The National Missionary Convention became the International Conference on Missions at its gathering last fall. The conference seems set to continue what it does best: challenging thousands with the opportunity and needs for world missions.
From the moment I heard that Wing Wong of China was the 2011 National Missionary Convention president, I knew it would be a great gathering. My anticipation grew when Wing visited Ozark Christian College a few months before the convention and immediately endeared himself to hundreds of students.
Wing’s unique combination of humor, passion for Christ, and humble spirit connected with more than 5,000 attendees who gathered in Atlanta November 17-20 for the 64th annual National Missionary Convention.
Balance in the Main Sessions
Drawing from the Great Commission passage of Matthew 28, six powerful messages were brought this year by a variety of main session speakers. Interestingly, two sessions were led by American Christian educators, two by Asian missions leaders, and two by North American megachurch pastors.
Alan Ahlgrim, lead pastor with Rocky Mountain Christian Church, Longmont, Colorado, opened the convention on Thursday evening by speaking in a self-revealing manner concerning the call to commit. The tension between commitment and clarity was highlighted in a creative way.
Don Wilson, senior pastor with Christ’s Church of the Valley, Peoria, Arizona, on Friday evening challenged us to be more involved in the lives of young people and to unashamedly call them to go to the lost and dying world. Ahlgrim and Wilson are lead pastors in very large churches, and by having them speak in evening main sessions, the NMC demonstrated an important connection between the megachurch and the missions network.
Keith Ray, president of Lincoln (Illinois) Christian University, and Kevin Boll, president of DisciplePath Church Training, Seattle, Washington, spoke eloquently and passionately on the themes of teaching and making disciples, and how those activities occupy an essential part of being commissioned. Boll told how discipling is the core issue of the Great Commission and that Jesus did not call us to go and make converts, but to go and make disciples.
Wing, of China, and C.Y. Kim, of Korea, spoke with conviction concerning the seriousness of our task. Both men, in deeply touching ways, described their own roads of suffering and how it resulted in a powerful witness as God used them to reach lost people in Asia. Their stories and their demeanor were an encouragement to everyone present.
An added feature this year was a live video stream of the main sessions via the Internet. It was a great blessing to many who could not attend. I know of many missionaries around the world, some in closed countries, who availed themselves of this feature. The convention’s website, www.theicom.org, has many helpful resources.
Networking in the Exhibit Area
I often tell my students that walking through the exhibit area at the convention is like a walk around the world. Literally hundreds of representatives and missionaries are present from all continents and all kinds of ministries.
This is my favorite part of the convention because of the many conversations and reconnections that take place as one wanders from aisle to aisle. Seeing new resources, watching as mission-sending agencies are busy recruiting new workers, discovering new initiatives from cutting-edge ministries, and having a chance to pray with “real live missionaries” are just part of what happens in the exhibit hall.
Workshops to Meet Many Needs
There were 129 workshops in two days time! That might seem overwhelming, but it is a reflection of what it means to take the good news to a world full of challenges. The convention has helpful category and track definitions for the workshops, so attendees can rapidly focus on areas of particular interest.
Workshop tracks included Bible translation, campus ministry, church planting (both domestic and international), global business, justice, mission trips, prayer, and spiritual formation—whew! (And that’s just a few of them.) Rich choices in subject matter were intended for everyone with any missions interest at any level.
The convention officially opens on Thursday evening, but the 48 hours leading up to the first main session are filled with important annual events. This year, more than 140 missionaries attended a preconvention “missionary only” meeting for encouragement and specialized care. The theme was “missionaries in transition,” and Church Development Fund underwrote the cost of missionaries staying an extra night to participate. What a wonderful blessing!
A New Name
On Friday evening, we all sat wondering what would happen. National Missionary Convention Executive Director David Empson was about to announce a name change for this traditional and honored organization, now in its 63rd year of existence. Empson and convention staff had led a series of nationwide focus groups during the previous year to see if a new name was possible. More than 200 NMC leaders, missionaries, stakeholders, college students, and local church members had discussed the possibilities.
Changing the name of a very popular annual event obviously is risky. I must confess that as I waited to hear the new name, several thoughts flashed through my mind. Please don’t let it be cheesy . . . or faddish! I breathed a sigh of relief when the new name was announced: International Conference on Missions.
“Perfect!” I exhaled to my wife, Carol, who nodded agreement. The new title describes what the convention has always been; it is not exclusively a gathering of missionaries or a delegate convention. The crowd seemingly embraced the name, which sets the tone for the future work of this annual gathering.
The 2012 International Conference on Missions will meet November 15-18 in Indianapolis, Indiana. This year’s president is John Caldwell, who recently retired after 36 years leading Kingsway Christian Church, Avon, Indiana.
Caldwell’s energy and passion for Christ’s kingdom and for the mission of the church is summed up in the theme of this year’s gathering: “Radical . . . Again: A Disturbing Conference that Demands a Response.” We look forward to a well-attended and challenging convention.
Chris DeWelt is professor of missions at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri, and serves as an elder-shepherd with College Heights Christian Church.