CTW Conference Part 1: How to Read the Bible
When I slid into my car yesterday for the drive to Tipp City, OH, I was feeling equal parts nervous and excited. I’d been anticipating this trip for two months now, ever since I ordered the ticket online. And now the moment was upon me: I was on the road, traveling towards Ginghamsburg Church and the two-day Change the World Missional Conference.
I didn’t really know what to expect; after all, their website didn’t give a lot of information about the conference, except to say that it is designed to equip church leaders with the tools they need to develop their churches and transform their fellow Christians into leaders. I’m not a Christian leader, and I’m certainly not a pastor, nor do I feel I am called to either of those vocations. Would I learn anything of value at this conference?
Oh my goodness, the answer is yes!!
I can’t even begin to describe the incredible feeling of being surrounded by Christians—and not just Christians, but Christian leaders—who are interested in having the same conversations I’ve been wrestling with over this past year and a half. This experience was liberating and encouraging to me on so many levels, and I’m so excited to share why.
The conference kicked off to a fantastic start with keynote speaker Adam Hamilton, who pastors an incredibly large UMC church in Leawood, KS, and has authored 14 books. He spoke the words I’ve been dying to hear from a pulpit for so, so long: the Bible is not infallible. It is written by men and women who were inspired by the Holy Spirit, but that is a very different matter than claiming that God himself wrote it.
Hamilton talked about how it is okay to wrestle with the Bible, and it is okay to ask difficult questions. All of scripture, he says, must be viewed through the lens of the Gospel, through the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, the very living Word of God.
I’m telling you, I was about ready to leap out of my seat with excitement.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed Hamilton’s speech, I know many Christians, especially conservatives, would have found it to be inaccurate, and even heretical. After all, he talked about the story of creation and Noah and the flood as archetypal myths meant to communicate the nature of God to us, but not necessarily to recount historical events. So while I found this talk to be fascinating and discerning, I understand that some would take issue with it.
After the keynote, we broke up into smaller sessions. I attended a session entitled “Fanning the Fire”, which was led by one of Ginghamsburg Church’s small groups coordinators, Tony Miltenberger. This discussion was utterly fantastic, and I found myself wishing I was a church leader so I could implement what he taught (actually, scratch that. Something tells me it would be a thankless task!).
Basically, Tony talked about how most churches today are generally structured as an institution or a corporation, in which the pastor as at the top of a chain of command, and he delegates a portion of his responsibilities to committees, who then coordinate church activities. This structure, which he called the traditional model, often leaves pastors utterly burnt out from the weight of responsibility, and committees in charge of chaining concregation’s ideas to a strict and tight set of stipulations.
Under the guidance of Tony, Ginghamsburg Church decided to abolish this model in favor of a new way of structuring church programs. He labeled this method the missional model. Instead of an hierarchy, Tony suggested involving church attendees in a way that makes them accountable for doing Kingdom work and investing in each other’s growth as disciples of Jesus. He suggested training individuals as “life group” leaders, which would range in size from 10-15. These groups would collaborate to accomplish a collective vision, whether that be a Bible study, serving in the community, or just fellowshipping together in an informal manner.
There would be no red tape to walk through to get these groups rolling, except the approval of one of the coordinators. Instead, the leaders of these groups would need to meet three requirements before being allowed to start a life group: become members of the church, participate in a 12-week training course, and commit to praying individually for each of their life group members daily. After that, the sky is the limit, and any creative vision could become a reality for that particular group.
This model takes the pressure off the pastor, and fosters a committed, involved church body that has accountability among themselves and is united in a particular goal. Instead of the pastor and committees being responsible for most of the church’s mission work, the congregation themselves are carrying out this very important work, which accomplishes volumes in transforming the Church into a body that is thriving and growing together instead of passively sitting in pews each Sunday morning—essentially, congregations become producers instead of consumers.
Wow. I can’t believe I’ve written so much already, and so far I’ve only written about the morning sessions of the two-day conference! Stay tuned for a separate blog post about Thursday afternoon. Later, I’ll also write about Friday’s sessions, after which I’ll probably write a summary post collecting all my thoughts in cohesive whole. I suppose this is is a mini-series of sorts, and I expect to write a total of five posts about this conference. There is just so much to share.
So stay tuned for more!