Detroit Baptist Seminary’s Mid-America Conference on Preaching concluded today. The conference this year focused on the missional church movement. It was a rather large task—to summarize and then interact with the missional church movement.
Overall, I thought the conference was very good. Dave Doran, pastor of Inter-City Baptist Church and president of the seminary, spoke at all four main sessions. He did an admirable job of taking a rather large and sometimes nebulous idea and making it digestible in a brief period of time.
I have written about the missional idea recently here at my blog, and will be doing some more short articles on it in the near future.
But here’s some off-the-cuff remarks that are on my mind this evening that I am going to unload here.
This conference, along with my own thinking over the last decade since I first encountered the missional idea has convinced me of this: It is far more important to know your Bible and your community than it is to know what the newest incarnation of missional is.
I think there are some useful ideas in missional that I will highlight in coming articles. I also think there are some severe shortcomings and I will also point those out.
But the reality is that, in my opinion, there is nothing useful in missional that doesn’t spring from knowledge of the Bible and good old common sense about how to relate to people in your community.
You don’t have to know who Darrell Guder is to know that a community filled with people who haven’t finished high school won’t benefit much from a 12 week series on the relationship between Pauline justification and Aristotelian logic, or an exposition about the Lukan Authorship of Hebrews (the actual title of a rather longish book I saw today).
And a reading Christopher Wright won’t be needed to convince you that a lengthy study on evil of platonic dualism and its connection to proto-gnosticism probably won’t double your church this year (unless by “double” you mean empty seats).
It doesn’t take a class with Stetzer to figure out that if you live in a community with a lot of hungry people, having some sort of food bank or food pantry is a kind thing to do to make available for needy people when they ask. It won’t get people to heaven, but it may help them go to bed without being hungry. And that’s not the worst thing you could do.
(True story: A number of years ago, my wife and I took a bag of food to a mother who just given birth. While standing in her living room, she felt compelled to show me the fresh sutures from her C-section, and before I could say, “That’s okay, I don’t need to see it” she had pulled down her sweatpants. Somehow I have never seen a missional author lay out the proper response to that scenario. I suppose something like “Wow, that had to hurt” or “That’s quite a scar” would have fit well. Perhaps my uncharacteristic silence was a rare moment of wisdom.)
If you live in a neighborhood with a lot of single moms, having moms bring in children’s clothes for needy families won’t kill you. (I needed some this past week and had nothing to give her.) Now it won’t clothe them in Jesus’ righteousness, and Jesus didn’t die to provide Winnie-the-Pooh jammies for a little tyke, but it may keep a child warm during the winter.
Is that a bad thing to do? I don’t think so. It’s basic human decency. Later, I will tell you why I think this is a legitimate possibility (not a mandate) for a church to do.
Perhaps the biggest thing you can do to be usefully missional is to not spend several months listening to missional conferences and reading missional books. Rather, since “missional” means “sent,” then send yourself out. Get out of your office, take your headphones off, and walk the streets, and talk to people about their lives, their questions, their hurts, their happinesses, and their needs, their families, their jobs. Then ask a few questions. Probe. Ask why. Listen to their story.
You may want to meet their needs, answer their questions, cry with them, or buy them a gallon of milk, or maybe have someone else deliver the post-Caesarian food run … but above all, just shut up for a change and listen for a while.
It will do wonders for your preaching.
While I am rambling, this reminds me of Tim Keller teaching on preaching. He says you will preach to the people you talk to and listen to. If you spend your week listening only to books, commentaries, and ODGs, you will preach to those kind of people. If you spend your week in your neighborhood, in the coffee shops, in the parks, and reading your newspapers, you will preach to those kinds of people.
Why? I think it is because the people you talk to will create the questions that you are thinking about. Only then will you know how the gospel and the Bible reframes and reasks their questions. Perhaps on another occasion I will interact with this a bit. I don’t think its irrefutable; I do think it is helpful. Keller is not saying abandon the commentaries. He is saying talk to people.
Pastors, we can’t get up on Sunday mornings every week and feed our flocks if we haven’t spent any time with them.
But I digress, and am way off topic by now.
So what was my topic?
Ah yes, the MACP. Download the audio from this conference and listen to it. You and your church will be better off because of it.