Tuesday, 28 February 2012
OK, there's this huge conference and associated ministries, primarily serving a fellowship of independent, non-denominational churches. So without the benefit of a denominational structure or denominational support, how does ICOM function?
Financially ICOM is mostly dependent upon the free-will gifts of churches and individuals who believe in the ministry of the conference. That is supplemented with registration fees (both church-wide and individual), exhibitor fees, and offerings given during the conference. Unfortunately, while ICOM serves a fellowship of thousands of churches, a comparatively small number of those chufrches ever support the conference financially, and an even smaller number send regular, monthly support. Church-Wide Registration (formerly Rapid Registration) is simply a method by which a congregation registers its entire membership for a graduated fee determined by the size of the congregation. This not only provides finances, it takes away the hassle of individuals registering while at the same time taking away at least one excuse for those same individuals not attending. That's it, plain and simple! Oh, there is an occasional corporate gift or gift from an estate. But most of the funds come from individuals, churches, and exhibitors.
Since getting an inside look at the operation of the conference, let me point out that I am terribly impressed with how frugal that operation is. ICOM offices are housed in a building that is graciously provided by the Hazelwood (IN) Christian Church through a long-term lease for which ICOM pays a dollar per year. David Empson, Conference Director, really knows how to stretch a dollar, allowing ICOM to function for a fraction of the cost of many conventions and conferences of a similar size.
Now that we understand the financial side of ICOM, who is it that actually plans, oversees, and runs it? I've mentioned David Empson, the Executive Director. He is responsible for the day by day operations. He is ably assisted by Jim Chamberlin who is responsible for SICOM (the Student International Conference On Missions) and technology; Jennifer Dobbs, office manager and bookkeeper; Nicole Reitzel, administrative assistant; and Emily Empson, who works part time as an administrative assistant and on special projects. Russell Johnson also serves the conference part time in the area of development.
The Executive Director is employed by a group of seven corporate officers. At the present time they are Neil Nordhielm, chairman; Wing Wong, past president; myself as current president; Jair Castillo, the 2013 president; Ben Simms, Chris DeWelt, and the Executive Director. The corporate officers serve a three year term and are selected and affirmed by the Continuation Committee, a diverse group of at least fifty that meets at each year's conference. That committee also approves the selection of the conference presidents.
Now you know! Actually you know more than I did in this regard when I was first approached about serving as president. There really isn't anything complicated about any of it. But God's hand has obviously been upon it as the conference has continued to grow in its impact...challenging people to get involved in the global mission of Christ...recruiting missionary laborers for the harvest...teaching workers how to serve more effectively...providing resources...and providing a place of networking for Chrisitians who are concerned about reaching a lost world. Make plans now to join us in Indianapolis November 15-18 for "Radical...Again!" It will be a disturbing conference that demands a response.
This past Sunday Jan and I had a great time with First Christian Church of Florissant, Missouri where Steve Wingfield succeeded his dad, Charles in leading a great work on the north side of St. Louis. Steve Ross leads their missions program and I spoke for their Missions Emphasis Sunday. This week we're in Joplin, Missouri for the Ozark Christian College Preaching and Teaching Convention where I'm representing ICOM and speaking three times. This Sunday I'll be preaching in beautiful French Lick, Indiana.
Tuesday, 21 February 2012
Last week's trip to San Antonio to speak to the Mega-Church Pastors' Conference was well worth it if only for the fact that a number of the guys committed to attending this year's ICOM who have not attended the missionary convention in the past. A number of them also committed to participating in Church-Wide Registration, which is something every church should do. It's fast, efficient, and incredibly cheap on a per capita basis. Watch for an announcement about the start of this year's registration.
But let me get back to the pastors. I can remember when very few senior ministers from churches of any size attended what was then the National Missionary Convention. When I began regularly attending, I many times felt very lonely in that regard. And it was especially rare to see other mega-church pastors there. But in recent years, given the growth of the conference both in size and impact, I've seen that change. Now hundreds of preachers attend each year including a growing number of leaders from our churches of a thousand or more. By the way, it is something to celebrate that our fellowship of churches now has more than 60 congregations that average over 2,000 in attendance, including a number that run over 5,000, several that average more than 10,000, and at least one that has moved beyond the 20,000 mark. There are another 70 or so that run between 1,000 and 2,000. Some of those congre-gations are doing some phenomenal things in regard to missions and I'm very thankful for their growing involvement in ICOM.
Let me be quick to point out that there are some much smaller churches that are doing some phenomenal things in missions as well. That's one of the reasons we're going to honor several churches at this year's conference that we believe are Radical Mission Churches. Do you know of a congregation that you believe excels in its missions efforts? It could be the church of which you are a member, or it could simply be one with which you are familiar. Simply tell us why that church should be recognized. We've already received some wonderful nominations. From all nominations we'll select one church in each of these size categories: 100 or less, 101 to 250, 251 to 500, 501 to 1,000, 1,001 to 2,000, and 2,001 or more. One of these churches will be honored and their story told at each of the main sessions. We know there are many Radical Mission Churches out there but we need your help in identifying them.
