By Dave Butts
Going vertical will change your life. And Columbus, Ohio, is the place this fall to get vertical. Vertical is the theme for the International Conference on Missions (ICOM), meeting in Columbus, November 13-16, 2014. Why Vertical as a theme? Because going Vertical will maximize our horizontal impact.
Missions, like virtually all ministry, is horizontally focused. We hear of the great needs around the globe and are stirred by the Spirit of God to respond by going or giving or supporting in diverse ways. It is people-based and need-based, and missions exists to meet those needs. I can remember growing up in church and being moved by the slides of missionaries who showed us pictures of people who desperately needed the gospel. There is nothing wrong with hearing or seeing those needs. But it is often overwhelming and even exhausting as we try to respond.
When we hear of billions who have yet to accept Christ and billions who have not heard the gospel in a meaningful way, we almost want to curl up on the couch and quit. The task, viewed horizontally, seems impossible. But there is a vertical perspective that brings hope and encouragement to those committed to the completion of the Great Commission. The prophet Habakkuk saw things from that perspective as he wrote: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).
ICOM 2014 will be a place to find hope in a world that seems to be whirling out of control. That’s because this is a conference with prayer at its heart! Every one of our keynote messages will help us focus vertically on Jesus in the midst of everyday life. Only one of our speakers has ever spoken for a main session. And only one of our preachers is a local church minister. The others are missionaries or foreign nationals who are serving in leadership roles as a result of missions. Each one will help you go vertical.
Prayer isn’t just a matter for talk but for action. One of the most exciting aspects of Vertical will be a 24-hour Prayer Center that will engage all the senses. During the daytime hours it will be located in the center of the Exhibit Hall, and after hours it will be in the Hyatt Hotel. At any time of the day or night, prayers will be ascending to the Father and making a difference all over the planet.
Carefully crafted, family-friendly prayer stations will fill the room and provide opportunities for hands-on praying. We don’t all pray the same way, and the creativity of these prayer stations will reflect that fact. You may want to go to a quiet station and pray the Word back to God. Others will be energized by laying hands on world maps and writing their prayers there. An art station for drawing prayers and a worship wall will engage those who want more activity in their prayer times. Many different prayer stations will ensure that everyone finds some ways to pray that fit how God uniquely designed them.
We want the Prayer Center to serve as a place where you not only pray but catch a vision of how this might be reproduced in your own church or ministry. One of the ministries of ICOM, the ACTS Initiative, is calling for 10 years of unending prayer. Since December 31, 2010, churches and ministries have been taking a week of day and night prayer, and then at the end of the week, passing that torch to another group (see details for Light The Fire 24/7/520 at the website
Can you imagine what might happen with day and night prayer occurring in multiple churches and ministries over these next years? You will have the opportunity to see it at work, experience it, and sign up for a week of prayer right at the Prayer Center. There will be information, tools, and trainers to help you.
Global Think Tank
A Global Think Tank is another new focus for this year’s ICOM. Twelve major regions of the world have been identified and a facilitator/researcher has been assigned to each region to ask the question: “What is the status of mission work in that region from Christian Churches/Churches of Christ?” Missionaries from each region, churches that support work in that region, and those interested in that area will have the opportunity on Saturday to attend a three-hour think tank.
The purpose of this larger chunk of time is threefold: inform, pray, collaborate. Those participating in a regional meeting will be informed of the status of the work there, with the opportunity to add to what is being presented. It will be a unique opportunity to gather information about what God is doing in us and through us. Of course, we will want to take significant time to pray about both what is happening, as well as what needs to happen in that region.
Then we want to ask the question: “Is there something we can do together in this area that would make it better than what we are doing apart from one another?” This important question concerning collaboration will have mixed results depending upon the area and those attending. This is simply providing a platform for missionaries to connect, should the Lord lead them to do so.
The Global Think Tank is just one of many options for you during our workshop times. There are over 180 workshops on topics of all kinds relating to world missions. Though you can’t attend even a small percentage of those, you can always buy the CDs from Christian Audio Tapes and listen and benefit from them after the conference.
Exhibits, Students, Pre-Conference
Even if you’ve not been able to enjoy the benefits (and challenges) of international travel, ICOM will bring the world to you in our Exhibit Hall. There will be 650 exhibits from those serving Christ all over the world. You will feel as though you are moving from continent to continent as you make your way through the exhibits and feast on times of rich fellowship with our missionaries.
Our student program, SICOM, gives us great hope for the future as you see hundreds of committed young people learning and serving at the conference. From wall-building to meal-packing, our students make sure their time is used to serve others. When you combine the Jr. High and Sr. High students with the large college student contingent, you see why the average age of an ICOM attendee is under 22. That makes for a lot of excitement as we focus vertically on Christ!
Though ICOM officially begins on Thursday evening, November 13, there are some wonderful gatherings that happen as we ramp up for the conference itself. This year there are two new pre-conference events. A two-day intensive training for Community Health Evangelism begins on Tuesday. Also Standards of Excellence will lead a 12-hour introductory workshop on leading successful short-term mission trips.
Encouragement & Training for You
Attending ICOM benefits you in so many ways. As always, it is the very best place to catch a vision of what God is doing in the world through his servants in mission work. You will deepen your understanding of the work that is being accomplished, as well as what remains of the task before us. This year though, the Vertical focus will also provide both encouragement and training for you to become a person of prayer who can effectively minister in the strength of the Lord, whether you are at home or overseas.
As you consider attending Vertical, would you also pray for ICOM? Dean Trune, our national prayer chairman, has been mobilizing prayer since last fall for the gathering. Hundreds have been fasting and praying that the Lord would do a mighty thing in our midst.
My prayer has been based on Moses’ conversation with the Lord in Exodus 33. Moses made this request: “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” What will really change us all is the presence of God. Would you ask the Lord to meet us in Columbus in a powerful, life-changing way? As we honor him by going Vertical, we ask him to bless us with his presence in a unique way during our time together.
Dave Butts is president of Harvest Prayer Ministries and the 2014 president of the International Conference on Missions.
You won’t want to miss hearing these speakers at ICOM 2014:
• Zebedee Togarepi, managing director of Hippo Valley Christian Mission in Zimbabwe
• Peter Ignatius, president of Lakeview Bible Seminary in Chennai, India
• Dick Eastman, president of Every Home for Christ
• Greg Pruett, president of Pioneer Bible Translators
• Scot Longyear, Senior Pastor of Maryland Community Church in Terre Haute, Indiana
• Dave Butts, president of Harvest Prayer Ministries and the 2014 president of ICOM