By Susan Mires
ST. JOSEPH –With rocking worship music, Twitter updates, and interactive discussion, One21 kicked off in Missouri.
The ministry partnership focuses on fulfilling a First Century mission with 21st Century methods, said Matt Kearns, team leader of student and collegiate ministries for the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC).
About 250 people attended One21’s inaugural event at Frederick Boulevard Baptist Church in St. Joseph on Aug. 28-29. Host Pastor Micah Fries said he was pleased with the wide range of people that attended, from high school students to senior citizens, from throughout Missouri and some from out of state.
Speakers at the forum talked about Biblical approaches to reaching a generation largely tuned out to church.
“It’s not a matter of a specific technique – like a specific music or cool lights,” Fries said. “The issue is thinking like a missionary in our culture.”
Much of the forum discussed reasoning for the church not to focus on programs, but to encourage believers to live like disciples and be on mission wherever they are. Bob Roberts, pastor of Northwood Church in Keller, Texas, talked about his friends who are Muslims and said Christians need to understand other faiths.
“It’s not us against them. It’s us amongst them,” Roberts said.
The forum echoed some of the discussions taking place at the national level, with a focus on the Great Commission.
Allan Karr, professor of church planting at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, outlined some of the facets of the modern church. Some of the observations generated controversy, he acknowledged.
“What does it mean to the people of God? It does not mean following the bylaws of the church,” Karr said.
Congregations are shifting away from extra-Biblical traditions to concentrate on Biblical minimums, he said. They are also moving away from maintaining organizations to an “incarnational community with a transformational focus,” which means trying to live as Christ in the community. He also expects churches to have a shared form of leadership.
“We can insist on holding up the structures of the past, or we can honestly ask ourselves if this was relevant for a season, but maybe there’s a better way to do it,” Karr said. “A willingness to make changes is a big part of who we are as a body of Christ and in part as a denomination.”
During a question-and-answer panel, Karr was asked what role state conventions and associations might have in the next generation.
“The association is going to be part of the future when they become partners in the Great Commission and resist the temptation to be only inwardly focused on churches in the association and (instead) connect with the community,” he said.
Organizers see One21 not as an event, but as a movement that will inspire believers to think creatively about spreading the Gospel. Kearns said the MBC wants to appeal to young leaders, many of whom are disconnecting from established groups.
“Our passion for the next generation of leaders is to be grateful for the legacy we have inherited and Biblically connect with that same mission in a 21st Century manner,” Kearns said. “Our cooperation together is critical, regardless of age, regardless of office. There are things we cannot accomplish alone.”
He said many church members are involved in church activities, but they’re not engaged in the mission of building God’s kingdom. One21’s focus is grounded on the Bible, Kearns said.
“We’re committed to the Word of God,” he said. “Knowledge is not enough. We want to see that married to the execution of the mission.”
The website www.one21.us was launched at the forum. The site is designed to invite discussion and help leaders connect with one another. Events will likely be planned for future dates.
Alvin Reid, professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said American Christians have developed an elaborate subculture that has isolated them from a world that is going to Hell.
“Our problem is we’re not involved in anything that costs us everything, so we just fuss all the time,” he said.
Most Baptist churches are at a point where they recognize they need to do more to reach the lost, but they don’t know how to bridge the gap. He offered a few practical suggestions to pastors:
Be in it for the long haul and don’t expect results immediately.
Take an honest look at what is working and not working.
Add new methods without taking away existing ministries.
Bring in change without unnecessarily alienating people.
“Keep doing the things you do well and add to them” Reid said.
Those attending the forum said they found it relevant, but also acknowledged the frustration of putting the principles to work.
“Young people are looking at the church completely differently. If we want to keep them, we need to learn how to bridge the gap between generations,” said Daniel Yoder, a pastor from Warsaw.
Jaden Houk, campus missionary at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, said the challenge in the culture is to reflect the truth.
“Evangelism will take place if we are truly followers of Christ,” he said.
Karr said considering that in every zip code of the United States fewer people are attending church than the previous year, a new approach is imperative.
“The younger generations are going to be the ones to reach the younger generations,” he said. “We need to stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us and be bold and courageous.”