I was with such a congregation this past weekend. First Christian Church of Kissimmee, Florida has had a strong, vibrant ministry for many years. Ross Pepper led that congregation for 30 of those years, and upon his retirement Jim Book was called to take the lead. I was there to speak for their Missions Emphasis/Faith Promise Rally. While I was impressed with their financial support of global outreach, I was even more impressed with what they are doing to fulfill the Great Commission cross-culturally right there in Kissimmee. They have a thriving Hispanic ministry including a service in Spanish simultaneous with the 11:00 a.m. English service. They are looking seriously at another service in Creole for Haitians. But I was most impressed with their Community Outreach service.
There are many homeless people in Kissimmee, and as the church is located downtown the congregation feels a special responsibility for them. The Community Outreach service is held in the fellowship hall at 12:30, just after the other services are concluded. I'm sure there had to be 100 or more homesless men and women who gathered Sunday for a wonderful worship service complete with solid Bible teaching. Dinner is served afterwards. And the church is making some wonderful strides in helping these folks get training, find jobs, and move on to living productive lives. One of the church custodians is a product of that ministry and a shining example of what can be accomplished. By the way, First Christian is also beginning a Celebrate Recover ministry to help people in the community break out of the bondage of destructive addictions. Over 50 members have volunteered to help with that ministrty. One of the benefits of attending ICOM is having the opportunity to network with people from all sorts of Radical Missions Churches and thus to be exposed to new approaches to fulfilling the Great Commission.
Jan and I look forward to being with First Christian Church of Florissant, Missouri this Sunday for their Missions Emphasis, and then traveling on to Joplin, Missouri for Ozark Christian College's Preaching and Teaching Convention. There I'll be representing ICOM as well as speaking several times. I hope to see many of you there.
Monday, 13 February 2012
For the past 62 years the National Missionary Convention has been a wonderful source of encouragement for missionaries, an effective tool for missionary recruitment, and a tremendous provider of education and networking for those interested in mission. At the 2011 NMC in Atlanta it was announced that the name of the National Missionary Convention was being changed. The new name is the International Conference on Missions, or ICOM.
Change can be good or bad. I've never been one to favor change simply for the sake of change. In recent years there have been a number of name changes that I honestly believe have been harmful to the institutions or organizations. However, there have been others that have been very beneficial. I believe that is especially true when the new name better reflects the function of the group. The name, National Missionary Convention, has a time-honored history. However, it no longer accurately represents what this event is all about.
That which was known as the National Missionary Convention is no longer national; it is, and long has been, international. That is reflected in the fact that in recent years there have been two presidents from India, and that in 2013 we'll have a Mexican president, and then a Canadian one in 2015. A growing percentage of career missionaries at the event are nationals from countries outside the United States. I spoke in January for the All-India Christian Convention and was amazed at the number of Indian brothers and sisters who had travelled to America for the NMC.
Not only is the event now international in scope, it is a conference rather than a convention. The word "convention" represents in most people's minds a meeting of delegates gathering to make decisions. ICOM is certainly not that. No business is conducted, and because it is a non-denominational event it cannot speak for anyone or any group other than those who choose to participate. It is, however, a conference, which is by definition a place for discussing matters of common concern.
When the National Missionary Convention began, it was simply a gathering of missionaries on the day before the beginning of the North Ameircan Christian Convention. It was in 1954 that it became an event unto itself. And while missionaries now attend in far greater numbers than ever, the appeal is to all who have an interest in missions, with thousands of Christians from local churches seeking how they can better advance the evangelization of the world. And while the conference has historically focused on missions withint the context of what we know as the Restoration Movement (and that will continue to be the primary focus), it has become such a powerful event that it now attracts believers from many different backgrounds.
So hopefully you can see why the new name, the International Conference on Missions, better represents what this gathering is all about. It is also more than a three or four day gathering. While the event itself is the principle reason for the existence of ICOM, there are a number of other efforts associated with the conference such as Restoration Revolution and the Reset Tour. However, those are subjects which need far more attention than I can offer in this blog. I'll be telling you more about them and a number of other exciting things in the weeks to come.
Yes, I'm excited about the name change. Since the feedback we've gotten has been almost universally positive, I'd love to take the credit for it. As a matter of fact, if you like it, then remember that John Caldwell was the president-elect when the change took place. If you have a problem with it, David Empson is the Executive Director.
