The Exponential conference is dedicated to evangelism and church planting. I attended this past October.
Here are my top takeaways from the conference.
1. The shift in the definition of church
We’ve all heard for a good while now that church is not the building, but the people. But though we say that, we really have a church-centric view of Christianity; it’s all about the events that happen at church.
Jeff Vanderstelt said something quite profound in a panel discussion, though:
“We have wrongly defined the church as an event we attend rather than a family we belong to.”
In the church community he belongs to, they define church on a much more local level: that is, a family group.
2. The rise of missional communities
What is a missional community? Some people define this as a new monastic movement, of sorts. Recent leaders include Shane Clairborne, author of The Irresistible Revolution. Another leader which seems to be gaining prominence is Jeff Vanderstelt. He is the leader of Soma, which defines itself as a “family of churches who believe missional communities are the primary organizing structure of the church and the most effective means for developing gospel-centered communities.”
It’s dangerous to try to over simplify and distill movements like this, but for the sake of this post, I’ll try to give some characteristics:
a) Discipleship as social transformation. This is the idea that disciples of Jesus seek to serve and transform the local communities that they live in. In some neighborhoods this might mean serving the poor or addressing issues of injustice, for example.
b) A willingness to relocate to underprivileged communities.
c) An emphasis on word and deed. In other words, it’s not just about preaching and teaching, but also doing something.
d) Living as the church scattered, as opposed to the church gathered.
A few years ago the big buzz word was missional church, but I’m noticing a shift to missional communities instead. In this movement, everything is very local. This connects with the first point of church being a family that people belong to.
There was something else that Vanderstelt said that impressed me quite a bit. A question came up about how someone becomes an elder or a pastor in the Soma movement. He mentioned that, in most churches, elders and pastors are hired based upon a resume. You might not know a lot about a person, but, at least on paper they look really good. They have the right degrees, or money, or career. Instead, they mentioned that someone who will be an elder has to prove themselves over time. In addition, he mentioned this particular metric: “A potential elder is someone who, if I were to die, I would feel confident entrusting my own family into their care.” Wow.
Wondering what this looks like in real life? Here’s a video that gives a picture of SOMA communities.
3. Evangelism as disciple making
There was a clear emphasis on discipleship. Many of the presenters noted the false dichotomy between evangelism and discipleship. There was the sense that, if we do discipleship and help people fall in love with Jesus, evangelism will happen naturally.
4. Don’t make announcements, but preach them
This was an interesting little strategy that one of the speakers, James Meeks, noted. He told a story of making announcements and an appeal for volunteers, but seeing little results. One day he decided to preach a sermon on the topic of recruiting volunteers. He preached on the story in Matthew 8:14-15 where it says, “Now when Jesus had come into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother lying sick with a fever. So He touched her hand, and the fever left her. And she arose and served them.”
Guess what the main idea of the message was? “Delivered people serve…”
Then, he’ll let the church know that two weeks from now, all the ministries will take a day off. No greeters will be there. No ushers. So he calls them to step up and volunteer and to fill those places.
And here are some notable quotes:
“You don’t train people to be excited about stuff and how to herald things. People talk about what they love.”
“The way we live should demand a gospel explanation.”
“Movements are created when the founder really knows Jesus. They die when the leaders just know the founder.”
“There’s never been a movement that’s not committed to discipleship.”
“The key to the health of a church is not mere evangelism, but discipleship. Where do we hear evangelism in Matthew 28? Evangelism happens as we disciple people.”
“The more I help people fall in love with Jesus, the more people will naturally share about Him.”
“Postmodern people are pragmatists. Learn how to solve problems with the Gospel.”
So what about you? Did something from one of those points stand out to you?
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