Mark Batterson: Keystone of a good day at LCI 2014

As the 2014 Large Church Initiative Continuum conference continues, I’ve met a variety of amazing peoples with inspiring stories and wonderful ministries.

While there were a number of different workshop sessions available, I focused in on two that seemed the most useful to me. Jim and Jenny Cowart, pastors of Harvest Church, offered a class called “Start This, Stop That” which seemed a good way to figure out how to prune and encourage activities fitting in with the vision of the church. Jason Moore of the Midnight Oil Productions who gave great instruction on the use of image in worship.

The key note addresses were from three incredible communicators and pastors, Chip Ingram, Chip and his son Jason, Jorge Acevedo, and who to wrap it up? Mark Batterson.

The Harvest Church folks just got done writing a book by the same title as their conference workshop and opened up with a quick apology that they didn’t have more time to present the full seminar that inspired their book. They allowed for some discussion as they explained the basic tenants of leadership within a church – i.e. devotion to a vision, cutting out distractions, and multiplying involvement/ownership.

I’m using my own language to describe what they put more eloquently, and with brevity comes some inaccuracy. This is for the most part what I heard. These three things for them mean dedication to the Saturday night and Sunday morning worship and discipleship through small groups. Cutting out distractions means leaving out some ministries that may be good so that you can do great in the other areas. They don’t have VBS – too many volunteers when they’re needed for Sunday morning or leading small groups on a regular basis.

In other words, they want Sunday morning Children’s ministry to be as exciting and inspiring as VBS.

So, that leaves the last. They have a membership class and are required to join into a life group and a ministry team at the end in order to join. That’s some ownership right there, but their model, they have an amazing video to show this, is for people to loose the cruise ship mentality where it’s all about you and jump on the battleship where everyone has a job to do.

Pretty good idea most of us would agree, and most of us would notice quickly the amount of training needed for the leadership to be ready to take on new comers and still be inviting. In fact, one of the key points of this whole conferences came out there subtly, a pastor’s job is in visioning and training as much as anything other part of the ministry.

The lecture by Jason Moore was more inspiring, but it can be expressed more briefly. Before I get much further, you should check out his ministry and talk to him, He’s a good guy with some incredible talent and wonderful imagination. The presentation was witty, clear, and informative and was an introduction to the use of image in worship. The brush was broad when he used the word image. Underneath the title he meant both objects used in worship space and pictures/words/art brought in whether by technology or by human hands.

Jason, without really knowing it, presented a far more Augustinian approach to image use in worship, and I believe even James K A Smith would have been a little impressed. This means two things: Those of us in attendance were reminded that objects, images, smells, and words are signifiers all of which can be used to point back to the reality of God’s grace. Now, that is not how Jason worded it – but it’s a good way to understand what he said.

Jesus does this sort of thing all the time through the use of parables, sign acts, and references to destroying the temple.

We forget that when he tells the parable of the vine dressers it is very possible that he’s sitting by a vineyard. What are we doing to bring objects, images, smells, and words together to get our message across? I have to admit, I’m fairly imaginative in the word department, but I fail utterly to grab the right objects to really and truly get the attention of those who have a different learning style than I do.

Above all, Jason encouraged us to have a cohesive worship service with one main point to teach for which all the elements of the worship service to reference. Don’t read a scripture and not use it. Don’t put a song in there that jumps topic from your the main point. Transition using overlap with video and sound and other objects in the space – having a number of false starts, restarts, or jumps in the service ends as a distraction. Apparently, it can take nearly 20-25 minutes for a distracted person to come back to focus. So, don’t loose it.

Now, he was gracious enough to concede that we needed a team to do this, and my thoughts which were already throwing in all sorts of references and undergirding logic into his very well done presentation finally turned to application. Because for me, the greatest challenge is learning how to imagine these things when I don’t really have the gifts for it. Jason believes in trust and collaboration. I do too – so now when I’m working with a team it’s to help them imagining and seeking imaginative ways of presenting the gospel.

On a side now, I desperately need time to prep my sermon ideas months in advance to let people help to this level of detail.

The hospitality of Mount Pisgah UMC in Alpharetta, GA has been unbelievable, and we sat down to dinner to have a lively discussion of the problems with our presentations so far. We realized that there were not any women or african american key note speakers save a D.S. by the name of Sharma Lewis whose time got cut into. Jorge Acevedo was the only hispanic speaker. Of the two movements, confessing (a conservative group within the UMC) and reconciling (a more open group for those who want to agree to disagree), only one has a presence at the conference. No non-white worship leaders were here.

We noted that some of these problems were endemic to culture – there are not many woman senior pastors at mega churches. Although, Joyce Meyer and Beth Moore do have very large ministries. We weren’t aware of large churches with women at the helm so to speak, and that is a bit sad. There are several bishops (Hope Ward from NC Annual Conference) that are women, and our own NWTX and NM Annual Conferences share an african american bishop, Earl Bledsoe. Never the less, none were present.

These thoughts kept us occupied through dinner and past…

Then we headed back up to end the day with Mark Batterson, the pastor at the National Community Church in Washington DC and author of several books but promoted here “CircleMakers”. In it he recounts the story of a praying Rabi renowned for the efficacy of his prayers. I wont spoil the story for you, but the message was clear – sometimes we are afraid to ask God to do something, sometimes we don’t think to ask God to do something, and sometimes we don’t know what we want God to do. Batterson’s advice? Identify what you believe God wants you to do, who he wants you to reach, where he wants you to go – then circle it in prayer. Draw a circle on the map, walk a circle with your feet, around your church, your home, your neighborhood, your town and pray.

It’s a simple message, a simple set of instructions to follow, but sometimes we need to be reminded to do the simple things and have a little trust in the love of God.

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About Sean Smith

Husband, Father, Pastor, Swimmer, Writer, Reader, and attempted Adventurer!
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