As some of you know, the focus of my ministry and my church is undergoing a change. Well, it’s not really a change but rather a continuation of a journey I have been on, and we have been on, for several years. Looking back over 20 plus years of pastoral ministry I can see signs of God moving me in a certain direction. At the time I didn’t know why, and while I am still not exactly sure of everything, the picture in my mind is getting more and more clear. I believe everything from working at St. Luke’s Community Center in college, to where Misty and I first lived in Franklin, to Russellville, AR and the Church at 5F (the number may be wrong, but some of you know what I am talking about), to teaching Sociology, to moving back to Franklin and starting to work in the Hard Bargain neighborhood, to my Iraqi Bible study friends, has prepared me for whatever God has next.
I believe, and the elders of our church believe, that God has called our church to minister to those in Franklin who have been overlooked by everyone else. That’s right, God has called us to be a church ministering to the poor and disenfranchised in one of the wealthiest cities in the country. Talk about irony!
All of that has brought me to the CCDA (Christian Community Development Association) Conference this week. It’s been a good conference so far, and quite different from most other conferences I have attended; which is a good thing because, to be honest, I had burned out on going to church growth conferences. The conference is not yet over, but here are a few of my initial reflections on what has taken place so far:
- It has been refreshing to attend main sessions and workshops without one presenter telling me what I need to do to grow my church. In fact, I have not heard one person or presenter mention how large, or small, their church is, and how fast it has grown over the past 5 years. Most of the organizations here are based in a local church, but the entire conference has been about growing God’s Kingdom instead of our own little kingdoms. The question has not been, “How can my church grow?” The question has been, “How can my church become more engaged in the community so the gospel can advance?”
- The diversity at the conference reflects the diversity of God’s Kingdom, and that is very refreshing. Not everyone at the conference looks like me, and very few of the presenters look more like CEOs than pastors. There are people from multiple race and ethnic groups here. This is not a “cookie-cutter” conference. Every type of person imaginable is here, and they are all passionate about serving God in the context of where God has placed them.
- The worship has been good, the musicians have been excellent, but none of it has been flashy. Don’t get me wrong, all the bells and whistles are here, but not once have I felt like I was being entertained, and not once did I feel like the singers were drawing attention to themselves. And all genres of music have been presented from “gangsta rap” to a formal choir from Indiana Wesleyan University.
- This is the first conference I have been to in quite a while where I have felt completely at home. Like I belong. Like, if I got to know everyone, I would be accepted for who I am in Christ.
- The speakers have been quite varied. I don’t agree with everything that has been said, but it is refreshing to hear a multitude of perspectives on faith and culture and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. (By the way, discipleship has been one of the main themes of the conference.)
- In my humble opinion, this conference has been very God honoring.
I have one more evening and then through lunch tomorrow, and then I head home. It has been a refreshing and encouraging few days. I will need a little while to digest everything I have learned, but I do believe a lot of what I have learned will be implemented into the fabric of our church.