Sunday, June 19, 2011

North American convention--June 15-22

Joe Allison wrote a most provocative piece last week on his blogsite ( ). Joe is a former managing editor editor of “Vital Christianity” and long involved in Church of God publications and elsewhere. He summarized our past efforts this way: “… so we've invested a major part of our time and energy in developing Sunday School curriculum, training events for pastors and teachers, and a convention that brings together thousands of people every year for several days of workshops and seminars on how to improve the ministry of local congregations.”

Then he added this insight, which he and I discussed briefly: “But we're beginning to realize that making Christian disciples involves far more than gathering large audiences and developing high-tech classrooms. It involves drawing people into transformative relationships. It involves mutual accountability. It involves the joy and sorrow of getting involved in other people's lives -- and letting them get involved in ours.”

I dared suggest there is yet a place for how we did things in the past, considered by some as revivalist (mass meetings) and perhaps out of date. Joe strikes fire in the previous paragraph. We need far more today than a massive national camp meeting, a successful national publication that faithfully reproduces our teachings, and all the trimmings we worked at producing,whose worth we now debate.

First, I appeal to the worth of our North American Convention and accompanying General Assembly. I attended my first NAC/GA IN 1952, driving 1700 miles from San Angelo, TX. Later, I drove the furthest distance via the I80 exit at Vallejo, CA. Between 1952-1996, the times I missed could be counted on one hand.

I did it to visit my parents in Michigan (at least once a year). I did it because it was part of my job (my ministry) and because I felt the biblical bond of 1 Corinthians 12, and elsewhere. I did it because I felt part of some much bigger than me, something that connected me globally, something that also enhanced my local ministry. I did it because I felt connected with my church family. I found lots of reasons to disagree at times, but we were family.

I remember yet the day my little daughter of 3-4 years heard a voice she knew from our radio at home. Instantly, she broke into a run toward a group of preachers nearby, saying “That’s my Dr. Oldham!” Dale wheeled around, saw the child coming, and she scooped up into his arms as he held her and wept. They were friends who had never met--we were family.

The Convention Grounds were a safe haven for children and one day our 4-year-old son got lost in the crowd. I was preoccupied, but my wife looked frantically around the Convention grounds. Finally, a couple came from down near Park Place Church, towing a boy who had lost his parents. New Christians from Falfurrias, TX--the Chapmans--they knew how to reconnect lost child and frantic mother.

We visited many a year after that, watching young Bob grow up and enter into Ministry. Bob is now deceased, but his sister Shirley is a retired Pasadena, TX schoolteacher and esteemed acquaintance--Facebook friend. More than all the mass meetings (quite massive by the standards of the day), learning experiences, and other program, WE WERE FAMILY. Names and faces flood my vision as I write ...

Camp Meetings are no longer what they once were, so we lash out at the changing times. Truthfully, we are so busy maintaining our technological networks that we no longer talk to each other; yet, we need each other more than ever. We blog, text, and tweet, using our laptops, cell phones, ipods, ipads, and every other gimic. As a Culture, we turned inward, and away from. We live myopic, narcissisistic lives--a thousand FB friends but no meaningful relationship that keep us accountable and involved in the ordinary joys and sorrows of daily living.

The Church of God family has gathered in Anderson, IN since 1906. Part of the family will reassemble on the old Convention Grounds--aka AU campus on June 15-22. I cannot be there this year (except in spirit), but I sent my absentee ballot and I send my greeting. On Sunday, I will relieve an area pastor who will be in attendance. We will not stop attending until Jesus comes, or until we are no longer physically--we value our family.

With that confession, we will continue working with Reformation Publishers and supporting our North Avenue congregation when home. What I am most convinced of is this, as Joe says: “discipleship is long, slow, difficult, risky work. But disciple-making is the Lord's work, and we Christians must be about our Father's business.” It isn’t a matter of Joe’s small groups or my mass meetings; it is both and …

I would go so far as to suggest that if and when we get it together in our home congregations, get everyone involved, and make the best use of our small groups (fellowship and educational), we will soon discover that our regional and national meetings might once again return to the size, stature, and glory that we prized so highly at one time.

From Warner’s World … I am

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