Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Indiana Bound

I took a van load of our WOD campus leaders down to the Chai Alpha Great Lakes Regional Conference for campus ministers ( known as FORWARD). We haven’t been able to spend time together as a group, so this afforded a great opportunity for the leaders to get to know each other. Robin Wallar, the student leader for Lift Church and Joe Wahba, pastor of The Embassy at U of Waterloo left with me from my house and we picked up Tevor Gingerich ( Humber College Embassy ), Andrew Masters ( pastor, Lift Church), Aaron Mix-Ross ( emerging campus leader) and Rielly McLaren ( chaplain at St. Claire College ) on the way. When I heard them connecting and synergizing I knew that if it had just been for the van ride down to Indiana it was worth it. I had two modest goals for the weekend. Connecting and learning. I think we accomplished both.

Joe, Trevor , Robin, Andrew and Aaron : Waiting for Rielly in Windsor...

Our friends, Steve and Belkis Lehman were our hosts. We were quickly enveloped into the Chai Alpha fold and found we had both a lot to receive and a lot to share with our new friends. The worship times were great. Time was given for response and prayer ministry. People were touched and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. There was prophetic challenge and exhortation combined with vulnerability and openness.

Steve and Gabe Lehman

I taught a seminar on ‘Breaking the 30 Barrier’. In campus ministry, that is a real, albeit soft, numerical barrier. It is borne out by Chai Alpha’s own statistics. I took the time to talk about why we would bother talking about numbers. The point is that it is not about numbers but it is about growth. Healthy organisms grow and reproduce. Thirty is the size to which a campus ministry grows, beyond which the campus pastor is not able to minister personally to everybody. Although there are other reasons, it is an actual sociological barrier. There needs to be an equipping of students to carry the load.
Trevor represents Canada... :)

Trevor and Robin shared from their recent experiences. I could not have been prouder of them. They did a fantastic job of walking through the things they had to do in order to break that barrier in their own ministries. While I gave the general overview, they brought the meat and potatoes. I then finished by defining three basic barriers. External, Structural and Internal. Focusing on the last category, I asked the group about what things might be limiting them within themselves. It could be fear, apathy, lack of vision , unbelief or something else. I left it with asking them to search their own hearts with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Steve asked me to speak on things I learned through the loss of my son. On Sunday morning I shared on the Hope of Eternity and we shared in the communion table together. It was a very meaningful way to wrap up the conference.  We made new friends and saw God move.
Six Guys at the Five Guys ... 

The conference wrapped up and we journeyed back up to the True North strong and free.

Saskatoon: my boyhood home

I enjoyed the opportunity to visit the city of my boyhood, Saskatoon. After a creative series of flights to get there, I joined in with the spring district conference as a representative of the national office. Led by outgoing superintendent Dwight Schapansky ( who is a good guy even if he did go to the wrong high school) , it was like a family reunion, and I was privileged to see the election of John Drisner as the new District Superintendent.

GS David Wells leads prayer for the service of ordination.

I was there with a double purpose, because I also wanted to spend time at the University of Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan is the only district on our Fellowship that does not have a CMC campus ministry and I wanted to check out the university. In fact, when I was going to high school at Evan Hardy Collegiate, I worked part-time in the foodservices at the U of S, and was a frequent user of their weight room and football fields.

49 Lindsay Drive    My childhood home

The U of S is a beautiful, full sized university, nestled on the banks of the South Saskatchewan and a few blocks away from my grandparents' former home. It is , in and of itself, a small city. Indeed, if it were to be airlifted out of Saskatoon and dropped in the middle of the prairie, it would form Saskatchewan’s fifth largest city. Concurrent with the province’s economic rise, in no small part localized in Saskatoon, it is experiencing a massive building boom. It is bustling.

