Last week I had the privilege to attend the Ecclesia Network‘s National Gathering near Washington, D.C., along with around 200 others. It was a really rich and meaningful time; so much so that I have had some difficulty putting it into words. I don’t think that I can adequately “summarize” the gathering in one post, and it was so much more than information transfer, so I imagine that the implications of the gathering will continue to percolate and come out later as blog posts in the future.
One of the most precious aspects of being at this gathering was connecting and re-connecting with amazing, beautiful people who are proclaiming the gospel, making disciples of Jesus, and planting churches all over. Since we got connected with the network nine months ago, many of these people are becoming great friends and mentors in ministry for me. I count it an honor and privilege to be on this journey with the others in Ecclesia. These are quality people who are living it out. If you’re a church planter (or thinking about planting a church), consider Ecclesia. Contact me and I can get you connected with the right people.
So… a little bit about the gathering itself.
The main presenters were Dallas Willard and Bob and Mary Hopkins (Todd Hunter was unable to come for understandable reasons). Willard’s writing and speaking have been a huge influence on me. His book The Divine Conspiracy literally changed everything for me when I read it in 1998, so it was a tremendous privilege to be able to hear from him “up close” and be able to engage in some dialogue (one of the advantages of keeping the size of the conference under 200 people). I had never heard of Bob and Mary Hopkins, but apparently they have been on the cutting edge of missional church and European church planting for over 30 years. The Willard/Hopkins combo brought a unique convergence of the theological and the practical that reflects one of my favorite values of the Ecclesia Network as a whole.
I will offer three very general themes that impacted me at this gathering, and will likely expand on these and tease out implications in future posts.
1. Making disciples of Jesus is the key to everything
At one point Dallas said, “The only hope for the world is that Christians become disciples of Jesus Christ.” This is one of the main themes of everything Dallas says, and it’s not really “new” for me, but it is amazing how easy it is to get distracted from it when working in and with the church. “We fuss over so many things in the church that just don’t matter,” Dallas said. I have found that to be sadly true for me, and I am repenting.
You can have the most brilliant programs/classes/liturgy, but if people are participating in those things as consumers, they are completely useless. The means of discipleship only make a difference if they are engaged in by people who have a compelling vision of what it looks like to follow Jesus and an adequate intention to actually learn to do the things Jesus said to do. I realized I need to spend less time crafting the means of discipleship and more time casting a compelling vision of life in the kingdom and calling people to an intentional life of following Jesus, not just attending services, participating in programs, and attending classes.
2. The power of the Spirit is not optional
Of course it’s not, most Christians would say. But I think it’s mostly lip-service. We do so much “risk management” in the Christian life, engaging in only what we think we can accomplish in our own strength. What’s scary is that there’s plenty of good, religious activity we can engage in without needing to depend on the Spirit at all. The only way to learn to rely on the Spirit in the kingdom is by doing something you cannot do in your own strength. “Stretch out your hand,” Jesus said. “Take up your mat and walk.” Impossible! Yet they did it through the power of the Spirit. “Do what you can’t do,” Dallas said, “and you’ll find you can, because God was with you.”
I am learning to depend less on my preparation, my natural gifts and abilities, and more on the Spirit, who alone can accomplish the really good stuff. He’s the one who saves, transforms, heals, teaches, guides, blesses. I am learning how to leave room for the Spirit in ministry, which is a scary and exhilarating experience. I also believe that living in the power of the Spirit will look a lot different than it has in the recent past.
3. God moves outside the boundaries of the expected
Bob and Mary Hopkins shared story after story of God moving in such unexpected and surprising ways that I almost laughed out loud several times. Through the work of grassroots missional communities in Europe, they are seeing the gospel reach into very “difficult” places. There were stories of all kinds of people starting to follow Jesus, from Iranian Muslims to Slovakian gypsies.
I have been asking God to expand my missional imagination, to pray and work toward the good news of Jesus running amok in my context, outside the “boundaries” I typically (unknowingly) put on the Spirit.
There were also many presentations given by people within Ecclesia that were marvelously helpful and formative. I loved that we got to hear from so many thoughtful and faithful practitioners (men and women – another aspect of Ecclesia I love, that I’ll need to blog on later).
Also, here are a few others who have posted reflections from the gathering: