So I write this as I sit in the airport, waiting to fly from Nashville back to Baltimore after attending the #Send2015 conference of the Southern Baptist Convention. It was a 2-day event that highlighted some of the top pastors of the SBC and a lot of worship music.
Upon entering, one quickly got the feeling that these leaders wanted this time together to be about the Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit alive in us today. It was also about mobilizing the army of Christians under the banner of Christ and the SBC. Church planting and full-time missions were heavily focused on as speakers shared presentations on multi-site, planting networks, and implementing missions strategies in the local church.
When we entered, there was the typical resource booth set up as well as a mobilization station. The 600+ volunteers that made sure this event happened with minimal issues were absolutely amazing! They helped everyone get to seats quickly, they made sure lunch on the second day was provided and in the appropriate spots and that all 13,000 people were fed within an hour.
As we took our seats, I met these two young women from Alabama and, for some reason, God kept us connected over the course of the two days. My seat was fairly high up. We were in the Bridgestone Arena, and I was seated in the second balcony for much of the event. The groups were given the 100 sections and the singles and groups under 10 were given the 200 and 300 sections.
Almost the entire first day, Passion City band led the worship. They were amazing, as usual. Their music is upbeat enough to keep me dancing but also incorporated enough slower worship music that allowed for reflection and introspection.
The speakers were awe-inspiring. J.D. Greear kicked it off with a view on church planting that was modeled after his book “Gaining by Losing.” He explained that when he first started putting the principle of sending in place where he would task his people who were to plant satellites and other campuses to take as many of his people as possible, including leaders and those who tithe significantly, that he was worried. He was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to sustain that model for long. But many campuses and satellites and plants later, he is seeing explosive growth as the leaders he tapped on the shoulder to plant were leaders that would grow other leaders in his organization. He shared the words of Jesus from John 12:20-23 where only if a grain of wheat dies, it will bear much fruit. He used that as an example of a planting model, the model of the harvest. The one thing he said that really hit me was his belief that there will be fewer and fewer megachurches fighting for the same dwindling “churched” demographic. He said that more and more people in our day will need to be reached outside the church walls.
I could go on and on explaining things JD said, but I wouldn’t get through much more of this review. Greear’s view is very extrinsic and focuses on reaching the lost where they are. We cannot wait for them to come to us. We cannot simply build a model church and expect to raise up model Christians. We have to break the model of church that we have adopted today and go back to the original model we were given, that of the Acts church.
After the first main session, we headed to our first breakout session. There were multiple choices available. Those for planters, those for missionaries, those for disciple-making, those for women only, and those for people who wanted to hear a panel of speakers.
I chose to go to the Kingdom First breakout. This was led by Jeff Christopherson and Mac Lake, writers of the book of the same name. The first few people that got there received 2 books for free, Kingdom First and Kingdom Matrix, both written by Christopherson. The real goal of this breakout was to show people that evangelism, as many churches to believe be the end of a program, is actually the means of a successful church and not the fruit at the end. They shared that planting churches, and entire movements of kingdom growth, have occurred when God’s people were completely overwhelmed. This is why we see churches in Syria and Iraq growing at exponential rates and the church in America is losing ground. One quote that he said that really struck me was that we need to move from “consolidation to infiltration.” We need to move from a single, large church to multiple smaller venues. We need to shift from discipleship to disciple-making. Discipleship means that we come together corporately while disciple-making involves living life with people not only in church, but outside of it.
After dinner that night, we came back as a group to worship and listen to Louis Giglio speak. I love listening to Giglio. When he shared his view of Creation on video, I was amazed and awe-struck by the information he provided. His speech on Monday, though, was not about Creation as much as it was about the empowerment of the church. He shared a sentence I have heard over and over again, but never really thought about until I heard him say it, “Jesus did not come to make bad people good but to make dead people live.” And here is where my first uneasy moment came. When he said that, I remember yelling from the area I was sitting a loud AMEN! But throughout the auditorium was a collective quiet. Church, that simple fact alone should make the rafters shake and all of Nashville to wonder what was happening in the Arena. Sin didn’t make us bad people. Sin made us dead people. Throughout the rest of his presentation, he did a very good job of exegeting the entire book of Acts, focusing on the first 4 chapters.
At the end of the night, we heard music from Crowder and ended with his version of Hank Williams Jr. “I Saw the Light.” This is where the room came to life. Not during the reading of the Scripture. Not during the exegesis of Biblical truth. It came alive during music. Now I know music is powerful. But Scripture is more powerful. I know that Crowder is a big name in the Christian music scene, but you wouldn’t even have a CHRISTian music scene without Christ. The power is in the name, not the music.
