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Conferences and a bit of a rant…

May 6, 2009

Next year my seminary study includes a requirement that we attend a national conference each semester. By “national” it means we are hearing perspectives from two or more sources – speakers. By requiring that these conferences be unaffiliated with our present denominations means we are putting ourselves in position to glean from a broader perspective. I am, actually really looking forward to what I will attend. Because of finances my national conference may end up being fairly close to “home.” But we’ll see.

So I was surfing this morning – reading up on the Origins Project (http://originsproject.org/) when I read that they will be sponsoring a pre-conference workshop at the National Outreach Convention in early November in San Diego. Now really, who wouldn’t want to go to San Diego in November (or December, January, February… just about any month of the year)? So I went to the website. This is what I saw and read. Remember these are first impressions… but they have me thinking.

National Outreach Convention http://www.nationaloutreachconvention.com/.

Theme (I’m guessing it’s the theme since it is in the heading): In the darkest times, even the smallest light shines bright. Shine bright.

Main page has three “rotating” explanations – enticements – information about the conference and why you should attend. The first one I saw when I was on the page had the heading ofNational Outreach Convention 2009:

You Don’t Attend NOC,
You Experience It.

The gathering place and connection point for those who are passionate about outreach. Be part of the 1000’s who know that NOC is the place to be empowered, re-energized and equipped for effective outreach in your community.

Register today! »

http://www.nationaloutreachconvention.com/i/intro/intro01.jpg

Be Here -National Outreach Convention

I’m thinking (o.k. I am hoping) the sponsors and organizers meant no disrespect. But I am not certain if I even see a woman in this picture (although to be fair – maybe it is a woman’s profile – the one with the glasses partially hidden or is it partially visible by the “Be Here” shirt collar)?

But I did notice that the “Be Here” image is a male profile (Am I not correct?). So based upon this inviting sub-title, “Be Here” is an invitation aimed at males. I wonder why they could not have two “Be Here’s” to express both genders. I don’t know how many people attend the NOC, but this picture and invitation alone give me the impression that this is for my male brothers to attend.

I realize that conclusion is a bit subjective, so I was curious about the convention itself: who are the speakers, what is the format, what subjects are being discussed? So I went to check it out. There are four general sessions during the three days. Each session features two speakers – both men (2 x 4=8). The general session is hosted by (you guessed it) a male. Oh yea – the worship leader is Lincoln Brewster and he is (duh) a male.

What about the breakout sessions? There are 50 breakout sessions. Yes that is a lot. Here’s a sample of the workshops that are offered:

o 5 Things You Should Know About Millennials

o Building a Church Without Walls

o Church Next: A Panel of Innovators (panel comprised of 6 men, moderated by a man)

o Churches for the Sake of Others: Evangelistic Church Planting

o Fulfilling the Great Commission One Healthy Marriage at a Time (guess what? This is lead by two men… I find it interesting that a healthy marriage does not have a woman’s voice present)

o Hindus, Homosexuals and the Hard to Reach: Evangelism in a Post-Christian World

§ (I realize now that another voice is missing in this seminar – women. Does the Church even recognize how women are excluded in outreach?)

o Permission to Speak Freely – Things We Can’t Say In Church (led by Anne Jackson)

o Rethinking Gospel and Conversion

o The Art of Listening to 20-Somethings

o The Big Story: Sharing the Gospel That Jesus Taught

I find it insightful that there are sessions about many things and different groups to reach out too, but there is nothing specifically regarding women. I find it interesting in light of something Joseph Myers shared with our seminary class on “Culture and System Change” that women are among the fastest growing people group to leave the church (which will mean that they become “subjects” for outreach). At some point the Church will be affected because a majority of volunteer positions in the church are filled by women and in most churches it is the woman that decides to tithe (not the man). But anything related to that is missing at this Outreach Convention (after all you might be saying to yourself it is about outreach not in-reach, but see then again see my previous injected point). Not to mention that women are an unreached people group. When will we have conversations on evangelism that recognizes why women are not coming to Christ?

There are more than 50 speakers at this conference, only one of them is a woman. Let that sink in, really, really sink in.

If you are a man do you just shrug your shoulders and think to yourself, “oh well.” Do you think it’s no big deal? Or is it a big deal and then what?

The sad thing is that several years ago I probably would have noticed that the photo inviting you to “Be Here” had a distinctly masculine image on it. But I probably would not have thought too much about the absence (o.k. relative absence) of women on the speaker list. It would not have rocked by boat.

BUT NOW IT DOES.

Where is the presence of innovative women leaders, or women who are courageously “building churches without walls”? We need the “art of listening to 20-somethings” (I have 3 adult children in this category!), but we also need the art of listening to women-those not in the church-something’s. Is it too controversial or do we not care? Or is it something else? I wonder.

Last year I attended an event sponsored by Off-the-Map (http://offthemap.com) that featured Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt and Todd Hunter. Jim and the Off-the-Map team designed the evening and Rich and Rose Swetman, co-pastors of Vineyard Community Church were hosts for this gathering. The atmosphere and spirit of the place was welcoming, festive and thought provoking. As part of the evening Rose interviewed Rob. Her interview and Rob’s responses sparked quite a conversation in the blogosphere (at least in the Seattle area). If you want to listen to the podcast follow this link: http://vineyard-cc.org/podcast/2008/04/15/the-rose-swetman-interview-with-rob-bell/. To Rob Bell’s credit he has worked with his church to live out a context of mutuality in shared leadership. He and other leaders in his congregation turned the direction of his ship (church), but he seemed to miss the point (and I am not picking on Rob Bell) when Rose asked him about the need for men to be influencers in the Church for women.

To be fair, how hard is it for women to listen to men complaining about the feminization of the Church? (Even if we disagree on the method and extremism expressed at some Pastor’s conferences or reductionism of some conclusions). Do we see their concerns as legitimate?

Do men even recognize that they have a responsibility to find ways for women to be at the table?

I wonder what would happen if in response to the NOC invitation to present or as individuals responded to a “Call for Presenters” that potential presenters started asking if women would leading the Breakout Sessions. If these leaders would also ask and support (maybe even insist) on the presence of women (at least one woman for starters) as part of the General Session speaking team. I wonder what would happen if men felt strongly enough that in the Body of Christ there is neither male or female, slave or free, Jew or Greek but we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3: 28) that they would remove their presence if a Convention demonstrated exclusion rather than inclusion; practiced partiality rather than impartiality? What would happen?

What would happen if the lone woman presenter at this conference asked “if other women were presenting and if not why?” Maybe a lone woman presenter is a step in the right direction (Maybe she is a first?). I don’t know I have never checked into their convention before.

I realize that the whole presenter system operates for the most part in isolation to the whole. But I still wonder what would happen if people asked?

But really the “onus” is on the NOC itself. They are the ones that create perspective and balance (or lack thereof). They (whoever they are) are the ones that are planning and organizing and orchestrating. What would happen if they looked at the subject areas and checked themselves to see if this was truly a reflection of the Body of Christ?

I realize that the NOC could take this criticism and spin it for even more publicity. If people click on the links they will get more traffic, right? But…

What would happen if men simply cared more? What would happen if women simply cared more?

What would happen if the attendees to this conference began to ask why more women were not present?

What if we all cared? Maybe then the Outreach Convention would truly be national.

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