On a personal note, I'm off to San Antonio this week to speak to the the Christian Church/Church of Christ mega-church pastors, as well as the presidents of our Bible colleges and Christian universities. I hope to get them excited about ICOM 2012 and enlist their support for and involvement in the Indianapolis conference. Next Sunday (Feb. 19) I'm speaking at First Christian Church in Kissimmee, Florida for their special time of missions emphasis; and the following Sunday at First Christian Church of Florissant, Missouri for that same emphasis. I have just a handful of weekends still available on my calendar for the year, but certainly want to make the best use of them for Christ and ICOM. Pray with me that that will be the case. And please join me in praying daily for the success of ICOM 2012, "Radical...Again!" It will indeed be a disturbing conference that will demand a response.
Monday, 06 February 2012
It was the week after Christmas in 2010. A mantle of deep snow covered the ground here in central Indiana. Dave Empson and I were meeting to discuss the 2012 Indianapolis conference. I had chosen a theme for the conference and had worked on the individual sermon topics as well. Just in passing Dave asked if I had read Radical by David Platt. I hadn't even heard of it; but on Dave's urging I picked up a copy which I read while flying to Haiti the next week. By the time we landed in Port-au-Prince the conference had a new theme and the sermon topics had fallen into place.
If you haven't read Radical I urge you to do so. Platt's basic thesis is that the American church has bought into the American Dream ratther than Christ's vision for the church. He writes: "Somewhere along the way we...missed what is radical about our faith and replaced it with what is comfortable. We (settle) for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoing ourselves." He recalls the words of Bonhoeffer: "When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die."
The fact is that the teachings of Christ were considered very radical. Take a look at Luke 9:57-62 or 14:25-33 for examples. The early church was considered very radical. It was said of them that they had turned the world upside down for Christ. Those of you who are familiar with the history of the Restoration Movement know that it was the most radical Christian movement in America in the early part of the nineteenth century. But what about the church of today? An honest evaluation will reveal that with few exceptions there is very little radical about the modern day church. People of God, it is time for the church to be RADICAL...AGAIN! The world cannot and will not be won by business as usual.
The 2012 conference will certainly not be business as usual. We're calling it "a disturbing conference that demands a response." And that's what it will be. In the weeks to come I'll be introducing the topics to be developed and the speakers to to develop them this Novemeber. However, if you choose to attend, and I hope that you will, expect to be challenged. Many churches in American ask for three hours a week from their people: one hour of worship, one hour of Bible study, and one hour of service. Many professing Christians aren't even giving that. But how does that statck up against the teachings of Christ that we are to die daily, taking up our cross to follow Him? Is it any wonder that North America is one of only two continents where the church is not experiencing growth (the other being Europe)?
At ICOM 2012 we will all be called upon to reassess our beliefs, our commitments, our priorities, and our stewardship of life. We'll also be presented with some pretty radical opportunities to use our lives for the glory of Christ and the salvaiton of a lost world.
We live in a far different world than the one in which many of us grew up. Last week I was meeting with Jerry Williams, for 38 years the senior minister of Ben Davis Christian Church on the westside of Indianapolis. He said, "John, did you notice that the crosses have come down?" At first I didn't know what he meant. But then he reminded me that two churches had historically flanked Ben Davis, one next door and the other only a couple of blocks away. Both had crosses on display, identifying them with the Christian faith. But the one next door was now a Muslim mosque and the other a Hindu temple. And THE CROSSES HAD COME DOWN. Wow! What a powerful visual reminder of the changes that are taking place, most of them anything but good. Yes, it's time for the church to be RADICAL...AGAIN!
Platt closes his book with this reminder: "You and I stand on the porch of eternity. Both of us will soon stand before God to give an account for our stewardship of the time, the resources, the gifts, and ultimately the gospel He has entrusted to us. When that day comes, I am convinced we will not wish we had given more of ourselves to living the American dream. We will not wish we had made more money, acquired more stuff, lived more comfortably,taken more vacations, watched more television, pursued greater retirement, or been more successful in the eyes of this world. Instead we will wish we had given more of ourselves to living for the day when every nation, tribe, people, and language will bow around the throne and sing the praises of the Savior who delights in radical obedience and the God who deserves eternal worship. Are you ready to live for this dream? Let's not waver any longer."
On a personal note, over the last week I've had the opportunity to preach at Wheeler Mission in downtown Indianapolis and last Sunday at Redeemed Christian Church, a new congregation of Nigerian immigrants. My daughter, Jennifer Boston, returned this past weekend from doing medical missions work in Columbia, South America. Oh, yes, Indianapolis also hosted a little event know as the Super Bowl (congratulations, Giants). It was a run-through in preparation for next fall's ICOM; and I'm now convinced that Indy can handle it. This Wednesday through Friday we'll be having ICOM planning meetings to further fill out the program for this fall. Please pray for those meetings and all of us involved in that planning.