Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 10, no. 2 (Summer–Fall 2019)

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Report on the 2019 Global Missions Conference

John Reese

Those who are familiar with American Churches of Christ and their affiliated universities may remember an annual tradition called the World Mission Workshop. These Workshops continued for well over fifty years and influenced generations of university students to fulfill their roles in the Great Commission. In more recent years, hosts have become fewer, with a heavier load falling on the remaining hosts, notably Harding University, which calls its equivalent event “Global Missions Experience” (GME). Bob Waldron of Missions Resource Network saw the need to assist with this load and to renew focus on missions.

Thus, Global Missions Conference (GMC) entered the rotation every third year. The Steering Committee calls GMC “a comprehensive missions gathering of churches of Christ to advance domestic and global outreach.” While GMC still emphasizes university students, it casts a wider—more comprehensive—net to include more missionaries, leaders, and members. This inter-generational dynamic gives each GMC a special value. Previous GMCs (2005, 2008, 2011) were held in Arlington, TX. The 2014 GMC was hosted by Goodman Oaks Church of Christ near Memphis, TN. GMC 2019, held October 10–12, was organized by World Bible School (WBS) and hosted by the Brentwood Oaks church and school in Austin, TX. The number that registered formally was 586, and many other attendants were “walk-ins” from central Texas. 53 exhibits showcased 46 different ministries.

The Conference’s theme was “Deep and Wide—Exploring Missions Dimensions.” Wide refers to the global scope of the Great Commission. Deep refers to making disciples who mature into all of Christ’s will. The objectives included focusing on the mission, motivating for involvement, and networking and equipping for greater effectiveness. One veteran missionary said, “It was a great event, one of the best!”

GMC 2019 featured a number of highlights:

  • Its wide range of classes offered some one hundred sessions in nineteen tracks. Subjects included Unity, Partnering, Discipleship, Social Media, Technology, Missions to the US, Reaching Youth, Muslims (not recorded), Migrations and Refugees, Business as Mission, Missionary Care, and more. Details and audio recording are available at http://gmc2019.org
  • Its attendance was notably international. Participants in past GMCs have been largely American. This GMC had markedly more international involvement. In addition to many missionaries, visitors came from India, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Greece, Brazil, Ecuador, Benin, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Cuba. More international presenters indicates a broadening base for missions by Churches of Christ. The two song leaders were from the Philippines and Trinidad. The opening speaker and an MC were South Africans.
  • The use of technology was evident in many ways. For example, a huge video wall was used for presentations, including a live interview with George Funk in Perth, Australia. George’s ministry now has fifteen “Gospel Chariots” (large trucks equipped for evangelistic meetings) that circulate through more than twenty African nations. Their evangelists enroll and follow up for World Bible School and Nations University. They lift the profile and enthusiasm of existing congregations, and they plant new congregations.
  • Its banquet for honoring missions veterans attracted over 500 participants. Sixty veteran missions and church leaders were honored by name, often with details. They received a personalized plaque and a copy of Phil Slate’s book Lest We Forget. The fifty or so veterans present were a veritable cloud of witnesses that made an indelible impression. They then passed the torch (in the form of electronic candles) to the next generations and prayed with them—a truly motivational and moving evening. This event was supplemented by inspiring missions stories sprinkled throughout the program book.
  • Its Tensions Talks took on difficult questions facing modern missions. Healthy tension was created by having two speakers for each talk. The first was tasked with defining the difficulties and their respective positions. The second, the response, aimed for biblical balance and resolution. These Tension Talks and other key-note addresses are viewable at http://facebook.com/globalmissionsconference.
    • The first Tension topic was “Adapt or Die?” It addressed contextualization’s benefits and dangers. Its presenter was Bill Richardson, a professor of missions at Harding University. Its responder was Steve Eckman, president of York College.
    • The second Tension topic was “Disciple Making or Church Planting?” presented by Evertt Huffard of Harding School of Theology with Kirk Brothers, president of Heritage Christian University, responding.
    • The third Tension topic was “Para-church or Church?” Brian Davis defined the problem. He is a veteran of missions to Benin, South Africa, and Zambia and currently is executive vice-president of WBS. Bruce McLarty, president of Harding University, responded.
  • Its unveiling of Mathetis, a newly-developed avenue for sharing the good news. (See the article in the November 2010 issue of Action!, the periodical of World Bible School.)

Mathetis Launch!

Among the highlights at GMC 2019, perhaps the brightest was the reveal of Mathetis, the brand new social media way to share Jesus with younger generations. Conceived four years ago, this event displayed the result of intensive construction over the last two years with an investment of $1,000,000. The GMC launch was limited in the sense that it was offered exclusively to event participants and required an access code. Seventy-five, mainly university students, registered at an earlier “sneak peak” at Harding University Lectureship (October 1), and 245 registered at the GMC (October 11) for an initial total of 320.

After the public launch, Mathetis will be available worldwide. Seekers will find it in two ways: (1) Through relevant online search words about God, Jesus, the meaning of life, the new birth, and many more. (2) Invitations from Christian mentors and from peers. Seekers will find high-quality, engaging videos with exercises that invite peer-sharing via social media. In order to learn how to use Mathetis, Christians will be able to use the Reaching series, a printed curriculum for classes or small groups that search the Scriptures and train in the effective use of Mathetis.

GMC participants immediately grasped Mathetis’s game-changing relevance for world evangelism—especially for the Western world. Indeed, from the time WBS began the worldwide advertising of online Bible courses, the receptivity of the US has stood out as exceptional. That, along with the needs of North America as a mission field, led to intensive research and development for the way youth interact and learn. You may view Mathetis by visiting http://mathetis.org or downloading the Mathetis app from the Appstore or GooglePlay.

The next GME will be hosted by Harding University at Camp Tahkodah, October 1–4, 2020. The next GMC is scheduled for 2022 with details still to come.

John Reese is chairman of GMC and president of WBS.