This weekend I attended the Sentralized Conference in Irving, Texas. It just finished today, and I am going to need some time to work through some of my thoughts on mission, ministry, and translating a lot of what I learned to my context of ministry.
I looked at this weekend as a pilgrimage of sorts. Did I want to find some help to lead my church toward understanding themselves as people who are sent by God to the world? Yes. But I also wanted to be moved, challenged, and revitalized for ministry as I move into the future.
I have to say, I am still a little overwhelmed. The conference was heavy on plenary speakers, and they came at us pretty quickly. Very few of them had clear outlines, or even hooks to tie in what they were saying to. That is not to say they were not good, the speakers were in fact excellent. But there is little about the Sentralized culture that says, "Hey, here are 6 easy steps to changing your church from attractional to missional." Nor should there really be, since that kind of thing does not really work anyway.
The next few days I am going to work at bringing things together, and gathering my notes into some organized whole.
I have also left this conference renewed and inspired. I am leaving Sentralized challenged to make some hard choices, and setting some new priorities. I am a little frustrated with myself for not staying with some of the priorities that I have set in ministry in the past. There are a number of factors that have played into this, but if the church is going to go where it needs to go and if I am going to be the leader I need to be I am going to make some decisions that are going to make people unhappy. So be it.
As I am here, I also began to think about what my passions are. Where do they lie? What am I most excited about. For better or worse, my passion is my family. I have a lot of other things to do and a lot of other people and things I love, but my little family is what I live for. Even if some people would consider devotion to family a "pernicious idol", I think my family is both my first mission field and central to how I need to do missional outreach in my community (through involving my family as key participants in welcoming and loving others in the name of Christ).
Socially, it was hard being here by myself. I am especially sensitive about not fitting in and feeling like I don't belong naturally. This conference was small. Many of the people attending were from Texas and drove in. I stayed at the cheap motel offsite. (They were all offsite). I did not have any relational connections with folks that came. I was unable to find a way to get a hold of someone to find a roommate for the weekend. So, it seemed like people were less willing to make personal and relational connections with me, and that many of them had them previously. It would be like someone who was not of my denomination coming to the ABC of the Dakotas gathering last week. I am not a part of the story that a lot of the folks here shared. Nor do I share their context of life and ministry. Many of them are in urban or suburban contexts. I didn't find many if any seeking to do missional ministry in a small town or rural setting.