More Thoughts from the NPC
OK, technically these thoughts are "about" the NPC, as I've returned home, but that really doesn't matter, does it?
I still sing the praises of Tom Dean from Zondervan who organized the NPC Runners Club. Not only did we get to meet and fellowship with some great people (the best people at the conference, in my oh so biased opinion), not only did we get free breakfast (the first day notwithstanding), but we also each got a slick technical t-shirt. It was really something seeing nearly everyone wearing that shirt on the last day.
N.T. Wright is a genius.
Jeff Allen brought his comedy to the NPC - though I've seen him several times (and if you buy the "Bananas" DVD and look carefully in the audience shots, you can see me there - my 15 minutes of fame) he was tears-rolling-down-your-face funny. Again. That guy hits a grand slam every time he gets behind the mic.
I went to a couple of seminars - one was a panel discussion on the Missional Church. Besides the fact that they spent a whole lot of time trying to define terms, the thing that bothers me is that it didn't seem like they have any real idea of how to transform a "non-missional" church into a missional church. The experts were all in church plants.
It seemed like they'd work for a while in an existing church, then they'd start a new service, then they'd run afoul of the local church governing body, so they'd break off and start a new church. Maybe that is the way to do "missional" church, but it doesn't seem helpful to the greater body. I'm not the expert, but it seems to me that we need each other.
The missional church seems to be light on structure and shuns the "purpose driven" intentionality that churches have been embracing recently. That life just happens, and living life as a Christian is a huge aspect of evangelism. To have a gathering of like-minded people who live it out (in word and deed) is attractive to outsiders. Sometimes intentional evangelism can make the targets feel like, well, targets. Who wants to be befriended just as a project? I'd rather have someone like me for me, not just to get me into their church (As a pastor, I experience that in this way: I'd rather have someone like me as Brian, not just because I'm the pastor - I don't believe it's a stretch to experience that from the non-Christian/Christian view).
I hope it really works out that way. But I believe for the existing church to do that takes intentional, purposeful work, and I believe that every Christian is called to a life of evangelism, not just those in so-called missional churches.
I also hit a similar seminar (led by one of the panelists from the missional church discussion) about the book They Like Jesus But Not the Church. This is great material, and I have been hearing it for a while (not the book itself, but the basic premise that Dan Kimball is explaining). The thing is: he hits the nail on the head. Young people are more and more attracted to Jesus, but they don't like the institutional church. This is probably why the missional church is being decreasingly involved in mainstream or existing congregations: because these churches are not being able to have the impact they should because of increasingly negative perceptions (or misperceptions - though perception ends up being reality) of the church.
We were unfortunately not able to get much into the "what to do about it" - but I'm guessing it would be something like this: live an authentic Christian life. Don't use Christianeze. When bringing a seeker to church, sit with them and explain what's going on. Fashion a worship service in such a way as to usher believers and seekers into God's presence - not simply entertain them or expose them to our unexplained traditions.
Another seminar I hit was one Bob Rognlein led on experiential worship. It was fantastic. He told us that we need to involve a large group of people in the creation of experiential worship services. The idea that we should be worshiping with all of our senses is a key - I've been sensing that people's senses have largely been unengaged in general worship services, and I've wanted to do something about it...
Ken Medema wowed us (again). He composed an original song after every general session, in which he integrated the MC's stage banter, the comedian, the worship set, and the main speaker. He was funny, musical, and poignant.
Finally, one of my running buddies kept joking that embarrassing things (or twisted words) would end up in his blog. We laughed about blogs being a "Christian" way to avoid any accountability while at the same time calling others to account. So through the rest of the week, if something came up that could be embarrassing, we'd say, "That's going in Neal's blog." (things like when my friend Randy and I went to the San Diego Sheriff's Museum and saw all sorts of cool stuff, including all manner of prison shanks and drug items... So I joked that we'd read in Neal's blog that we'd been the owners of said items.
Randy and I took Friday afternoon (after the conference ended at noon) to sightsee. We hit Old Town San Diego and learned about the history. There seemed to be some first-person interpretation, but most of the places we went in were self-guided tours with lots of pictures and written explanations. Once we figured out the trolley system, we got there in no time.
also visited a museum of the Mormon Battalion, in which we got some (rather stilted) history of the battalion that blazed a westward trail some 2000 miles (this was some sort of issue of suffering for their faith, but I couldn't quite figure that out). We thought we were going to get a Mormon hard-sell from the young lady who told us about the battalion, but when we weren't interested in the Book of Mormon that she almost offered us and when we didn't show any interest in filling out her forms, she let us be.
That's about it. It was a great trip, and well worth my while.