The Verge Conference started today and it was amazing. I said it was the only conference that I feel like was worth attending for its theology and its practice.
It did not disappoint at all. I really love the way it is arranged this year with Pre-Conference Breakout Sessions for Missional Communities & Mercy/Justice all on one day. This provides a great opportunity for any church member to take a day off and attend so that it’s not just a pastor’s conference.
Today, I spent half the day at the Missional Community Pre-Conference & half the day at the For The City (Mercy & Justice) Pre-Conference. I’m so thankful to have been at both.
Missional Community Pre-Conference
I missed the first panel discussion thanks to Austin traffic and fog, but I made it to Brandon Hatmaker’s breakout session, Serving Through Missional Communities: Seven Steps to Moving Beyond the Event. It was very helpful and practical for how the gospel of Jesus Christ develops a community to be merciful and compassionate. It was also helpful in leveraging service events to be more than a social justice activity to become an opportunity for Christians and those outside of the church to be educated on the full meaning of the gospel.
One of the more impacting parts was the idea of letting go of the return on investment we get from serving. Brandon told the story of feeding the homeless and the homeless consistently asking about when the church was and how he began to understand that was their way of paying him for his service. They had nothing to offer him, but the hope that they might come to his church. This is important because churches can often use social justice to get people to come rather than to extend the love of Christ without expectation of anything in return.
It challenges us to check our motives and come to serving others and meeting needs with no expectations but to extend the love of Christ.
For The City Pre-Conference
As much as I enjoy missional communities, I could not have been more thankful to be a part of the For The City Pre-Conference.
I think it could potentially be the best part of Verge for me this year. Time will tell.
I arrived right before Bob Lupton spoke and it was absolutely amazing. I’m sure much of it is in his book Toxic Charity, but to hear someone who has empowered the poor rather than kept them dependent on handouts was challenging and so encouraging.
Some quotes that challenged me:
“The poor can pay a heavy price for our goodness.” – Talking about how our handouts create dependency which continues the cycle of poverty.
“One way giving keeps the needy in the needy role and the giver in the giving role. It diminishes relationships.” – This was incredibly challenging in regards to how the giver can often relish their position and never relinquish it to those they give to. We can participate in giving olds clothes and gifts in a way that removes the dignity of the poor and disempowers them. So challenging.
I also got to lead my first breakout session at a conference. How to get those who care about you to care about your mission. It was fun to share what I’ve learned (and continue to learn) about meeting people where they are, helping them understand the mission God has called you to, and how you invite them to participate and engage needs with you.
But nothing really compared to listen to Dr. John Perkins. I was able to meet him and just thank him for his life, his love for Jesus, and his faithfulness in ministering for the gospel of Jesus Christ. He has been a slave, fought for civil rights, created the Christian Community Development Association, and participated in discipling and creating many leaders to continue the work of restoring broken communities.
Some quotes from Dr. Perkins:
“We have deified capitalism to the point that the church is unable to speak prophetically into the system.” – He was discussed how capitalism is the best system in the world, but making it a god makes us slaves to a system that was meant to serve us. For the church, we are unable to talk about the brokenness of America’s abuse of capitalism because Christians have replaced Jesus with the system as well. A challenging thought for sure.
Listening to him talk about 50+ years of knowing and serving Jesus was such a powerful testimony to the worth of giving your life to serve Jesus and display Him through restoring brokenness in neighborhoods as well as systemic brokenness.
In the middle of Bob Lupton’s talk, I asked one of our church staff to buy the digital access for the Verge content because I know I wanted to hear it again. It’s worth it.
I ended the night with dinner and beverages with great missional community thinkers that challenged and encouraged me tremendously. It was a great day 1.
Tomorrow starts the Main Conference sessions that you can watch on simulcast if you want. It will be well worth your time.