This past week I spent three days in Kansas City at a gathering of church leaders and disciples known as the North American Christian Convention. Despite growing up in this network of churches and working in this network of churches my entire adult life, I had actually never attended the annual gathering before.
My absence was due to two main factors.
- As a student pastor, I’ve always had obligations 2-4 weeks per summer that took me away from home a week at a time. I wasn’t eager for a fifth week away.
- I had always heard it was a gathering of gray haired folks. I love gray haired folks, but I’m not yet a gray haired folk. So I assumed it wasn’t my scene.
After resigning my student ministry post this past month, I decided to go and talk to folks about what I’m doing now. So I registered for the conference and booked a flight and found someone to mooch off of hotel room wise and made the trip.
I was pleasantly surprised by the experience.
First of all, it wasn’t all old people. In fact, I’d say there were as many people there under 40 as over. One night, they called all millennials to the front of the arena so they could pray over the emerging leaders in our churches. Hundreds, maybe even a thousand, young people flooded out of the stands and took their place up front. I realized this wasn’t an old folks’ activity.
Second, I loved the theme. “This is For Everyone” seemed like a timely topic for church leaders to grapple with. Sessions touched on how the church can rightly address key issues facing our world. One speaker, Derwin Gray, came out and said it plain as day: “Ethnocentrism, racism, and sexism have been crucified by the Gospel because in Christ there is no Greek or Jew, slave or free, male or female (Galatians 3:28).” A young lady named Ruby Clark, not yet 20, got up in front of the thousands gathered and said the church needed to rethink the role of women and young people in churches. It was fantastic.
Third, I love the fact that I got to interact with hundreds of people. I got to see old friends and make new connections. It was a great gathering place.
Fourth, I was in Kansas City. So the barbecue was not too shabby.
In the Christian subculture in which I spend a lot of time, we spend a lot of time acting grouchy. Grouchy about the demise of our culture, grouchy about the drifting focus of our churches, grouchy about those lazy young people, grouchy about those grouchy old people, and grouchy about the fact that churches keep dying and no one seemed to care.
But I was encouraged at all the good news I heard this week. The kingdom of God is expanding all over the world. While churches are dying at a clip of about 3,500/year, about 4,000 new churches are being launched annually. I walked by an area where food packets were being assembled to send to Haiti, and it was almost always full of willing volunteers. I saw missions representing outreach to literally billions of people, and it was obvious that the people gathered were passionate not just about what we believe, but about who we believe our message is for.
If you’ve never been to the North American Christian Convention, I would encourage you to go. I waited way to long, and it’s definitely worth the trip. In a network of churches where there is plenty to work on, we also have plenty to celebrate.
See you next year in Indianapolis.