Wow, there is so much to process through after day 2. With all of these amazing speakers, it made me thankful for going to the Verge Pre-Conference and especially the For The City Pre-Conference.
Day 2 started with Stew setting the tone and fixing our purpose on the right thing, knowing, delighting in, and loving Jesus and His gospel above the ministry strategies and methods we would be hearing.
Following worship, Stew warned us that we would be drinking from a firehose, but challenged us to think through the lens of 2 major questions. He said these questions are prevalent wherever there is a major movement of disciple-making disciples.
The 2 questions: What is God telling you? What are you going to do about it?
For those of you who have never been to Verge or did not watch it on the simulcast, the format is different from many of the conferences I have been to because the main sessions are tied to a major idea and then 3-6 presenters are given the opportunity to teach, equip, and inspire us on these main ideas over the course of an hour.
This format requires that you process this information in some way and preferably with another person so it was really great for Stew to frame the content through the lens of these questions and then call us back to these questions following each session.
The danger of conferences is never processing what God is telling you and challenging YOU to do in your context because if you do not do this, you jump at adopting ideas and practices without yourself ever being changed in the process. If you are not changed you will never lead change in other people.
Main Session 1: For The City
Rudy Carrasco, Bob Lupton, John Sowers, & Dr. John Perkins
Main session 1 was truly amazing. Rudy Carrasco led off by challenging us to affirm that business is an outstanding Christian calling that we must honor and encourage in our congregations. If we only affirm business for the money it can provide, we completely miss the opportunity for people to use their business to create jobs and opportunities for our city. The greatest way we could enable people to be for the city is to affirm that their skills, talents, and ethic in their work can create jobs and equip people to create new companies and enterprises in poor areas of your city.
Having listened to Bob Lupton & Dr. Perkins yesterday, I loved hearing Rudy cast the vision for unleashing the workforce in your church from feeling guilty for being successful in the “secular” world and affirming the absolutely necessary skills and talents they have for restoring the brokenness of neighborhood.
Lupton and Dr. Perkins are always a highlight. Knowing how much they love one another and have been so influential in each other’s lives over the last 30+ years made it all the more special to see them share the stage at different times in the morning.
It is always amazing to listen to Dr. Perkins. Justin Lopez of the For The City Network did an amazing job of interviewing Perkins by not pushing any agenda and letting Dr. Perkins expound on all that God has taught him. One of the more interesting parts was his conversation about parachurches and churches. He discussed a need to repent for creating a parachurch rather than affirming and building up a church. It was beautiful to watch an 82-year old man affirm that God continues to teach us and work on us for our whole lives.
Main Session 2: Incarnational Mission
Mike Breen, Leonce Crump, Hugh Halter, Dave Ferguson, Alan Hirsch, Jon Tyson, Todd Engstrom, Jen Hatmaker & Jeff Vanderstelt
Yes, those were all of the speakers. Drinking from a firehose doesn’t begin to describe it. I’ll try best to summarize the highlights.
Alan Hirsch led us off by defining Incarnational Mission. Again, Alan is way smarter than me and seems even smarter than that with his accent, but setting the focus on following Christ and embodying Christ (incarnational) made it impossible to seek to adopt a ministry strategy and led us to focus on following Christ.
Dave Ferguson shared his personal story of how God has been changing him, a mega-church pastor, into someone who seeks to love his neighborhood. The transformation came as a result of focusing on being a blessing to his neighborhood rather than trying to convert it.
Hugh Halter placed our focus on 1 John 2:6 “whoever says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way that Christ did” and then contrasted a religion focused life with how Christ confronted his culture on their abuse of the scriptures, the Sabbath, and discipleship. It is definitely interesting how we need to be challenged in our approach to all 3 in our current day in the church just like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day.
Jon Tyson was the highlight for me. He discussed how faulty our typical ways of sustaining mission are and then laid out the only way to sustain mission. “Love is the only thing that can sustain incarnational mission.” His reasons were that love leads us to identify with people rather than our brand, project, or mission and identifying with people leads us to agony for their needs. Only in agonizing in their need will we follow Christ’s love for the world and extend Christ’s love to the world. Passion for God, compassion for people.
Todd Engstrom of the Austin Stone did a great job of challenging us with a very practical training tool they use to equip their leaders. It contrasted the church’s typical approach to community with how the rest of the world approaches community. This contrast forces you to ask what is going to change about how we seek to develop community with the rest of the world. Very helpful and you could see a lot of light bulbs go off in the room.
Admittedly, I missed Mike Breen and Jeff Vanderstelt, both guys I respect and love their content, but I wanted to see my former co-workers since I was in downtown Austin again. It was great to connect with them and share with them what God is doing in our lives in New York.
Jen Hatmaker put our focus on the scripture “Follow me as I follow Christ” and then asked us “If people are following you are they becoming more like Christ? Or are they spending their week writing a sermon or participating in bible study?” The challenge was a great one. Am I using my time too much for ministry work without developing people and challenging them toward the way Christ lived.
Unconference and Main Session 3: For the Gospel
This was followed by 4 hours for what they call Unconference. This was the more organic portion of the conference where you could dictate the topic and the location and discuss with others at the conference what you were processing.
It provides a great opportunity to get even more practical with those who are processing some of the same issues. A very different idea for a conference that I continue to think is the best.
I also skipped the night sessions for a family dinner. From what I heard, Jeff Vanderstelt challenged us all through the Story of the Prodigal Son to focus on the gospel implications that drive us to worship God more. Matt Carter reminded us that activity is worthless without knowing and loving Jesus. This was followed by an amazing time of worship.
My day ended with grabbing drinks with guys who do my job way better than I do my job. Thankful to Todd Engstrom to organizing these men and getting us together. It was refreshing, I learned a lot and felt more equipped to serve Apostles Church when I return. It was a great time.
Conferences as Seminaries?
One of the more interesting thoughts was shared over twitter by Jon Tyson with an observation that conferences have become the new seminaries.
I completely agree with him and think this is a great opportunity. There’s more collaboration, there’s more practical handles and tools for people to begin to actually accomplish the ideas and it’s more refreshing.
On to day 3…