By Dave Butts
“Radical . . . Again.” The theme for the 2012 International Conference on Missions (ICOM) November 15-18, was more than a clever title pulled from a popular Christian book. It was an apt description of a conference committed to challenging Christians to meet the needs of an increasingly desperate world in every way possible. Preaching, workshops, worship, exhibits, and service projects combined to call those thousands who attended to deeper levels of global impacting discipleship.
It was appropriate the inaugural meeting of ICOM, formerly the National Missionary Convention, was in Indianapolis. The Indianapolis Convention Center is always a good venue for our conventions and gatherings. Great meeting facilities, plenty of nearby hotels and restaurants, and one of the most concentrated areas of Christian churches/churches of Christ helped generate great attendance, along with a committed cadre of workers and volunteers.
The first indication of what God was doing came during the Pre-Conference activities. From Wednesday evening through noon Thursday, 140 missionaries gathered for a time of support, encouragement, education, and even intervention. Lives were impacted during this time set aside just for missionaries. In past years, fewer missionaries had attended, so from the very beginning of the Indianapolis event, it was apparent something very radical was going to take place.
As one might expect, this year’s event featured great preaching. From Jeff Vines’s dynamic opening message (“A Radical Belief: No One Comes to the Father, Except Through Christ”) to the powerful closing message by Robert Smith Jr. (“A Radical Obedience: Fulfill God’s Mission in Your Life”), attendees were challenged to a radical lifestyle of following Jesus. Other preachers and topics included:
Mark Moore—“A Radical Force: The Holy Spirit”
Tom Ellsworth—“A Radical Opportunity: Reach the World Changers”
John Caldwell—“A Radical Call: Come and Die”
Jim Martin—“A Radical Responsibility: Deliver the Captives”
Mosab Yousef—“A Radical Force: The Spirit of the Anti-Christ”
Denford Chizanga—“A Radical Command: Go and Make Disciples.”
Wonderful times of worship were led by the worship ministry of Crossroads Christian Church, Newburgh, Indiana. David Rinehart, CCC’s music and worship pastor, brought vocal teams, bands, choirs, and ensembles to bless ICOM attendees. The Sunday morning closing service featured Dove Award-winning singer Steve Green in a 45-minute preservice concert. Green then opened the service—backed by the Crossroads worship team—with his signature song, “The Mission,” a perfectly fitting song to help close out this conference.
Many at the conference were encouraged to see so many young people participating. There were really two streams of younger attendees: middle school/high school students and college students. The middle school/high school students turned out in large numbers due to the partnership with the Indiana Christian Youth Convention and the Student International Conference on Missions. Many sessions were geared to them, but those students also joined in with the rest of the conference during the main sessions.
For years now, the college turnout for this convention has been significant. Many Bible colleges bring large contingents. Campus ministries have also brought groups of students, knowing they would encounter missionaries whose stories would inspire and challenge. Many mission organizations view ICOM as a major recruiting time for potential new missionaries.
There was also a program for younger children with the theme, “The Radical Kingdom.” All of the programming this year was onsite at the convention center.
Young people and adults had various opportunities for service throughout the conference. Some built walls for use by various ministries. Others packed meals that were given to those in need. Some went on an “urban excursion” to see firsthand the work of God in the urban areas of Indianapolis.
Many longtime attendees consider the exhibit area the heart of the conference. It is where one encounters missionaries, young and old. It’s a place to touch base with missions that churches support, and an opportunity to learn about other missions. In many ways, the exhibit hall is a microcosm of the world. Virtually every area of the world is represented through individual missions, mission agencies, and parachurch organizations.
Where else could you possibly move from an organization focusing on caring for the persecuted church to one that translates Scripture to another that provides a retreat center for missionaries, all in one room in a single afternoon? Bible colleges, seminaries, church planting groups and individuals, evangelists, prayer ministries, and many others use the exhibit area to shine a spotlight on their efforts to advance the kingdom of God.
Some highlights among the ministries and exhibits this year: Central India Christian Ministries celebrated 30 years of ministry and honored Ajai and Indu Lall; TCM International Institute showcased the TCM Experience with a walk-through history exhibit; and ICOM sponsored a powerful walk-through exhibit entitled “The ACTS Initiative.” That last exhibit focused on efforts involving Restoration Revolution, a 10-year focus on presenting Jesus to everyone; it used cell phone technology to lead participants through the focus of prayer, church planting, development of tools, and recruitment of servants, for the purpose of finishing the task of world evangelization.
Throughout the event, ICOM Executive Director David Empson and his team met every need with a smile.
ICOM 2012 President John Caldwell warned attendees that “Radical . . . Again” would be “a disturbing conference that demands a response.” He was right. The needs of our world were presented clearly, and so was the challenge for the church to meet those needs, whatever the cost. Woven throughout the conference was the clear message that Jesus himself ultimately meets the deepest needs of all. It is our privilege to be his servants and to be used by him to accomplish his purposes.
In his closing prayer, incoming President Jair Castillo challenged attendees to build on “Radical . . . Again” by coming to Kansas City, Missouri, November 14-17, 2013, when the theme will be “Glorifying God Globally.”
David Butts is president of Harvest Prayer Ministries in Terre Haute, Indiana. He is the author of several books.