I fear that not just the SBC, but all of Christendom has lost that, including myself. I find myself fighting internally for space in my heart. And there are days when music wins over Scripture. SBC, if you want to mobilize an army for Christ, start with how to experience Christ. Make disciples who experience Christ daily.
After a short 11 hour church session at the Bridgestone Arena and Music City Center, I headed back to my hotel to think on that which I learned for the day. Besides, the next day was starting early and I didn’t want to miss any of it.
On day 2, I showed up about 715 and we went inside to find a seat before anyone else. Sitting down, I watched the video screen as the Tennessee State Drum Corps played outside to waiting Christians. They then came inside and joined in with Shane and Shane as they led us in worship.
One of the speakers wasn’t able to make it because of having a baby. But that gave way for Vance Pittman, another person I enjoy reading, to take the stage. Vance also spoke on the book of Acts. And his view revolved around a quote from William James, “The great use of a life is to spend it for something that outlasts it.” With that, he went into Acts 1. He didn’t focus on the immense movement of the church of Acts, although that was part of it. But he focused on explaining the Kingdom of God. The definition of the Kingdom of God is, “God’s sovereign activity in the world resulting in people being in a right relationship with Himself.”
After a little more worship, we headed off to breakouts. I went to JD Greear’s breakout in which he goes into a little more depth in his book “Gaining by Losing.” I am very interested in his model of planting churches as he has shown significant success in it. Along with that, I see a strong parallel between his model and the New Testament model. I really wish I could speak in depth about what I learned, but I believe I will be putting together a model for my church to approve after I read his book and study the Scripture a little more. Bottom line, though, is that his model revolves around the gospel. Many churches today have relegated the gospel to a place to start discussing church. Unfortunately that is a backward model. The gospel, as JD puts it, is not the diving board, but it is the entire pool. If we simply start with the gospel and don’t carry it on throughout the process of disciple making, then we miss the point of the gospel. The gospel is life-changing revolution in a single heart across billions of people on the planet. If we keep the gospel as the focus, then everything, including how we do church, will change.
After breakouts, we went back into the arena for a message from Dr. Russell Moore and some special guests. Dr. Moore shared his views on Christian liberty and gave a very provocative message, one that challenges me personally. I am not one who likes the political arena. I honestly have spent very little time analyzing it other than to ask the simple question, “How does what is happening in Washington and around the world affect me in my daily Christian life?” But Dr. Moore attempted to stretch how we think about politics and how we think about the gospel’s role in politics. He equated us with a Christian worldview, looking like Christ, but also a cultural worldview and looking a lot like Pilate. Taking us through John 18, he showed us that the Kingdom is not of this world and what that means to us as Christians. Before I do a significant injustice by trying to explain it all, I am going to stop there about his presentation. I got a copy of his book for free at the conference and will be reading it pretty thoroughly in the days to come. After that, I will then come back with my thoughts on his views.
The special guests were interesting. We had in a video interview, Marco Rubio, GOP Presidential candidate, and, live on stage, Jeb Bush, one of the top running GOP candidates. Dr. Moore explained that he also invited Hillary Clinton, but that she declined the invitation. I listened intently to what these two candidates said. At the same time, I went back to my last blog post about how I view them to see what they said and how it lined up to what I wrote. I still have SIGNIFICANT problem with Jeb Bush. His actions on how he stands on abortion issues runs counter to what he said at the conference. I am sorry Jeb, you are still a liar in my eyes. Marco Rubio, while not as polished as Bush, I felt was a little more honest with his answers.
Heading into the last breakout session, I chose to attend Dr. Ed Stetzer’s talk on Releasing Small Groups to Engage Mission. That long title basically means that this would be a very high-brow conversation about small groups and their effect on the church as a whole. Now, I have to admit, by this time I was exhausted. I love reading Stetzer’s books. I have a lot of his writings, books and articles both, at my house. But I was falling asleep fast in his presentation. He just wasn’t engaging enough for me. I guess I am a product of this society in that my attention span on high-thought items is short. But, regardless, I got a lot of information from his meeting. He expressed that how we say things matters significantly. A simple phrase that we have all used is “I have been called to THE ministry.” But he would like us to use a different phrase, “I am called to ministry.” You see, the ministry is not just something for the professional and varsity level Christians. It is for every Christian. If you have given your life to Christ, you have been called to ministry. It doesn’t look the same for everyone. Our God, as Stetzer put it, is a missionary God. If we do not get on mission with Him, then He will find someone else who is more willing.
