If there was a theme for my experience at Annual conference last Friday, it was “Communication Breakdown”. I was attending a number of events related to lay-speaking which, I believe, were not part of previous annual conferences.
This influx of several hundred people outside the normal routine of registration resulted in a number of instances where essentially the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing. It seems clear to me that while it was a good idea to have these special events, the design of the process was not clearly thought out. Next year, there will be a new event and I hope that they will look over what happened this year to insure that next year’s process goes a little more smoothly.
The event on Friday was an Evangelism workshop led by Kwasi Kena, Director of Evangelism Ministries for the General Board of Discipleship.
There was one instance where communication did not break down and at least one gentleman is glad that it didn’t. During the Evangelism workshop that I was attending, this gentleman took ill and it was necessary to call for medical assistance. Quick thinking on the part of the Hofstra students who were assisting with other tasks got the medical personnel there quickly and this individual was attended to and received the medical attention he needed. But it wasn’t simply just modern communication that was involved. Dr. Kena’s wife, Safiyah Fosua (Director of Preaching Ministries for the General Board of Discipleship) led the lay speakers gathered in continuous prayer while waiting for the medical personnel to arrive, while the medical personnel attended to the gentleman, and as he was transported to medical facilities elsewhere. There was a sense that the Holy Spirit was present and it brought to mind the number of times that we ask for the power of the Holy Spirit to bring healing to the sick in our prayers on Sunday. And, the report that we received at the end of the seminar was that the gentleman was in good condition and nothing serious happened.
The seminar on evangelism was interesting for at least two reasons. First, the definition of evangelism that Dr. Kena offered was radically different from what I believe the public understanding of evangelism is. This definition of evangelism was a three part definition and was more than just a preaching of the Gospel. It was also a proclamation of what God is doing in the world right now and a call for people to participate.
And this definition of evangelism was tied to the definition of discipleship. And here again, the definition offered for discipleship was radically different from what is the public perception of discipleship. Many people assume that the message of Matthew 28: 19 (“go into the world and make disciples of all the nations”) means to force people into following Jesus. But Dr. Kena pointed out that we need to teach people what the message of Jesus is. I could not help but think that his definition of discipleship was more in tune with Clarence Jordan’s translation, “make students of all races and initiate them into the family of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to live by all that I outlined for you.” (From the Cotton Patch Gospel translation by Clarence Jordan)
He concluded the workshop by offering a series of questions critical to the growth of the church and any other church in today’s society:
- Do you want to attract new members? Why?
- Why do you want to grow?
- Why are we doing whatever it is that we are doing?
- Why are we doing whatever it is that we are doing the way we are doing it?
- Why does God want this church in this community? What does it mean to be faithful to God’s intended purpose for this church?
- What’s the good news that this church expresses? Why should I join this congregation? What good will it do?
He concluded with three focusing questions, questions that lay speakers and lay leaders should take with them back to their churches and into their communities.
- Regarding the people you are trying to reach, what do we want to see happen as a result of their coming within the sphere of influence of our ministry?
- What are we offering, from their point of view that would make it worth their while to get involved with us?
- (And what I thought was the most challenging question of all) What price are we willing to pay in order to be able to reach others?
Considering the problems that marked that day, both before the seminar and later, I could have easily written off this day. But hearing Dr. Kena and seeing the presence of the Holy Spirit in that place, of knowing that there is a message being presented that contradicts the message that too many churches (including those in our denomination) are presenting made the effort worthwhile. And I know that what Dr. Kena said on Friday and again on Saturday (more on that in the next post), influenced what I wrote and said in my message on Sunday (“The Bottom of the Ninth”). And if the measure of success is how well you use what you learn, then this was a very successful seminar.