U of S Classroom

Further, it has a vibrant campus culture. Strolling through the Student Centre, it is clear that the Student Union USSU has a strong presence and an aggressive take on what could be described as a progressive cultural agenda. It is clear that the existing chaplaincy and church networks connected to the campus share this perspective. It is also clear that these networks are shells of what they once were and there is a need for both a revitalization and fresh input. It was a sad moment for me to visit the beautiful Anglican Chapel on the edge of campus, with soaring ceilings and gorgeous stained glass to find that it is now the Grad Student’s lounge. It is like seeing a Lamborghini used as a delivery vehicle.

Across the street.  It proves my point.
There are presently several solid Christian groups on campus. C4C and InterVarsity. There is also the CCO Catholic Campus Outreach which is on the evangelical wing of the Catholic Church.    While I always celebrate the good work these organizations do for Christ, it is also clear to me that there is a massive void and opportunity here at the U of S if we are going to even begin to reach this institution for Christ. I really believe that we can make a difference. With our C5 approach, we can serve the institution and reach men and women. To borrow the language of our Chai Alpha friends, it is about reaching, reconciling and transforming.

I would pray that the churches of this fine district would not be content with the status quo. The challenge is too big. The stakes are too high. There is an incredible opportunity here, if we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

The Gospel Coalition Conference. Chicago.

Karen and I had the privilege of taking in the GCC in Chicago, at the end of April. Quite simply, it exceeded my expectations. With speakers like.. Tim Keller, Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll, D.A. Carson, James McDonald, Alister Begg and others, I knew it was going to be good. But it was better....
One of several panel discussions in the plenary sessions

Actually, the reason it was originally on our radar was the invitation of our recent friends, Nancy and David Guthrie. Nancy was speaking in a workshop about helping people through grief. They were the leaders of a retreat that Karen and I went to last year which helped us immensely.

The conference theme was finding and preaching Christ in the Old Testament. I have to tell you that as a preacher who has long wrestled with that very topic, this was simply great stuff - seeing the big boys go at it.  

Anyway, here were some of my concerns going in. Whenever a group defines themselves as orthodox over and against other groups, there is a certain danger of smugness and even a polemical spirit. Fortunately, there was little of that at this conference. Even though the GC figured prominently in the hubbub over Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, it did not over emphasize the controversy. They held a special early morning session on it which was not only well attended but done with clarity and considerable grace.

The highlight? Well, it was Tim Keller. Beyond all of the hype and the fact that he is the new IT Man in evangelical/reformed circles, he struck me as a unique convergence of experience, personality, brilliance and gifting. The whole shebang. Who I want to be if I ever grow up. He is a pastor, leader, apologist, communicator, writer, biblical exegete and expositor all wrapped up in an absolutely enthralling package.

 Very few people can completely disarm my radar and built in skepticism. By skepticism, I mean that I delay the verdict. I want to check sources and make my own opinion thank you very much… Yet, I found as he spoke that I just had the sense that well.. if Tim said it , it is just so darn reasonable that it has got to be true. I guess that it flows from Credibility. He is genuine. So is his core message and the way he delivers it.

Mark Driscoll
Another highlight was hearing Mark Driscoll speak on the role of the Holy Spirit in ministry. Rolling through the book of Luke, he developed the Lucan theology of the Spirit in a way that reminded me of our own Roger Stronstadt who has argued long and well that Luke needs to be taken seriously as a theologian in his own right. While Driscoll gave some funny tweaks in the direction of pentecostals, he was powerfully affirming of the major sweep of charismatic spirituality when it is combined with biblical orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

Just one more. Matt Chandler, who is surviving a devastating bout with brain cancer was simply amazing. His words rang with truth and power, as he challenged the group to deal with eternity. A ridiculously gifted speaker, his words came with great weight as he spoke.

The Conference was at the McCormick Conference Centre near downtown. The word monstrous comes to mind. We had perhaps 6 to 7 thousand people at this conference, complete with hundreds of thousands of square feet of displays and extra breakout rooms. And we were simply squirreled away in one part of the complex. It was unbelievable.