Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Catalyst West

by Kris Loewen

Discouragement is not supposed to be a word in a pastor’s vocabulary. We are visionaries. Eternal optimism is the name of the game. Our faith outweighs present realities. We envisage the silver lining. Right?

Yet something has gotten in the way of the idealism I had just a few years ago. I feel shame just writing it, but it’s true – and it scares me.

It’s not that my local church is somehow dysfunctional or at war (we’re not). It’s not even that pastoral ministry is different than I expected (it is).

It’s the lack of unity.

Not regarding the Adventist community amongst itself per se – but unity in terms of how Adventists relate with the rest of Christendom. Often when I interact with my Adventist friends about ‘non-Adventists’, I feel a spirit of judgment, cynicism, and a not so subtle ‘us-them’ dynamic (notwithstanding that unfortunate descriptor for Christians who are not Adventists).

A couple of weeks ago, I excitedly told a friend Christine Rohr’s story about her Prison Entrepreneurship Program in Texas (an enterprise in tangible grace: helping convicts learn life skills and stay out of prison after release). The immediate response? “Oh, so is it Adventist?”

Now this isn’t the end of the world and perhaps can be expected on some level. But it is illustrative of a issue many Christians hold in common with Adventists: we tend to think our club is better than everyone else’s; and when theirs is more dynamic, more relevant, and more vibrant, we tend to get cynical, frightened, or defensive rather than grateful for what God is doing. I wonder if somehow we think that if God is working amazing stuff over there with them, then our claim to be exclusively right might be in jeopardy. Do we silently worry, “Have we been passed over? Has God really chosen us?”

So we belittle. We shake our heads in pride, “If only they knew what we knew…then their silly project might mean something”. We identify the true ‘spirit’ behind their work. We push further and further away rather than closer together. This discourages me.

At the end of April, I had the opportunity to attend Catalyst West, a self-proclaimed ‘convergence of next generation leaders’, in Irvine, CA. Beyond the amazing testimonies and challenges of the various speakers (Erwin McManus, Rick Warren, Ravi Zacharias, Alan Hirsch, Guy Kawasaki, and Andy Stanley among others), the most impacting part of the three day week was the unassuming sense of unity and community that pervaded all aspects of the event. “Look at what God is doing here/there/everywhere!” was the theme. The thought of downplaying God’s work all over our country and world because of denominational minutiae did not enter my mind. More than anything, I felt a sense of honor to be alive at this time in earth’s history – when God is profoundly breaking through in new and amazing ways.

In John, 17, Jesus prays for us, those who would come to believe in Him without having physically seen Him. He could have asked God for many things, but He prays only that we would be one – unified with each other and with God. I believe that Catalyst is a spirit-led vehicle for helping that take place. It’s not perfect and there are pieces that get on my nerves (consumerist Christian trade show anyone?), but events like this have the potential to remind us all that we’re in something bigger than our little local congregation or even a fifteen million member organization. We’re part of the Body of Christ – we are his bride – together. As my friend Caleb says, “Jesus is coming back for a bride not a harem.”

The final presentation of the event was by a North Carolinian pastor with a southern drawl named Perry Noble (think ‘Larry the Cable Guy’ with a Greek New Testament). His message? “Don’t quit. Don’t stop. Stay faithful. God has called you – and he is working through you – and he will do great things through you. Stay the course. God will do what he promised”

It was the nail in the coffin for me.

Because he’s right you know. God is at work, his bride is still alive. And our faithfulness and courage in our unique callings is part of something much bigger than denominational squabbles. We are part of a worldwide movement – and if we allow ourselves to be inspired by what God is without a doubt doing everywhere, we will gain the courage to not quit here.


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