In the down time between sessions, I spoke with many of the young adults who were attending. The majority of this event was geared toward non-pastors. They want to mobilize the next generation of Christian to go plant or live on mission in their churches. As I spoke to some of these kids, some coming from churches of 20 and others from churches of 500, I could hear frustration. The recurring theme was that they were excited to do a God thing but that the only way they would be able to do it would be to leave their church because there was “no way their pastor/s would allow them to live on mission.” I used to have issues like this when I worked in the secular world. We would hold a big pep rally that would get everyone excited about a new program but then they would go back to their stores and reality would hit and not execute the program that we wanted them to execute. We learned how to handle this by then having the regional team go to each location to make sure they were on the same page and help them roll it out. With the SBC, there were over 400 churches represented at this event and of that, 260 of those churches brought 9,000 of the attendants. I think if the SBC expects to see these 400 churches, and primarily the 260, take the program of SEND and make it a reality, they will need to get people in the churches from the main denominational offices to help lead those churches to become sending locations. If not, then life will get in the way of the vision. The SBC has only 5,000 missionaries for 40,000 churches (that was the number given at the conference). The Moravians, probably the best missionary denomination in recent history, had 1 missionary for every 58 church members. If the SBC wants to get to that, then they will need to micromanage it a little until they can empower middle management (the pastors) with the tools they need to succeed and the desire they need to integrate it culturally in their churches.
After a wonderful dinner at Peg Leg Porker (I highly recommend it! VERY VERY good BBQ and fried pies!) we headed back to the arena for the final session and concert by Casting Crowns. Now I have never been to a Casting Crowns concert before. After that night, I am a believer in the power of their music and their hearts for Christ. Yes, they were fun to watch on stage (not as fun as Crowder, but still fun).They are all involved in ministry. Mark, the lead singer, is a youth pastor. Another band member is a church planter. They intentionally do not tour Sunday through Wednesday so they can focus on their ministries in their respective churches. I am very impressed with their hearts for God.
The final presentation for the evening was David Platt. I’ve heard him speak before and read almost all his books. I have a great deal of respect for David and his ministries. David started by sharing a story from his latest book about sex-trafficking and little girls in Nepal being used for sex. As he did, he broke into tears, completely broken-hearted by the effects of sin in this world. As he broke down, he started sharing an exegesis of Nehemiah 1. Nehemiah wept. And David wept on stage. He asked each of us in the arena if we have wept recently. Not shed a tear. But wept. Fall on the ground, on our face, crying to God. Nehemiah’s weeping led to God-directing miracles. And the same can happen today. God deserves greater than what we’ve been giving him. We need more focus during our prayer, more intentionality in our disciple-making, more love in our hearts to be able to weep for that which causes God to weep.
I left there slain by the Holy Spirit. I was in tears. I was in awe. Not of David Platt and his journeys. Not even of the other speakers and their messages. But I was in awe of the One who brought me back from death to life. I walked across the street to the parking garage to get my rental car and head back to the hotel.
But here is where reality comes back into play. Here is where Satan figures out a way to win the battle. As I was leaving, the parking garage gate wouldn’t take my credit card. Nor would it take the card of the person in the car in the lane next to mine. The garage attendant came over and tried to fix it to no avail. His manager came over and said the system needed to be reset. All this happened within 5 minutes. It took about 10 more minutes to get the system reset and start moving cars through the gates. While we were waiting, a lot of cars started lining up at the exit.
Having just come from one of the most impressive ends to a conference I have ever heard in David Platt/Casting Crowns, I would have thought that the Christians who were in their cars would have been a little more patient.
Not the case.
After the 8th minute, a bunch of people with wristbands from the conference got out of their cars and started screaming at the parking attendant. They started walking around screaming at him for his manager. Then, when the parking attendant told them that he couldn’t do anything different than reset the server, which was in the process of being done, those same Christians went back to their vehicles AND STARTED BLOWING THEIR HORNS!
Within 15 minutes, the entire fiasco was over.
I took the time, as the attendant was standing next to my car, to speak with him calmly, thank him for doing everything in his power he could be doing, and ask him if I could pray with him. We did. AS CHRISTIANS IN THEIR CARS WERE BLOWING THEIR HORNS!
My mind raced back to David and his time in Nepal. It raced back to the little girl being used in the sex trade simply because she was poor. And here were Christians who just proclaimed, at the end of his sermon, that we would do something, ANYTHING, to live on mission WHERE WE WERE and we can’t even speak love to a parking garage attendant who is having a bad night and was leaving late to pick up his kid from his ex because the gate wouldn’t open.
Final note: Christian, if you are going to live on mission where you are, make sure you are consistently living on mission. Day in. Day out. Every minute. God deserves better than to throw a tantrum.
But then, tomorrow is another day to try and live on mission