CTW Conference Part 2: A Mustard Seed Church
If this is the first entry you’ve read about the conference, it might be helpful to go back and start with Part 1.
After a short break for lunch, we all gathered in the worship center for our next keynote speaker: Mike Slaughter, the pastor of Ginghamsburg Church. His discussion expanded upon the points made in the morning’s breakout about building a church that works from a bottom-up system, rather than an hierarchy that puts all the pressure on a pastor. He had a lot of informative things to say, but more than anything else, it was Mike’s stories that kept me entranced.
He told the story of his own church, which had been founded in the mid 1800s but had never been very large. When he was appointed the pastor of Ginghamsburg Church, it had only 70 people attending. When he arrived, the changes he implemented were so drastic that within a year half his congregation left, and the church was dying.
Mike’s heart for serving the Lord was so apparent throughout his talk—he wasn’t afraid to challenge the status quo, and look critically at how church is done, and how it ought to be done, which is why so many people left in his early years. Over time, however, as his heart for seeing Ginghamsburg Church be transformed into a mission-minded church began to manifest, his church grew, and grew, and grew.
Now, over 3,000 men, women, and children attend Ginghamsburg Church.
Mike talked about how the testimony of his church is a story that parallels Jesus’ parable when he said the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed—it is the tiniest and most insignificant of seeds, but when it is planted, watered, and cared for it matures into an enormous, towering tree. And this is just what happened with Ginghamsburg Church.
Mike told other stories of churches that saw similar growth, and I think it is a sure indication that people are drawn to the Light, drawn to a place where God is reigning, and He is the one church leaders seek to please, not each other. He told a story about a church in Philadelphia that experienced similar growth. It was led by a pastor with no college degree—certainly no seminary degree—who sensed God’s vocation and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit answered God’s calling. Mike called it a “grassroots movement”, where there is no stipulation for shepherding a flock of believers except the anointing of God. It was such a wonderful testimony.
After Mike’s keynote, we split up again for break-out sessions. I chose to attend a session called “Mission that Helps, Not Hurts,” which is about missions trips–both short-term and long-term—and what we can do to transform our outlook on the purpose they serve. The breakout leader was Elizabeth Heft, who is in charge of missions at Ginghamsburg Church.
I think that, of all the speakers I listened to at this conference, Elizabeth’s was the most challenging and convicting to me. She critiqued the way we ordinarily do missions in a way that was tactful yet bold, and I learned a lot from her. Most of the time, when churches send out short-term missions teams, they send them with a problem to fix. I thought of so many examples from my own experiences—going to Mexico and building a home for an old woman, going to Toronto and helping in a soup kitchen, things like that.
While aid of this sort does fix a short-term problem, it is not sustainable. Building a home fixes one woman’s problem and gives her shelter, which is great, but it doesn’t help her improve her own quality of life; we improved it for her.
To illustrate this problem, Elizabeth used the illustration of a tree as metaphor for a particular culture. Each part of a tree represents a different aspect of the culture: the roots represent a people’s beliefs. The trunk signifies what they value, and the branches represent their behavior. The fruit–the most apparent part of a tree–represents the results.
So building a home in Mexico is a result of the missions trip. But Elizabeth likened this sort of result to looking at a dead tree in need of care, pulling down all the rotten fruits, and replacing them with artificial fruit. The result looks good, but the tree’s branches, trunk, and roots are still withered. Instead, we need to find ways to water the roots of a tree and generate sustainable life that will filter out into its trunk, branches, and eventually produce real fruits.
Elizabeth also talked about changing the language we use. Instead of missionaries going to help the poor, which implies a tilted sense of superiority and inferiority, she suggested referring to those who go to the mission field as “goers” and those who receive them as “welcomers”. When you think of it this way, you see that each group has a role to play in learning from the other, and supporting the other. It’s such a great way to think of missions.
After this talk, we walked through a diagram of how to consider ways in which we can make missions sustainable. Elizabeth drew a T chart on a whiteboard, with two columns labeled “benefits” and “costs”. She offered us a problem that a community might have—like malnourishment—and what solutions we might have to alleviate hunger in a particular area. Then, we wrote down the costs and benefits to each group—the “welcomers” and the “goers”. Working through this exercise helped us see ways in which the solutions we offered might be beneficial on a short-term basis, but failed to be sustainable.
In all, this discussion was probably the most enlightening for me. After it was over, I started talking to a couple I had done an exercise with. The man started telling me about a soup kitchen he and his wife ran in their home town, and how over the course of several years it had grown to about 3,000 people coming to be fed on a weekly basis. I was in awe, and I started to think about what a fantastic ministry this was.
Then, I realized it wasn’t. The man went on to talk about how frustrating it was for him that now multiple generations of families were dependent on this soup kitchen for their daily bread, and how the ministry had turned into an example of “artificial fruit” that is not sustainable and would have no long-term benefit to empowering these people to earn their own food. I had never considered things in this way before this break-out, and it was definitely an eye-opener.
Wow, that was another long one! I hope you were willing to stick it through to the end. I just learned so much, and even everything I’ve shared here is but the tip of the ice berg. Keep an eye out; I’ll continue with Parts 3 and 4 soon.