I very much enjoyed the Forum 121 gathering this weekend that was held at Frederick Blvd. Baptist Church in St. Joseph. The 121 stands for First Century Mission, 21st Century Practices. The most challenging speaker for me of the entire conference was Bob Roberts whom I had heard a number of years ago but not in recent times. Bob is the pastor of the Northwood Church in Keller, TX and they've been instrumental in starting something like 90 different churches. They have a major focus internationally in Hanoi, North Vietnam, and Bob meets with leaders from across the world, including many Muslims, to seek ways to partner in bettering the living conditions of many living in poverty. He truly has a Kingdom focus, despite his Southern Baptist upbringing in East Texas. He alluded to the cosmic nature of Jesus' role where Paul says in Colossians 1 that Jesus came to redeem all things. He spoke extensively about discipleship and made one statement that really struck me. His comment was that we have to push evangelism in our churches because we don't have disciples. Speaking of missional living, he also posed the question, "What if God gave people their jobs not to make a living but to make a difference?"
Rodney Reeves, professor at Southwest Bapt. Univ. in Bolivar, MO also did a great job with his conference on First Century Missional Practices. His introduction followed Bob Roberts' thoughts about the Kingdom, saying that the church is not an end in itself but the means to an end which is the Kingdom of God. Taking the model of Paul, he suggesting our ministry must be prophetic, incarnational, and community-focused.
The other conference leader whose presentation I really enjoyed was Allan Karr, a missions professor at the Denver campus of Golden Gate Seminary. One of his statements that grabbed me was this--"If you make disciples, church happens." He then proceeded to outline a series of shifts needed to achieve a viable 21st Century ecclesiology and expressed them in terms of respiration, breathing in and out.
1. Breathe in - From extrabiblical traditions to biblical minimums. This echoed strongly what Wade Burleson and others have been encouraging Baptists to do in not going beyond the Scriptures themselves in our demands for conformity around non-essentials.
2. Breathe out - From institutional church-based to Kingdom of God based ecclesiology.
3. Breathe in - From a regional focus to a neighborsphere/local community focus.
4. Breathe out - From an organizational maintenance focus to an incarnational community transformation focus.
5. Breathe in - From hierarchical structure to shared leadership.
6. Breathe out - From "going to church" to "being the church."
7. Breathe in - From a focus on a main gathering to "doing life together."
8. Breathe out - From "right belief" to living out sound biblical doctrine holistically.
9. Breathe in - From efficiency-driven strategies to collaborative relational efforts.
10. Breathe out - From strategies of the flesh to a reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit.
Alvin Reid of Southeastern Seminary also did a very good job of highlighting 8 keys for missional living. His main focus, not surprisingly given his role as an evangelism professor, was to focus on evangelism and sharing, using Paul's example in 1 & 2 Thessalonians for his text and point of departure. My only criticism comes from my own admittedly moderate viewpoint. I just didn't see the need for him to extol the virtues of the Conservative Resurgence and stress that there will always be a battle to be fought for the Bible. Moderate or historical Baptists don't have a problem affirming the truth and authority of the Scriptures whatsoever. Allan Karr's comments regarding his 8th point about the shift from right belief to living out sound biblical doctrine holistically resonates much stronger with me. He said that for far too long we've emphasized knowledge and content rather than transformed living. Angry and argumentative Baptists who excoriate fellow believers with hate-filled words simply aren't fulfilling the command of Jesus to love one another, no matter how much they insist that they're merely defending sound biblical doctrine.
Finally, to end on a more positive note, I was strongly encouraged by the great turnout of college students and 20-somethings who were clearly passionate about what was being shared. There weren't a lot of folks my age there, but the millenials and Gen-X'rs are certainly tuning in to the theme of living missionally. That gives me hope.