By Tim Harlow
I made a joke the final day of the North American Christian Convention when I appointed my friend Mike Baker as next year’s president. I knighted him with a sword (because Mike and I are weird that way), and then I said, “But I’m keeping the sword—because you might be tempted to fall on it sometime this year.”
In case you are wondering, there is no pay involved in being the president. Actually it’s the opposite; your church or organization will likely have to spend money on it, and it will cost you in many ways.
Is it worth it?
Absolutely. We need this gathering because we need this movement, and movements need some glue.
The ironic thing about giving my gavel to Mike Baker is that Mike and I joined the Continuation Committee the same year. We knew each other before, but became lifelong friends through this—mainly because we discovered we both had a knack for sitting on the back row and complaining about how dumb the NACC was.
We weren’t even sure whether the Restoration Movement was going to make it. Honestly, the convention was bogged down in some bad management and traditionalism 10 years ago. It seemed to be reflective of a movement that was stuck in the same dimension.
I Said Yes
I can’t stand people who sit in the back and complain but don’t do something about it. So I said yes to 2014. But major strides had been made in the past 10 years, and I believe we’ve learned from some mistakes. I believe every convention has built off the best of the years before and it’s heading in the right direction. The management team of the convention is great, the Board of Stewards is willing to take risks, and people are taking notice. I had several young leaders tell me they wish they had brought their teams to this convention instead of another one they had attended.
I watched God move in a way that was unmistakable this past July in Indianapolis. When Lee Strobel got up and said, “God told me to change my message,” I knew we were experiencing a book of Acts move of God. (You have to know Lee—that doesn’t happen.) When 88-year-old Ben Merold got up and “threw down” his message, telling people to get back on mission, I knew we had a move of God. (I had to twist his arm almost all the way off to get him to do it. I actually put his picture in the publicity before he said yes, just to put the pressure on.)
So, as a repentant, back-row complainer turned president, let me tell you why I’ve changed. There was a famous, old Hair Club for Men commercial where a guy said, “I’m not just the president, I’m a client.” It’s something like that for me.
Why I’ve Changed
Our movement rocks! Everyone wants to play in our sandbox now. I think I have Craig Groeschel thinking about it. Don’t tell the Southern Baptists, but Rick Warren already has one leg in (and, by the way, he promises me he has a document that says his great-great-grandfather was a deacon in Alexander Campbell’s church; he may be more “Christian church” than any of us).
One of the great privileges I had was to preach in some other churches this year. One of them was “our” largest Christian church in the Indianapolis area, which you probably haven’t ever heard about: Northview Church in Carmel.
Northview used to be part of a different denomination and decided it wanted to be independent, but still wanted a “tribe.” I saw how the church identified itself in an Outreach magazine listing and thought it was a mistake, but Northview has identified with us.
Wasn’t that the point of the movement in the first place? Barton Stone and the Campbells’ original intent was that we live out the prayer of Jesus found in John 17. This is why the Board of Stewards gave me so much freedom to bring in people from the “outside.” Not that we don’t have our own great preachers, but because most of you had never heard some of these innovative leaders before. It’s OK. We’re all working together.
We need the NACC. Someone famous (I can’t remember who) said, “If we didn’t have this convention, we’d need to start something like it.” I agree with that. What would identify us if we didn’t have this time to meet together? Maybe most of our churches have loyalties to certain colleges or mission organizations, but if there weren’t a gathering like this, there would be nothing to define who we are.
I love that I’m not part of a denomination. I don’t want to tell you how to run your church. But I do want to know you are on my team. That’s what this is about. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to this convention (only missed four in my life) and walked away ready to go for another season. A pat on the back from Ben Merold, a story about dumb people in church from Bob Russell, a poem from Roy Lawson, a hymn led by a guy with white gloves, and I’m ready to go again.
Our movement and this convention are changing with the world. I hope you are reading this article on the new Christian Standard app on your mobile device. It’s a new world. I believe we’ve demonstrated that the NACC is doing its best to keep up with it. From the Twitter intro to the LED wall to the amazing worship, I don’t think anyone left Indy feeling like we were stuck in the 1980s anymore (there were no white gloves).
We are “on mission” like no other tribe of churches.
Over and over I’ve felt God impressing on me that the most important thing is to find the lost sheep. It’s been the call of my life, but it’s never been more apparent than during my two years with this convention.
Two years ago, I met with an Executive Committee of the 2014 NACC for the first time. They were mostly people I knew, but I didn’t pick them. It was done by the NACC Board and the Continuation Committee. I said, “Well, I don’t want to control this (which everyone knows is a lie), but my heart beats for evangelism and the Great Commission.”
Then Dick Alexander spoke up, “I’ve been praying for a week that we’d do something on evangelism.” At that moment we all realized the Holy Spirit had been moving all of us in the same direction. We met for a retreat a few days in August, and this theme just rolled out in supernatural fashion. We even had time to try to teach Daryl Reed how to waterski (see my previous article, “Just Hold On”).
ReMission is exactly what God wanted us to focus on. And we did. And we are. We already have dozens of churches signed up to take the next step and do the 40 Days of Mission program in their churches (check out lifeonmission.com). We are one of the fastest-growing groups of churches in the country. If anyone is going to help turn the tide with our “Jerusalem,” it will be the independent Christian churches, working in unison with the other churches on mission to reach those around us. We are already doing it.
I know we live in a post-Christian era now, and we’re all having to change our approach to reaching our culture, but the simple truth is that people are interested in the real Jesus and his teaching. They just reject the sectarian and judgmental spirit of most of the Christians they run into. That’s not who we are! At least it’s not supposed to be.
All to say, I’ve never been more proud to be associated with this convention and movement. If you don’t like something about it—complain all you want—but when you’re called upon to do something about it, get off your back row and do something.
I did. Mike is. Dave Stone will in 2016. We need you. You need us.
I can’t thank you all enough for your support. I’m so grateful to my Executive Committee and my staff, and especially my wife, for making this convention work. It is a lot of work, but it was worth it.
Tim Harlow serves as senior pastor with Parkview Christian Church, Orland Park, Illinois, and was president of the 2014 North American Christian Convention.
Get Tim Harlow’s new book Life on Mission, as well as related study-group material, at lifeonmission.com. Read the first chapter of his book free by downloading the new, free CHRISTIAN STANDARD app, available for Apple, Android, and Kindle.