Lady Jane and I were delegates for our denominations General Conference sessions at New Beginnings Church of God in Decatur, Illinois on June 23-25, 2010. We stayed at the Decatur Conference Center and Hotel (where we had already been staying for Midwest Conference) in room 1345. This was maybe the 3rd time I had attended General Conference sessions, but it was Jane's first time, and our first time as delegates. This year's theme was "A New Tomorrow." I'm not sure exactly how to explain it, but it had a really different feel to it than Midwest Region conference did. It seemed a lot more... uptight.
We began on Wednesday with a lunch at noon. We grabbed the only table left where the 2 of us and Jim and Doug and Anna could all fit. It was the very front table, in front of the podium. Below is a picture from my seat of Ed Stetzer giving the opening address at 1 pm. And, no, that is not a red bong in the picture. It was a vase. I didn't mind sitting here to listen to Ed, but we did manage to snag a table off to the side and further back for the later sessions. I will post my notes from Ed's talks later.
After the first session with Ed they had a business session. It's not that I didn't care about it, but we had already been sitting there all day (Midwest Conference was this morning in the same place), and Justin Meier (the guy who lives with his family in an RV) told Jane that Ed was going to do a Q & A with some church planters in another room; so we headed down for that. There were actually quite a few people there. After awhile someone came in and said something to somebody, and pretty soon a bunch of people started to get up and leave. Finally someone mentioned that they were discussing the "credentialing" issue in the business sessions, so we decided to go hear what was happening. Apparently this was a big deal. People kept going up to the microphone and making snippy statements; but, dimwit that I am, I couldn't really tell what anyone was talking about, or whether it was a good or a bad thing. It all seemed a little silly to me. So when it was time to take a vote I just made a noise that opposed the majority. Of course, then they decided they needed a headcount, so I thought maybe it better if I not vote at all - since I didn't know what was going on.
Anyway, it was finally over and we had supper at the church. The food was always real good at every meal here (at least I thought so). We stayed for the brief singing/worship time, but we ended up leaving shortly after. We went to the Firewater Cafe with some other folks and chatted until they closed. Then we stayed up way too late and regretted it the next day.
Thursday was a full day of sessions with Ed, and other church business. And, I almost forgot - every time you entered the building at the church they have this greeter brigade - I called it the "Greeter Gauntlet" - you had to shake hands with like 50 people stationed at every door as you made your way inside. I suppose it's nice to be greeted, but shaking hands with at least 3 people just to get inside was a bit much for me. And they were all just a little too "eager" for me. But I know I'm weird, so... whatever.
Ed Stetzer spoke twice in the morning and then it was mostly just business and other reports in the afternoon. We had actually heard many of the very same reports during Midwest Conference, so we were kind of in and out. I also had a cohort meeting with my group from the Missional Leadership Initiative in the afternoon. We met from 2-4 pm, and Jane went back to the hotel. It was an ok meeting, but one cohort was absent, and one had to leave during the middle of it. So... whatever.
We ended up spending another evening out with Doug and Anna Molgaard at Buffalo Wild Wings. They are missionaries in Sweden. Anna is actually from there, and works as an LPN. Doug is from the states, but has lived overseas for about 20 years. They planted a church that is now 5 years old, and just recently left it in the hands of someone else. He is now working with some other folks to start a movement they call SMOC (simple, missional, organic, community). We talked quite a bit with them while we were there, and this sounds similar to what Jane and I are wanting to do. I also thought it was interesting that Doug is one of the few people who has ever asked me if I would be interested in planting a church. I mean, that's all I have studied since way before I went to seminary, and yet no one ever asks me about it. Maybe I'm more European than I think. Or maybe it's something else. It was odd how we just kind of 'hit it off' with Doug and Anna. We had only met them once before, but we seemed to really 'click.' We had a good time with them. They are pictured below.
Conference ended Friday with the church planters getting up and talking about how awesome they are. And some of them are. It was nice to hear that things actually are happening in our denomination, and how there seems to be a real spirit of working together - people aren't concerned about who gets credit for what; coaches and leaders are working inside and outside of their regional boundaries, and it's all good. I actually left conference at noon with a good and hopeful feeling. Jane and I took rt. 51 north out of Decatur and headed for home - or at least what used to be home - we went to my parents house in Buda for the weekend. It only takes a little over 2 hours to get there (through Peoria).
There was a lot that went through my head during this conference. Once again we met with a lot of great people, and Jane and I talked a lot about our future... church planting, seeding missional communities, smoc, etc. However, while listening to the church planters on that last day, I wrote in my notes: "Church planting is not the answer... Jesus is." We need to be talking about Jesus, not planting churches. We don't need more "churchES"; more people need Jesus. Granted, more people will connect with Jesus in new communities, but I think we're emphasizing the wrong thing (see my post from a week or so ago about church planting). As the president of our seminary (Dave Draper) said at one point, "We preach Jesus and love people. It's not rocket science, but it's not easy." I like that. However, I do understand all the church planting talk. If we're going to make this a movement, we've got to sell a lot of folks on changing from "maintenance mode." I just think there are better terms we could use. But what do I know.
Well, I had hoped these reports would be a little clearer, but... my mind is pretty much mush at this point. I will try to post my notes from Ed Stetzer, and even some things from our denominational director (the other Ed), at some point. I make no promises about anything though. I had actually considered never blogging again, but you know how that goes. Whatever.
Peace out; and in.