Ohio Trip 7: A Thought-Provoking Lunch

Every year in July, Xenos Fellowship in Columbus hosts a large Summer Institute. People come from all over the country (with quite a few from other countries) to hear challenging messages from internationally known speakers and to attend workshops on church life in the Xenos style. They’ve got lots of information to share, both practical and visionary. One of the coolest things about that, besides how incredibly well organized it is, is that they upload all their talks onto their website for free download within days of the conclusion of the conference. They seem quite content to have ideas and resources stolen and used frequently by anyone. That’s refreshing.

Also refreshing was the fact that it was so easy to get lunch with Dennis McCallum, the founder of this huge network of churches. During the first day’s lunch break he wandered out into the foyer of the main building and stood around, apparently hunting people to share lunch with. Despite the fact that he didn’t know me from Adam, when I told him I’d like to chat with him at some point he treated me to lunch right then and there. He took me to Skyline Chili (chili is really big in Ohio, apparently) and we compared notes about a handful of events going back to the founding days of their church, when a band of ex-Campus Crusade leaders helped foment a sizable student movement across the country (all during the dynamic days of the Jesus Movement). Some of the same people who got involved in the earliest days of that group were also responsible for the group which evolved into Xenos in Columbus. All this was relevant to me because the church I’m a part of was patterned after a kind of prototype church which gathered about the same time in Santa Barbara. And both of those groups received ministry from the same band of ex-Campus Crusaders. I believe Dennis said that the founder of my church group spoke at one point to his group waaay back during those early days. Small world, huh?

After that I picked his brain a little about the end game of the church–what’s its ultimate purpose? For Dennis, winning the lost clearly occupies first place. The way he sees it, all of the multi-layered aspects of his church network, from the smallest discipleship unit to the house church on up to the central teaching meetings which they put together, the main task of the church is sharing the gospel with people. I believe Dennis would say that “sharing the gospel” applies as naturally to believers as it does to unbelievers (he would agree with me that the gospel is way bigger than just “how to get to heaven when you die”). So in one sense outreach and inreach don’t have to be so separated. But Dennis’ burden is that churches fail far more on the outreach part than they do on the inreach. Can’t say I disagree, I suppose. Now I’d be quick to add that if churches aren’t getting the whole gospel then their inward movement (i.e. fellowship, community building) will suffer, and does suffer. But he’s right, too. We lose touch with folks “on the outside.”

Something dawned on me recently and it’s connected to this very idea: When a church never gets new believers, it suffers for lack of the joy which comes from being introduced to the One Who Saves. After enough years go by, we lose touch with what it means to “get saved.” We may encounter it some through our children. But there should be more. And I’ve witnessed this week a certain zest and enthusiasm, even among seasoned old veterans of the church, which seem to have issued from staying engaged in the work of introducing people to the Lord. Among people who are into “organic,” simple church life, you are more likely to find people who go about that in more natural ways (when compared with the programmatic methods taught in so many traditional churches and parachurch groups) It feels like I encountered that a good bit this week.

Back at the conference, the first breakout session I attended was on starting spiritual conversations. It was a talk on how to develop the habit of really listening and talking to people in order to build relationships through which the gospel may (one day) be shared. He stressed how unhelpful (and ultimately ineffective) it is to shove verses or the plan of salvation down the throats of people you just met. He encouraged us to cultivate a habit of making ourselves available for relationship building, which of course presupposes that we’re even thinking in that direction in the first place! For me, that was the take-away. One way to summarize this whole trip is to say that I was challenged to consider making outreach a part of my life again, finding some way to reclaim it from its more legalistic, guilt-driven modalities that I drop kicked years ago.

Grace-driven, relational, organic evangelism…that’s what I’d like to learn more about and see modeled.

More on the first conference day in the next post.

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