A New Coalition

vertical_image_bpm2016Several 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.

Best Practices for Ministry

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 10.04.00 PMThat’s the name of the “free conference” taking place this week in Phoenix. It’s called “free” because there’s no registration fee. In addition, no honoraria or expenses are paid to the speakers and presenters, who serve for free. Attendees pay their own expenses for transportation and lodging. The host congregation provides free meals for the duration of the conference.

All this is made possible by the sponsoring congregation, Christ Church Lutheran in Phoenix and Senior Pastor Jeff Schrank. Jeff served for a number of years with me on the LCMS Board of Directors. He’s a humble, bold and courageous man doing a great job of ministry in Phoenix.

This is the conference’s fourth year. The first year about 500 attended. This year 1500 are registered. What’s the attraction? A few things come to mind:

  • It’s “A FREE conference for those who love the local church, the unchurched and the LCMS.”
  • It’s in Phoenix in February and it’s cold in many other parts of the country!
  • It meets a need not met in the same way anywhere else in the LCMS.
  • It includes a healthy mixture of lay, commissioned and ordained participants.
  • It offers practical info on what works with transparency on what doesn’t work in parish ministry.
  • It combines ministry ideas with spiritually refreshing worship and fellowship.
  • It’s a gathering of folks who are finding joy in ministry and folks who seek such joy.

BPM Conference Coordinator Nancy Barton says about conference speakers: “Best Practices for Ministry conference does not happen without all these incredible people. I am grateful for all those who share their God given gifts with the church free of charge. This is an act of grace and service, and I trust the person and work of the Holy Spirit to equip the church to do it well.”

Kudos to Pastor Jeff Schrank, the staff and members of Christ Church Lutheran, the volunteer presenters and all participants in this exciting conference! The spirit of camaraderie, cohesiveness and Christ-centeredness is contagious!

My topic this year is “Quo Vadis, LCMS?” Subtitle: “Wine/Women/Worship/Witness/Warfare: Helping a church born and raised in 19th and 20th century culture passionately engage with the Gospel a 21st century culture indifferent and even hostile to Christianity.” I look forward to time together with many wonderful folks!

Five Two Wiki and Best Practices Conferences

Conference 1The first title above may sound a bit strange for a conference name, especially one hosted by an LCMS congregation with 700 excited participants who are almost all LCMS folks. It’s going on this week in Katy, Texas. Attendees from around the country are quite a bit younger than the average LCMS member, most of them having strong interest in mission and ministry.

The second conference referenced above is what its title describes—a conference whose presenters share with leaders who attend the conference best ministry practices that are working well in their congregations. My sense is that the average age of the 600 also excited attendees at this conference, held in Phoenix in February, may be slightly higher than the Wiki folks, but still quite a bit younger than average. They, too, have strong interest in mission and ministry.

Both of these unofficial conferences are sponsored by congregations and pastors, Bill Woolsey at Cross Point Community Lutheran in Katy and Jeff Schrank at Christ Church Lutheran in Phoenix, who sense needs begging to be met. Those needs include missional information, ideas and encouragement, presented without the distraction of political motivation or controversy.

These conferences attract people focused on figuring out how best to communicate the Gospel to people not attracted to church as most of us know it. The worship is mostly “contemporary” and quite spirited. The atmosphere is saturated with Scriptural teaching and preaching. The concern is clearly focused on the eternal destiny of people without Christ. Most ideas and strategies shared are tried and tested. Others are more embryonic and visionary.

An important objective of these conferences is the gathering of men and women who share a focus on mission and ministry that goes beyond traditional patterns and frequently unfruitful expressions. The folks who attend are eager to learn more about how to proclaim the love of Christ in faithful ways to new generations of people who are spiritually hungry but also either not attracted to or even turned off by most of what happens in the organized church.

My commendation is hereby offered to conference organizers, sponsors and presenters, along with attendees and their congregations back home. They are the ones whose ministry and mission will benefit from the return of rejuvenated, reenergized, recommitted workers and leaders.

The mission is real! The field is ripe for harvest! The eternal destination of people who live in darkness and disbelief is at stake! God be praised for the results that his blessing on these conferences will produce!