Saturday, October 13, 2012

Report from the National Gathering Part 1

Report from the LCMC National Gathering
Part 1:  Personal Reflections in Praise of LCMC

I wish I could’ve taken the entire church to this year’s National Gathering of Lutheran Churches in Mission for Christ.  Seriously.  It was that good.  Speakers included our National Service Coordinator, Mark Vander Tuig; North American Lutheran Church (NALC) missions director and consistent LCMC fav speaker, Gemechis Buba; Reggie McNeal, the Missional Leadership Specialist from Leadership Network; and 3DM discipleship guru, Mike Breen.  I’ll devote one whole blog to each speaker and what they said.  I want everybody to know what’s changing out there beyond our congregation and the changes are significant.  I think we’re living in the middle of an enormous paradigm shift within the church in North America.  To me that means that these aren’t the easiest of times but they could very well be some of the funnest and most interesting to be the Church.  

This first post will be very personal.   This is our fifth year as a member of LCMC.  This   is the third year I’ve had the pleasure of going to a National Gathering.  Each time I experience such a sense of relief and renewal that it’s hard to describe.  But I’ll try.  

Why I feel such a sense of relief:  Things were so bad in our previous denomination that I felt either hopeless or completely isolated at every meeting or convention we had.  There was no sense of camaraderie, no sense of being involved together in the most noble of pursuits, bringing the Gospel to the world.  But now I experience just the opposite:  here are men and women who have sacrificed a lot for the sake of the Gospel.  Many have left larger churches in another denomination in order to serve smaller, struggling churches in LCMC.  Most are earning less than they did before.  Many are living off early withdrawals from their retirement or pension.  Some have no visible means of support, but God provides.  Many are starting new churches with no salary.  Many have been beaten up verbally by angry people for taking Biblical stands.  I’m so glad to be part of such a devoted group of Christ followers.  There is an amazing sense of “being on the same team.”  

Why I feel such a sense of renewal:  It’s amazing to me as I walk down the halls to see the joyful reunions of friends who haven’t seen each other for a year or perhaps more.  More amazing is watching people praying for each other in a quiet corner or just right in the middle of a hallway.  I love being a part of LCMC because we pray about every thing and believe that God hears us and will act.  

I’m still amazed that I know so many people.  It seems that many of my seminary colleagues have jumped ship and joined LCMC.  Those are also tearful reunions for me.  It’s like two survivors from some great disaster meeting years later, neither realizing that the other had survived.  “You’re here!  We’re alive!”

It’s good to see old friends.  One thing that comes about because of the unique culture of LCMC is that your peers are really significant in your professional and spiritual development.  Since we don’t have a top down structure and there is no one telling you what to do or asking you to do reports, this annual gathering serves as a way for us to report out to each other the things that God is doing in our lives and ministry.  It’s a chance to share our joys and our sorrows and our frustrations.  It’s a time to listen to others and learn from their successes and failures.  

Mark Vander Tuig said it best during the opening of the gathering:  “The most significant conversations will take place in the halls over coffee and we like it that way.”   Or something to that effect.  

It was great to catch up with friends.  Some I’ve worked with and some I’ve met at previous gatherings.  This kind of networking is an important part of LCMC culture.  This is where you find out who needs work, who is hiring, who is planning on retiring, who is planning on starting a new ministry, who needs advice and who has advice to give.  This year I networked like crazy and made important contacts with our brother pastors in Congo and Myanmar, both significant countries to our current ministry at Zion.  I also learned a lot from conversations about having a multi-ethnic staff and how to work with ICE to get an R-1 visa.  

Did I mention Congo and Myanmar (Burma)?  LCMC continues to grow abroad and this year we elected our first international member to the board.  Amazing.  I think about how different this association is from our former denomination.  There isn’t a sense that we’re to help those poor people “over there.”  Rather, those people “over there” have a lot to teach us and we are equals, truly brothers in Christ.  I love that.  I couldn’t help but tear up when all the international members took the stage.  There are now 11 LCMC churches in India who joined the association at this year’s gathering.  A new church in Myanmar (Burma).  Amazing.  Great things are happening in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia and it’s exciting to be part of it.  I imagine that one day, international membership might even surpass North American membership.  That will be an interesting and significant shift.  I can’t wait.  That will really help us understand the Church as something that is bigger than we are, a truly global enterprise.  

This was the second time we’ve met in a convention facility instead of a church.  There are simply too many participants for most churches to be able to host the gathering.  This was also the first time we’ve met in a city where we didn’t have a strong group of churches.  We don’t have a single church in Denver.  A few in the surrounding suburbs but not many.  So we’re meeting outside our usual enclaves and I love it. It was a great facility with easy access to the airport and the facility lent itself well to accommodating all the breakout groups and kept us well supplied with coffee.  What more could you ask for?  

I think a lot of the things that make LCMC so exciting come about because it’s a mere 11 years old.  I’m not sure that older institutions could re-make themselves in this fashion.  I hope I’m wrong about that.  Because the whole concept of being in a denomination has to change.  At one time in our history denominations had a significant role to play in spreading the Gospel and discipling people.  I think those days have passed and we’re now on to something different.  

The thing that causes me to grow the most each year at the gathering is the quality of the teaching and the topics addressed.  I get so much out of these talks.  And each year the talks seem to get more and more relevant.  We must be in mission as a church or we will cease to exist.  The association is pushing us into mission.  I think in LCMC we realize that a lot of our congregations in North America might not survive.  If it’s even possible, they got involved in doing mission too late.  But we believe that each congregation is significant and has a unique way to present a faithful witness to Christ.  And sometimes, churches might even be called to die as a part of that mission.  It’s amazing what we have the freedom to talk about in this paradigm shift.  I can’t wait to share with you comments from the various speakers.  God bless.  Thanks for reading.

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