I mentioned yesterday that I was invited to participate in Mission America Coalition’s annual conference April 4-6 in Orlando. This was my first experience at a MAC event of this type.
One of the major ministries of the Mission America Coalition (U.S. Lausanne Committee) is to convene groups of Christian leaders to focus upon how we can be more effective in ministering together so that believers can faithfully invite as many people as possible to become disciples of Jesus Christ. (This is, at its core, missional-eacumenism, at least as I define it!) The Mission America Coalition is an unprecedented coalition of Christian leaders committed to one another in order to mobilize the church for praying, caring and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ in deed and word.
MAC has been used in many ways including the following:
- MAC/USLC serves by convening leaders of leaders, people who have high impact and strategic influence potential. This is my own passion thus ACT 3’s mission: “To equip leaders for unity in Christ’s mission.” In Orlando this MAC gathering included mission leaders, pastors, evangelists, authors, professors, homemakers, businessmen, etc. The vast majority of those there were not local church pastors, which makes MAC a little different from many other large gatherings.
- MAC seeks to gather people "around the table" in order to allow members of the Coalition to experience a learning community of their peers; e.g. learning by praying and listening as well as by contributing fresh thought and perspective. This happened, to some modest extent at my table. The brothers I met were most encouraging and delightful in every way. We shared some interesting discussion. I expect the real benefit of this time might be what happens in the lives of some of us after we met in Florida. I wrote each person at my table and two weeks later only one had responded. I do not believe this part of the program was nearly as fruitful as the leaders may have planned or thought. Having said this I enjoyed this experience much more than simply sitting in rows and hearing speakers one after another by the hours. These events tend to feature preachers and big names and accomplish, in my view, very little of kingdom importance.
- MAC says that “around the table" is the most diverse setting that many will experience all year; men and women of different generations, communities, and cultures talking and praying together. This may be true but for me this was simply not quite the case. My table included, however, a brother ministering in Boston among a wide variety of ethnic peoples, a layman serving in a small Southern town, an evangelist and a leader of what was once the Worldwide Church of God, the sub-biblical denomination that was founded by the late Herbert W. Armstrong (no relation to me). As some readers know this denomination went through a major reformation and became an orthodox body of churches several decades ago.
- MAC adds that, “around the table" insures attendees at a Coalition meeting will do more than teach and talk with each other; action steps will emerge from both facilitated consultations and conversations. This claim promised much more than I saw happen in my own group. (It might have happened at other tables so I am only responding from my own experience.)
The major thrust of Orlando 2011 was on creating a leadership consultation. This I believe happened, at least to some extent. Over 700 leaders gathered in Orlando, seated around 110 tables. These leaders dialoged in 28 affinity consultations. The goal was setting action steps for how to collaborate in the pursuit of the Great Commission. The dialogs are continuing! You can follow them at the Mission America site.
What were my own personal impressions of this interesting event?
1. I love the idea of collaboration but I am not sure it happens in large groups like this one. My own sense is that it happens much more among the designated leaders of MAC than among people who were at one table for three days.
2. I believe MAC is a much needed effort in the American context where the church is increasing in a state of something like a mission field scenario. But MAC is still a little too tethered to older models for Christian leadership. I wonder what would happen if MAC had 50 regional gatherings and enlisted 50 leaders at the grassroots to facilitate these meetings? If I had been involved with a group of such people in the Chicago region I think the outcome could have been far more actionable in terms of grass-roots missional-ecumenism. I hope leaders will consider something like this in the future.
3. MAC allowed me to meet several leaders I have long wanted to meet in person. There was significant time to talk and mingle. The program was not overly crowded. I especially enjoyed meeting Dr. Douglas Birdsall, the executive chair of the Lausanne Movement. Doug is a first-rate missiologist with a strong vision of missional-ecumenism. I have begun to faithfully pray for him. His presentation, and our conversation, were a big highlight for me.
4. The affinity track consultations were the best part of the event, as I noted yesterday. Here there were 15 people in my group and I felt like I made some deep friendships quickly and easily. I encourage MAC to take this model to the next level and keep pursuing it seriously. It has great potential. These groups should be encouraged to remain in conversation or the good begun will be lost like the spring rains that run off dry ground.
5. In the plenary sessions we heard a keynote speaker followed by two shorter responses that were quite often very well done. Some of the responses were as helpful, or better, than the plenary addresses. That was also refreshing. I didn’t know most of these responders but two ended up in my small affinity group, both women. They were godly, wonderful, serious Christian leaders and they refreshed me. I found again the role of women in this event extremely important. This was a non-issue as it should be in such contexts. After going to so many male-led events for four decades this was a huge blessing.
6. The speakers did not hammer the listeners with prophetic exhortations called preaching but encouraged us in the good news of God’s grace and reminded us of the large opportunities of our time in history. They fed out sense of hope. This too was a welcome departure from so many big events that I’ve shared in for more than forty years.
7. I believe Mission America Coalition could have a very strategic role in evangelization and unity in Christ’s body. I would like to see it get beyond the “safe” bounds of the cultural and denominational roots of its origins and engage the wider church, both mainline and Catholic. I am not sure how this will happen but I am sure that it could happen if there was a will to really see it happen. I hope that will grows. I heard it faintly during these few days.
If we are serious about the renewal of Christ’s work in America, and the evangelization of the next generation, then Mission America has a great deal to think about if it is to contribute to this end. I pray it will do precisely that. I am deeply impressed with the humility of the leadership of MAC and their fervent desire to see men and women know Christ. I will support their initiatives to this end. May the God of mercy pour out his grace and power on the leadership of the MAC.