Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Difference a Couple Years Makes

I have been to two national ABC USA gatherings since becoming American Baptist.  We gather every two years and up until this year it was simply called the Biennial.  Fun Fact: In the early days when American Baptists and Southern Baptists were simply Baptists we met every three years in Philadelphia and it was aptly named the Triennial. 

Anyway, two years ago we met in Puerto Rico and if that is your first ever Biennial it was a good way to start.  During that event I was an Associate Pastor in a church.  I only got to go to the Biennial because a friend and I auditioned to play music during an evening "cafe lounge" event.  Prior to this event I had met parts of our ABC family at other functions, meetings, and events, but never had I been to a Biennial that brought us all together at once.  It was amazing.  Puerto Rico is beautiful, the Baptist Community there were amazing hosts, and the worship was powerful.   In Puerto Rico I didn't have much responsibility, I even (dare I write it), skipped portions of the event for Old San Juan and the beach.  When not playing hooky I mostly just stared in awe like a calf looking at a new gate, at all the lights, colors, music, break out sessions, voting times, and the leadership who seemed larger than life.  I would point to my friend who was with me and say..."Look that's so and so and they lead this thing or that church." As though they were super human or super spiritual. I would feel honored when I was introduced to them and realize they were just people too! Or I would watch the worship and listen to speakers on the stage and think, "Wow, they had a really great message.  I could never do that. I am not charismatic enough.  I am not a pulpit rock star."

Fast forward two years.  The Biennial is now called the Mission Summit and we met in Overland Park, KS.  No beaches here but Central Region was also a great host.  We changed our structure in Puerto Rico.  This year we focused not on break out sessions but on Mission Summit Conversations that allowed us to address issues facing our local churches and regions.  In Puerto Rico I was an Associate Pastor of a local church, at Mission Summit in Overland Park I am the Associate Executive Minister of Nebraska, a region within ABC USA.  In Puerto Rico I didn't know many people within the larger ABC USA family.  In Overland Park, it felt like a true family reunion.  Everywhere I went, I saw somebody I knew from all across ABC USA.  I saw friends and colleagues from New York, Oregon, California, Kansas, the Dakotas, Ohio, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Michigan, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and others.  It was amazing.

In Puerto Rico, I was overwhelmed by the lights and music and leadership.  In Overland Park, I was still moved by the shear enormity of the size of our convention center and the 2,400 people present.  The difference this time is that I was a region staff member and a leader. I had the opportunity to facilitate one of our Mission Summit Conversations on next generation leadership.  I went to every meal I could that was hosted by our many societies and partners.  Oh and remember how I felt I could never stand on a stage like the one in Puerto Rico?  I was invited to share a 7 minute testimony about the work the Spirit is doing in our Nebraska Region during the Sunday morning worship.  I stole 3 minutes, (sorry Brad Berguland) and shared for 10 minutes the amazing things God is doing in our region.  I am still not a pulpit rock star, but I think I learned nobody who goes up there to speak is.  One of our callings as pastors is simply to share what God is doing, and sometimes that means we get to speak in front of a few thousand people in a convention center and sometimes it means we get to share in front of ten senior citizens at an ABWM lunch in a church basement.

I had a great time in Overland Park and the Mission Summit.  Several things changed in my life between Puerto Rico and Mission Summit.  I changed ministry settings, I moved across a state,  I met lots of new people, I got invited to a couple national meetings, I bought my first home, and I have grown as a minister and person.  Thanks be to God for the past weekend and the past two years. I can't wait to see how Gods Spirit moves during the next two years in me, my family, ABC Nebraska, and ABC USA.  As our closing speaker Matt Stutervant shared, "the wind [spirit] is only beginning to blow."

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