Originally published on Missional Outreach Network
March 14, 2010
My friend Ricardo and I braved the roads on an incredibly windy and rainy Saturday morning and arrived with time to spare at the 3rd Annual New England Church Growth Conference, hosted by the Manchester Church of Christ. Aside from being a good excuse to get out of New Jersey, I was looking forward to seeing Monte Cox from Harding University. He was to give the keynote talks at the beginning and end of the event that day. Unfortunately, Monte’s daughter was overdue to give birth and he opted to stay in Arkansas because she’d reported having contractions that morning. She and her husband are preparing to do at least 10 years of mission service in Africa, so he wants has much time as possible with his grandchild.
Although Monte couldn’t be there in person, we heard him speak via Skype. That was an experience. The video, projected on a screen, was predictably choppy. At one point during the end of his second (and last) keynote, the connection failed. Brother Cox completed his comments via telephone held up to the microphone.
The following are my notes, however limited, from the day’s events. I am not much of a note-taker…never have been, likely never will be.
The main theme of Monte Cox’s first keynote can be summed up in the following phrase: “God is looking for people who are looking for people who are looking for Him.” He told stories centered around how God works to bring people who are looking for Him in contact with those who can share the Good News. Another interesting image brother Cox passed along was that of a “lost person” being present at all church board meetings. Though he or she would have no vote, he/she would be privy to all the conversation and would likely, at some point, raise his/her hand and ask, “What about me? These things you’re discussing are all well and good, but I thought your entire mission was to find me.”
After the keynote I headed over to Bill Williams’ talk on Natural Church Growth. It was apparently the first of two talks, so I missed the second. I usually try to get around to hear a diversity of speakers at this type of gathering. Bill shared information from the book “Natural Church Development.” We’ve been friends online for some time, but not in real life, and we had a chance to talk briefly later in the day. It was good to finally meet him in person, and I regret not getting a picture of us together.
After lunch I went to hear Jerry Tallman speak about personal evangelism. I’m really glad I did. Although his style is applicable mostly to those who already accept the authority of the Bible in some way, he had some handy tips on how to conduct a good evangelistic Bible study. Sometime later I may share something clever he did with Ephesians 2. Two questions he asked during his talk really stuck with me:
- What would you do if you had absolutely no fear?
- If every single Christian were serving with the same level of efficiency as you right now, would the church be growing or dying?
That second question really challenges me.
During the break after brother Tallman’s talk I spoke with him briefly, then bought a copy of his evangelistic Bible study book: “His Eternal Plan
The last workshop speaker I heard during before the closing keynote was Gareth Flanary
. Two important points from his talk regarding the mission of the church spoke to what is needed in the life of the disciple individually and of the church collectively:
- Continuity with who Jesus is.
- Continuity with the missionary identity of God.
He emphasized that the church does not exist for herself, but for God and His mission.
And interesting quotation from his talk:
The Spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions, and the nearer we get to him, the more intensely missionary we must become.“ – Henry Martin
The final keynote from Monte Cox guided our thoughts toward the challenge of being both "sanctified” and “sent,” as seen in the prayer of Jesus in John 17, before his death. Being sanctified means being set apart, yet in the same prayer Jesus asks that his disciples be sent into the world. Christians are meant to both stand apart from the world and go into the world.
Monte mentioned having a picture in his office that sometimes he takes to class. It shows a grand cathedral with a major thoroughfare superimposed on the center aisle. The result is a huge church building with a highway running down the middle. What do his students think of the picture? Some see it negatively, as the world making inroads into the church. Others see it positively, as the church reaching the world. Who’s right? According to Monte, it can be both at different times. Disciples of Jesus need to be 100% committed to being sanctified and 100% committed to being sent. It can’t be merely one or the other.
The three final points from brother Cox were:
- We need to get serious about mobilizing members (see Ephesians 4).
- We need to know how to deal with the current situation, the world as it is and not as it was.
- We need to move beyond our internal squables and (I think I heard him say) our legitimate differences.
There was a plea for unity in mission in there.