NACC 2012: Interview with the President
By Brian Mavis
Rick Rusaw has served as the lead pastor at LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, Colorado, since 1991. He is the cofounder of Externally Focused Network, and coauthor of Externally Focused Church, Externally Focused Life, and Externally Focused Quest. Here he answers questions from people like you about this summer’s North American Christian Convention.
I contacted 15 different church leaders from around the country and asked them to send me one question they would like to ask you about this year’s convention. Several asked, “How would attending the NACC help me grow as a minister?”
RUSAW: The theme for this year’s convention is “Refreshed: He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” We see this year’s convention as a time of encouragement for people who are strongly involved in ministry. We are being directed by three key words: healed, inspired, and stretched.
Sometimes we go to a conference and we just need healing. We aren’t looking for a ministry resource; instead we are looking for something to help us personally. We are looking for someone to speak a word of encouragement into our lives.
Sometimes we go to a conference to be inspired. We want to hear somebody’s story that resonates with our story. We want to hear or discover something that inspires us to trust in God more and take on something we know God wants us to do.
And sometimes we go to a conference because we need to be stretched. We are looking for that new idea, new challenge, new opportunity, or new ministry resource that will stretch us and further the kingdom.
So for this year’s convention, we want to honor ministry people. We want to heal, inspire, and stretch. And we think that coming together for this year’s convention will help accomplish that.
This leads to a question that a minister from the western part of our country posed. “Will this convention be beneficial to people who aren’t on staff at my church? Will it benefit my elders and key volunteer leaders?”
RUSAW: So many of our volunteers are the lifeblood of our church. How I see it at our church is that we have paid staff and unpaid staff. Many of our elders and volunteers are so strategically involved in the ministry, that they would receive the same kind of benefit as a paid staff minister. I hope elders and volunteers will come away with a higher regard for ministry, to see some of the unique challenges that ministers have, and that they would desire to come alongside their ministers to be encouragers to them.
Several ministers said, “I’ve never attended the convention, and resources at my church are very limited. Give me three great reasons for my staff and me to go this year.”
RUSAW: One, you are part of a bigger family; come be a part of the family. While we are a part of Christendom as a whole, these are the people we have a connection to historically and theologically. And while we may not all be in the same place, we do have the same values and heritage, and it’s a chance for you to make great personal connections—new connections, renewed connections, and opportunities to connect with some of the speakers.
The NACC provides more than just a conference. There are a zillion conferences to choose from. If you want to hear a speaker, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world because you can hear them online, or they will be in your backyard one of these days. So while the program is important and I’m excited by the lineup we have, I really believe it is that sense of coming together as part of a family that comes first.
Two, there are some huge challenges facing the church in America today, and we will address those challenges. The speakers we’re inviting are all thinking about those tough trends and how to deal with them. All of them have a heart to challenge and encourage pastors who are facing those tough issues.
Three, there really is an opportunity to be refreshed. Ministers can make it a vacation, especially if they can bring their spouse and have kids. We are facilitating that by hosting the convention in the No. 1 family destination place in the world. We also have provided a unique setting for the convention that we have never had, in the sense that we are all together in one hotel and resort—The Orlando World Center Marriott Resort, the largest Marriott in the world.
I really hope everybody who attends will experience relaxation and refreshment.
So, this might be the best place for somebody who is feeling a bit overwhelmed in ministry because he has taken on too much or feels that culture has outraced him?
RUSAW: That is exactly right. This idea of “He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” is guiding what we do. Everything about the convention is geared toward the person who is up to his eyeballs in ministry. We know that most of the people who will attend are refreshing other people all the time; this will be a time for them to be refreshed.
Some church leaders are asking, “With so many conferences and conventions to choose from, why should I choose the NACC?” Is there something in the independent Christian church’s DNA or skill set that is unique to it that we need to come to appreciate?
RUSAW: Over the last decade I’ve been speaking outside of our movement a lot, and I get asked all the time about the Christian church. Other church leaders are paying attention to our churches because they are growing, have an entrepreneurial spirit, and are innovative. Also, many outside our fellowship are coming to appreciate what we believe and practice concerning the Lord’s Supper and baptism. And yet, when I’m with folks in our movement, there is a kind of low self-esteem, or there is a low appreciation for what we have.
Being independent can be a double-edged sword. Being independent is a phenomenal thing and has biblical precedence; it allows us to be nimble as we follow the Spirit. But independence can also have a down side that tempts us to work independently rather than interdependently.
So, I don’t think the main reason to meet is just to “get the Christian church folks together,” but I do think the NACC provides the best opportunity to see across our movement and discover the great things God is doing in and through it.
Another leader said, “What about all the cultural challenges the church is facing today?”
RUSAW: We have a ton of opportunities there too. We have some of the best thinkers and practitioners when it comes to innovation and knowing what is next for ministry. I encourage people to go to the website, www.gotonacc.org, to check it all out.
Another church leader asked, “Let’s say the 2012 NACC is wildly successful; in your eyes, what will it look like?”
RUSAW: First, people will come away with a renewed sense of commitment and call for ministry. Second, they will come away with some fresh ideas and energy for doing the very things God has called us to—love him and love others, and have that love show up tangibly in our communities and neighborhoods. Third, they will come away honored and encouraged to slug it out another day. That’s what success looks like to me.
So tell me, besides the convention being over, what are you looking forward to the most?
RUSAW: I am excited about a lot of things, but there are two new aspects to this convention I’m really looking forward to that will start and end the convention. I don’t enjoy watching the Oscar ceremonies, but there is one thing they do that I like—they take time to remember and honor all those in their industry who passed away during that year. We are going to do the same kind of thing on the first night. We are going to scroll names and photos of all the people who have served in our churches, schools, missions, and nonprofits who have gone to be with the Lord in this past year.
(Note: We need everyone’s help to make this list as complete and meaningful as possible. If you know about someone in one if the above categories, please send the information to the NACC office. Find the mailing and e-mail addresses at www.gotonacc.org.)
The second thing is the commissioning service we’ll do at the end of the convention. We are inviting the new graduates of our colleges to show up (we are hopefully going to cover their expenses to get there). And while this isn’t about ordination, it will be a real commission of blessing, encouragement, and challenge as they start their lives of ministry.
Those are both new ideas: One honors those who finished the race well, and the other blesses those starting the race. And I hope they both become traditions at the convention for years to come.
Brian Mavis is executive director of the Externally Focused Network. He also serves as the community transformation minister at LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, Colorado.