Yesterday there was a regional leadership conference for service-minded brethren of all ages in Portland, and about a hundred other people (myself included) from the Pacific Northwest listened and questioned and commented all day to a very intriguing and thought-provoking series of presentations relating to the role of the larger body of membership in evangelism. Although there are subjects I talk about more, this is a subject I read and ponder about  and so I thought it would be worthwhile for me to share my impression of the presentations and their implications to those who are interested in reading it, as is my fashion. For me, at least, my thoughts about this series of seminars were complicated by the background knowledge I brought to it, the quirkiness of my own perspective, and the intellectual context I bring to questions of social change as well as communication. With that said, let us begin.
The seminars opened with a short introduction by the president of our church, who commented about his interest in the fundamentals of leadership, something he likes to read about blog about and speak about often. He brought some attention to the matter of our personal example, asking us a key question: Are we disciples of Jesus Christ? As a way of pointing to the evangelism efforts of the larger organization, he commented on a radio station in an obscure part of Argentina owned by a member that spreads the truth about the Sabbath and other aspects of God’s ways over the airwaves in an isolated area that was once home to Nazis on the run from the catastrophe of World War II Germany. He also spoke about podcasting, which would come up again as one of the participants in the seminar has his own podcasting efforts for teens and young adults and brought it up in the later Q & A session.
After this one of the presenters of our church’s television show spoke about the subject of a church led by God’s Holy Spirit. I particularly enjoyed this presentation for a variety of reasons, and it started in a great way given that it commented on the offensive approach to our faith that is discussed in Matthew 16:18, which is at odds with the defensive-minded approach that many people have to the subject. After this the speaker discussed the vision and mission statement of the United Church of God and went back into history to look up the role of the brethren in evangelism from two 1940’s writings of HWA. I personally thought this was a particularly impressive move, given that it is much easier to encourage people to engage in an action if there is a generally acknowledged and reasonably old authority in support of such matters. At least in my own church culture, what is new tends to be deeply suspect to many people, myself included. After this came a discussion of our church’s positional statement relating to relationships, service, and evangelism/proclamation, which also included a look at the church’s internal media guiding principles, all of which I found interesting to read. He then told a story about his interactions with a sizable church in Angola which had its own history relating to the heresy of 1995 that led to the founding of my own church and discussed the member-driven but whole-church oriented evangelism of early members of the Church of God in the city of Antioch from the Book of Acts, which was a particularly elegant way to demonstrate the biblical position on such matters.
At this point there was a lengthy Q & A section from the first speaker as well as including everyone, which the seminar as a whole closed in as well, although that one was much shorter. Questions included a look for topical Bible studies geared at small children, where the questioner was pointed to our church’s family study guides, as well as community service involvement, where members were urged a la Nike to just do it, and where others were concerned about the balance between care for our own brethren in the face of needs as well as the desire to serve others in our community. I had a question relating to the tension between desiring the involvement of members in evangelism with the game of whack-a-mole that is played on people who are too conspicuous, and the speaker graciously commented that the distinction made was one of attitude. In general, service as well as a great deal of individual effort is encouraged as long as people do not seek to draw too much attention to themselves and toot their own horn about what they are doing. I noticed as well throughout the presentations that there was a tension between the desire to encourage members, many of us whom are quite shy personally speaking, to move beyond the awkwardness of talking about what we believe without being weird. There was an emphasis both on being more outgoing and extroverted about our faith and beliefs and also a desire at the same time to discourage pushiness and cultivate naturalness and an intuitive understanding of the right time and place and situation for such serious conversations. Having never felt particularly normal, I found myself at least somewhat envious of those people–who included most of our speakers–who considered themselves to be normal people.
After a tasty lunch, we reconvened for the last two seminars in the afternoon. The first of the seminars was given by the president of our church organization, who discussed that discipling is at the heart of Christianity. He talked about our church’s parallel track when it comes to seminars, some of which are focused on skills, and some of them that are focused on areas of character and integrity. A look at notable Bible serves and passages relating to the character-focused qualities of biblical leaders followed, along with a focus on commitment. The speaker also brought up a couple of books relating to the subject of biblical leadership and our role as disciples that he found particularly interesting. Neither of the books were available when I looked for them on my local library system, but both are books I was able to find reasonably cheaply on Barnes & Noble, so I will make a purchase of these to add them to my own personal library shortly.
The last seminar for the day was given by one of our other presenters on our church’s television show, and he spoke about reaching out and lighting the way with our personal example. The speaker spent most of his time looking at Bible verses and even reaching into the Greek in order to demonstrate what it is that the Bible says about our fellowship with each other and the way that our personal example is essential to establishing our credibility to speak about God’s ways with others. The speaker spent a great deal of time and effort drawing out from the audience suggestions and examples of how we reach out through listening, through our attitude of gentleness and respect, through making as well as taking opportunities and through developing relationships with other people that demonstrate our character to them and that encourage them to ask us questions. After this a brief Q & A session led to some fellowship between those of us who were at the seminars, which had ended up being quite an excellent and thought-provoking one for me personally at least.
 See, for example: