Since 1996 our Chicago-based ministry has hosted an annual Bible and theology conference in our area each fall. Our eleventh annual conference concluded this afternoon in South Holland, Illinois. Our theme this year was: “The Mission Church and the Kingdom of Christ.” The weekend seemed as fruitful as any in our eleven-year series, at least to me. (But I freedly admit that I am not an objective observer!) Our speakers all addressed our theme with clarity and passion. We offered six elective seminar sessions, and four plenary sessions. (Audio tapes and CDs are available from www.soundword.com.)
One of the greatest joys of the weekend was to introduce and learn from my son, who led a seminar on ministry to at-risk children. Nothing so encourages a father as to see his children walk in the grace of God and teach others how to serve Christ and his kingdom. This was, at least for me, the highlight of the weekend, though there were many more highlights. My daughter, who also walks with Christ in faith, served as my assistant and our conference manager throughout the weekend. I am obviously drained this evening but quite blest beyond any words I can write.
I am unsure if this particular type of event will be our future way for reaching and teaching church leaders. I find relational ministry in smaller settings far more fruitful most of the time but all of this is quite hard to measure in the light of eternal realities. I find that one does best by simply sowing and then allowing God to give whatever increase he deems appropriate.
I am farily convinced that these times, and the new realities they present to the church, may demand a very different approach in the years ahead. Only “hot topics” and/or “huge name speakers” tend to draw crowds any longer. I am much more interested in offering speakers and topics that actually help the church fulfill the missional mandate of Christ as I understand it. This requires more than the typical conference setting can generally give, at least in my estimation. For this reason our board will need to do some serious thinking about how to best accomplish our purpose in 2007 and beyond. As always, I invite your prayers and input. We are committed to teaching ancient-future Christianity in every way possible, and to building an intentionally incarnational ministry through like-minded friends in churches that want community in a self-centered age.
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As someone who attended this past weekend, I want to say that I really enjoyed being at the conference. I think you are right both that “big names/hot issues” attract crowds and that value doesn’t depend on size.
What I most enjoy at conferences is investigating and working out theology in community. Community is a word we talked about as our view of God and the church, but could still practice more deeply. At several points I wanted to circle up all the chairs and hang out for another several days to talk it all out in a guided conversation.
So, if you’re fishing for suggestions about future meetings, one alternative to the traditional conference is a 50/50 split of time between speaking and interaction. If we’re going to be smaller, let’s use that to our advantage and be more intensive relationally. A related idea would be a symposium/round-table of invited pastors and leaders who want to pursue and implement a theme like being missional.
PS. It was nice to hear your son Matt, too.
It was a true pleasure to be at the conference this weekend. We were very encouraged and spurred on to take the missional mandate of Christ all the more seriously. It was very refreshing. Thank you for your example of passion for the Kingdom and Christian humility.
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