2014 NACC: Offstage

By Darrel Rowland


As with any North American Christian Convention, not all the action was on the main stage. You could mine golden nuggets at every turn.

If you found Haydn Shaw’s workshop on the impact of generational differences in the church, you would have heard the sobering observation that people living 35 years longer, on average, is one of God’s most amazing blessings on our time—and millions will go to Hell because of it.

Before people started living longer, the next generation would receive the leadership torch because the old folks simply died off.

Rick Rusaw
Rick Rusaw

Now, people with power and money hang around, and the church doesn’t change—meaning younger people won’t come, said Shaw, a senior consultant with management firm FranklinCovey for more than 20 years.

In another workshop, you would have heard more about the millennial generation from David Kinnaman, who, as president and majority owner of the Barna Group, has conducted extensive research on those between ages 18 and 30. In contrast to the pessimism of his earlier work, which emphasized how the church has lost so many millennials, Kinnaman concentrated on the 14 percent he said are even more on fire for Jesus than the most ardent believers in the generations that preceded them.

“I’m incredibly optimistic about what the Lord seems to be doing with this generation,” he said. “They’re burning hotter for the Lord and his purposes.”

If you caught a Beyond the Standard interview, you may have heard the leader who brought us The Externally Focused Church a decade ago predict that churches are about to move beyond the missional stage. Rick Rusaw, senior minister of LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, Colorado, said like many churches, his has moved from traditional to attractional to missional, noting “we were doing missional before it was cool.”

The next stage may be something like incarnational (although he says that word has been abused), a deeper commitment to a church’s community than operating food pantries. Rusaw said most church budgets are focused on the weekly “gathering.” He would like to see closer to an equal percentage given to a church “scattering” throughout the week to be more intentional in serving its neighborhood

If you had joined the 50 or so at the Dream of Destiny breakfast, you would have gotten a taste of how minorities view our churches. “Our brochures seem to be more multiethnic than our congregations,” said Tony Kim, communications pastor at Mariners Church in Irvine, California, and a multicultural consultant with SlingShot Group, which helps churches fill staff openings.

But in the Internet age, people seeking a diverse congregation can simply click on the About Us section of a church’s website and usually discover that the leaders—especially the elders—all look alike. “God calls us not to just love other people, but people different from ourselves,” Kim reminded his listeners.

Several hundred took in Jeff Walling’s morning Bible studies on fearing God, and they got a lesson on orcas as well.

“It is no vice to fear a killer whale,” said Walling, former longtime senior minister of Providence Road Church of Christ in Charlotte, North Carolina, now at Pepperdine University. “That is not foolish, that is not ignorant, that is not childish. It is no vice to fear something that is so clearly beyond you. In fact, if you lose a fear of it you put yourself in dangerous territory.

“Folks, I am afraid that we have become a nation of people who think that we have a trained God. And he shows up on Sunday morning at 8:30 and 11, and he will perform for us. And we can get him to do his tricks, and we can tell stories of his deeds, and we can believe that when we tell God this is what we want him to do, he’ll say ‘yes, sir’ and he’ll shuffle to our aid quickly.”

He added: “If you don’t fear God, you don’t know him.”

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