Several years ago Rev. Dr. Jeff Schrank, pastor of Christ Church Lutheran (that’s the congregation’s actual name, not Christ Lutheran Church) in Phoenix had a brainstorm. After a financially profitable summer church camp at Christ, Pastor Schrank was faced with the challenge and opportunity of doing something meaningful with the proceeds.
The answer was Best Practices for Ministry (BPM). It’s a three day conference in Phoenix, in February, and is regularly called a “free conference.” That simply means registration is free, meals are free, sessions are free. Speakers and presenters receive no compensation or expense reimbursement. Attendees pay their own transportation and lodging expenses. The rest is free.
BPM is undoubtedly the fastest growing movement in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Attendance has grown from around 500 the first year to nearly 2,000 five years later. The meetings, worship times and presentation sessions are all held on the church campus.
Arrangements, food preparation, meal service, table and chair setup, cleaning, logistics, technical support, registration, and the rest of the many moving parts of this conference are handled by members of the staff, who are ably supported by many, many congregational volunteers. It’s a well-organized machine, led by staff member Nancy Barton.
Some might call BPM a bit hokey for such things as being greeted by a senior pastor dressed like a chicken. During breaks between sessions, attendees participate in various carnival-flavored outdoor activities. Here’s an oom-pah band. There’s a bean bag toss. Oh, and even a buckin’ bronco barrel ride. Display booths surround outdoor tables and chairs. It’s Phoenix in February!
You’d really need to know Jeff Schrank to understand. We served together several years on the LCMS Board of Directors. He’s frank. He’s fearless. He loves to have fun, even if that includes manifesting a few wacky tendencies such as dressing up like a chicken.
In reality, Jeff is a faithful pastor of an LCMS congregation with average weekly worship attendance of 1175 and a Christian school with 588 students. The staff at Christ Church includes five pastors, 26 other called workers and many non-rostered staff and teachers. The hokey stuff aside, Jeff just happens to be theologically conservative, having been trained at an LCMS seminary most people describe as theologically confessional.
I’m calling BPM a coalition, synonyms for which include alliance, partnership, association, federation, etc. It’s a group of pastors, commissioned ministers, lay leaders, women and men who spend time and money with one goal in mind: Learning how to address the ministry challenges presented by 21st century people who simply think and act differently than most people in my parents’ and grandparents’ generations, even in my generation and perhaps also in yours.
Don’t let the informal, fun filled, casual atmosphere mislead you into thinking nothing substantial is occurring at BPM. On the contrary, presentations are focused on a wide variety of mission and ministry challenges and opportunities. It’s neither advertised nor intended to be a theological symposium. It’s a Best Practices for Ministry conference.
The people who come represent what I believe is the heart of the LCMS. They leave BPM with renewed vigor, refreshed spirit and rededicated zeal for Gospel proclamation. Here’s a wistful thought. What if our national Synod convention more nearly resembled a Best Practices Conference, not necessarily in form but in stimulation, motivation and inspiration?
Due to Terry’s hip replacement recovery and to the task of moving my almost 100 year old mother to an assisted living residential facility, I was unable to attend last week’s BPM conference. It’s the first one I’ve missed. I hope it will be the last one I miss. It’s a great opportunity for Christian leaders to sharpen their skills in Gospel proclamation, using the best practices for ministry we can learn from this new coalition called BPM.