Last week I had the privilege of attending the URC Missions Conference at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, Indiana (just outside of Chicago). I was invited there to speak on mission work to Native Americans. The paper I presented dealt with the history of the CRC mission work to the Navajo and Zuni in the American Southwest. I may publish that somewhere, so I won’t rehearse the contents here. Instead, let me give you a run-down of the rest of the conference.
I had some problems getting out of Toronto on time on Wednesday. Due to some severe thunderstorms in the Chicago area, my flight was delayed a few hours, so I missed the first couple of presentations. Rev. Paul Murphy (from NYC) spoke on “The Pastor as Evangelist and the Evangelist as Pastor.” Rev. Mike Brown (Santee, CA) spoke on “How to Plant a Reformed Church.” While I missed the presentation, I did get a copy of the URCNA Church Planting Manual that Mike introduced. The URC Missions Committee is developing this manual as a “suggested strategy for church planting in the URCNA.”
On Wednesday evening, I was there to listen to Rev. William Boekestein (Carbondale, PA) speak on “Developing a Plan for Outreach.” His presentation was filled with many practical pointers about being an outward looking church. He mentioned the importance of prayer. For instance, we should be praying for visitors to come to our worship services. We should be praying that congregation members can have unbelieving friends whom they can love. He suggested using DVDs to extend the reach of our sermons. Your neighbours might not be willing to step in the door of your church, but they might be willing to watch a DVD of the sermon.
There was then a panel on church planting. The panelists were Rev. Murphy, Rev. Brown, Rev. Boekestein, and Rev. Mitch Persaud (Toronto).
Let me pause here and mention that the fellowship at this conference was fantastic. The URC brothers welcomed me warmly. I was truly among friends and brothers. It was great to connect again with some of them and get acquainted with others. There were about 50 people in attendance, mostly URC and mostly pastors and missionaries. There were also a couple of brothers from the Reformed Churches of New Zealand.
On Thursday morning, Dr. Brian Lee (Washington, DC) spoke on “Maintaining a Vibrant Ministry in a Small Church.” He made the interesting (and perhaps counterintuitive) point that planting churches helps keep small churches vibrant. His small church is beginning a church plant in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Rev. Mitch Persaud addressed us on “The Cultural Factor in Church Planting.” This was an excellent presentation focussed on fostering cultural intelligence when church planting in multicultural contexts. Much of what he said could be equally applicable to being a Reformed church in a multicultural context.
After I gave my presentation on Thursday evening, we listened to Rev. Richard Bout speak on the lessons he’s learned as a missionary in Tepic, Mexico. He and his family faced many challenges in that work, loneliness being a significant one and the intertwining of Roman Catholicism and Mexican identity being another.
Friday morning saw Mr. Mark Bube speak on the OPC and its extensive experience in foreign missions. Included with his presentation was a package of helpful documents outlining OPC mission policy. That morning we also listened to URC missionary Rev. Andrea Ferrari speak on “The Long-term Commitment in Foreign Missions.” Rev. Ferrari is working in Milan, Italy and he spoke of the challenges a post-modern world presents when it comes to commitment. The conference concluded with a panel discussion on foreign mission.
All the conference presentations were recorded, but I’m not sure when, where, or how they will become available. I’ll let you know if I find out. All told, it was a super conference and I heartily commend the organizers. I’m thankful that I could attend.