
- In worship Jesus is revealed in *the word* (preperation/reflection), and in the *breaking of bread* (fulfillment/receiving)(grace/encounter).
- Going to church (worship) is a spiritual discipline. Coming and gathering in order to be sent out.
Talk #2 - "The Idea of a Missional Order" by John (I never did get his last name).
John gave five values of a missional order. The "p's" don't do a real good job of defining, but his five values were:
- Priority - Weekly gatherings need to have a priority, and that lends to stability.
- Proximity - it shouldn't have to be "an event" to get together. You need to be close enough geographically and in time/space/etc. to be able to just "get together" on occasion.
- Poverty - learning to live within or beneath your means. No debt, etc.
- Politics - it's an alternative social arrangement. The gospel is "how we live." It's all of life.
- Mission - 1-5 leads and makes you a missional people.
Challenges: (1) This is not *efficient*. It's hard. Messy. (2) Tension between caring for the church you're in and the church you'll become.
My thoughts: I'm not sure how this applies in my rural setting. And he said this is just what they're doing - in suburban Chicago (I think). I still don't understand how it's different from a small group, really. A little more intense, maybe. I dunno. I liked John.
Talk #3 - "Conversion & Evangelism" by David Fitch
This was a really good talk, but I was disappointed with the discussion time because no one seemed to want to wrestle with the deep issues here. It seemed everyone wanted to give pat answers or sweep it under the rug (which I thought was kind of the gist of the talk). Anyway, David gave some of the problems with measuring "converts":
- The decision doesn't make sense without a context.
- It can turn into a consumer decision (it's not JUST about converts).
- It turns into a transaction - which puts us in charge.
- It's compounded by the bounded set/centered set ideas (hirsch/frost), which Dave doesn't agree with entirely. People are wandering too aimlessly (and I agree).
- The decision is still important, but it must be in context.
- Repentance is still indispensible to the gospel. We need repentance.
- Conversion must be broader than just hell. More than escaping the wrath of God.
- It must not be sold. We are "witnesses" not "peddlers" of it (1 Peter 3).
He also said that conversion can happen a lot in unforeseen and uncontrollable ways.
Again, this was a really good talk, and probably the one I was most interested in hearing. But it didn't seem like anyone wanted to wrestle with it. I was highly disappointed in the quick answers many people gave. But, then, I had nothing to offer either.
Talk #4 - "Financial Survivability" by Chris Smith
I was a bit tired at this point and don't have many notes. Plus I didn't really understand this. Plus it was another one of those that seemed really directed at urban/suburban, but not at all applicable in rural contexts. Anyway.... he shared four practices:
- The need to simplify our lives - a call to discipleship is a call to self-denial. He said simplifying is what it means to be the church.
- The need to share life together - an Acts 2 sort of thing. All things in common.
- The growing of food together - God is at work in redeeming all things.
- Discerning an economy together.
- On the way home we discussed how hard it is to process all this stuff in our rural setting. Everything seemed pretty geared to urban/suburban, and there were even some snide comments made about rural. Uh... last time I checked God loved EVERYBODY. I can remember in seminary when I was told I couldn't plant churches where I wanted because there weren't enough people. Seemed to be the same reasoning. I don't buy it.
- It's hard to have lots of participation in groups like this, because it seems some people hog all the discussion time. Not that you shouldn't have it, but it's difficult - even if you break up into groups. I'm not sure there is a way around this though.
- A day later, and I think I got a lot more out of it than I initially thought. It was a good conference (non-conference). I liked that we didn't mess with music or anything else. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but... in a mixed group it seems better sometimes.
- I was afraid Jane and I were going to be the oldest ones there, but we weren't. There was a good mix, and more women than I anticipated too, though still not a lot.
- I talked with a couple of young guys from Life On The Vine at break and they were really nice to talk to. Nice people, and we seemed to have more in common than some of the others. The one was from the Fairbury/Chenoa (central Illinois) area. We had a good chat.
- I would like to visit Christ Community sometime. I believe Ben is the pastor there. They meet on Sunday nights and their website has some good info, and what their worship gatherings are like.
That's my 2 cents.
David has some info and background on how the event came together HERE.