By Laura Buffington
There are a lot of ways to spend a week in June. You could spend it poolside, slowly grilling yourself until you’re medium-well. If you’re a fan of summer blockbusters, you could probably fill a whole week with movies about robots and monsters destroying skyscrapers. There is any number of state fairs and theme parks to keep you occupied and out of air-conditioned comfort. Seasonally speaking, summer isn’t necessarily the hottest time for a week inside a convention center.
For that matter, we all have a lot of options when it comes to conventions, conferences, spiritual retreats, or experiential experiences (choose your favorite descriptor here). But for the last several years, I’ve put aside all the other summertime possibilities and joined in the North American Christian Convention.
Over these years I’ve heard (and occasionally felt) reasons why other people don’t spend their week this way. Some say they’re not sure the NACC is for them, either based on their age, their role in the church, or even their aesthetic preferences. People wonder if they’re outside of the target audience, while others critique it for not having a target audience. One crowd doesn’t go because it’s changed too much over the years while another crowd stays away because they don’t think it ever changes. So I get it. There are reasons to stay at the pool or go to some other seminar/conference/extravaganza.
But I go for reasons that are personal, global, theoretical, practical, temporal, and eternal.
Connections, Old and New
After years in which I was out of the habit of attending, I returned to the NACC because it was a way to meet up with friends. Since I live in Dayton, I’m often within driving distance of the Midwest conventions, but not within driving distance of college and seminary friends. Meeting at the convention became a way for us to be in the same place at the same time.
Regardless of the content provided by the NACC itself, we could have long conversations about what it means to serve the church and the world. We could commiserate and celebrate life spent in ministry. Along the way, we could also go to all the restaurants downtown with favorable Yelp reviews. Over the years, these annual connections have been a lifeline in a world that threatens to drown out the kind of hope and wisdom we all need to make our years count.
Beyond these friendships that will hopefully retain their lifelong status, the NACC connects me to a tangled and beautiful web of former classmates, kids from camp, colleagues, co-bearers, wise counselors, and people I admire from afar the rest of the year. Since most of my life has been spent inside the Restoration Movement, walking through the exhibit hall at the convention can feel a bit like being featured in an episode of This is Your Life (or at least like being a guest in an episode about someone else). It’s like going through a gauntlet of face and name recognition. For an introvert like myself, the exhibit hall is fraught with the dangerous potential of small talk with people I know from summers spent at Round Lake Christian Camp or the older folks from my home church who haven’t seen me since I stopped wearing diapers (or at least flannel shirts from the ’90s).
But even as an introvert afraid of small talk, I have learned that these moments are loaded with potential as well. Over the years I’ve made connections with people who share the same gifts for ministry or share some of the same struggles. We’ve been able to sit down together and share an annual sigh of recognition, knowing all the frustrations and the victories, spoken and unspoken. I’ve been able to connect with people who spend their days doing things completely different from how I spend mine. I get to sit down with them and marvel at how God makes us to fill in all the different spaces in the world.
The Whole Body of Christ
On a grander level, the NACC paints a bigger picture for me of what it means to be a part of the church, local and global. It reminds me that while we are called to live like Jesus in the streets and cafés of our own neighborhoods, we are also connected to people doing the same on the other side of the globe. If we are tempted to forget that we belong to a community that is international and cross-cultural, this week can remind us. If we forget the grand vision on the Day of Pentecost of God’s Spirit that moves among the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the men and the women, in its best moments a gathering like this can restore the picture.
It’s easier than it should be for the church to lose itself in isolationism or in competition. Ministers, missionaries, and lay leaders can all get lost in the dangerous game of comparisons. Whether they are battling for the title of Best or Worst, they’re losing. The NACC could be just another arena for this fight, but it could also ring the bell to end it. It could be the place where we put everything else aside and lift up the great name of Jesus for a few days. It could be the place where we have the big conversations we need to have about what it means to be the whole body of Christ in a fractured world.
What the World Needs
In both practical and theoretical respects, I also participate in the NACC because I believe our movement models a way of life together that the world needs. As people dig in deeper to their own ideologies and make enemies out of others, there is a need for the church to show people how to live with tension. As the temptation rises for every issue to become a test of faith and as we all challenge each other with our own “shibboleths” (Judges 12:1-7), we need more places where we gather despite, or even because of, our differences.
Though it may fail at times to live up to its own storied principles, the Restoration Movement began as a way to keep the essentials in the center and to keep the nonessentials in flux. While there are certainly times we have failed to agree on what goes in which category, the ideal is still worth the effort. It also happens to be the very thing the world needs these days from the church.
There are days I wish we were the kind of movement that casts votes and makes decisions. But there are more and more days when I am grateful for the freedom we try to create. It’s the kind of freedom that allows for you and me to understand and express our different views on the pressing issues of the day but still stand beside each other as we sing about the everyday holiness of God. In a world that constantly divides the right from the left, the black from the white, the sacred from the secular, I am glad to join in any moment that tries to move the whole world closer to each other, even if it’s in the middle of summer in a convention center.
This kind of movement, and this kind of moment, seems to be practice for the place God wants to take the world. If we are looking forward to an infinite number of years in the eternal kingdom of God, filled with all the kind of unlikely citizens that show up in the stories of Jesus—from the early years of the church to the heroes in the exhibit hall—we might as well start practicing now. And if Jesus uses the picture of a grand feast (Luke 14) to show us what forever looks like, we might as well explore the restaurants and tables around cities with all kinds of people. Just to be ready. n
Laura Buffington is a teaching pastor at SouthBrook Christian Church in Miamisburg, Ohio.
Recent Books by NACC Speakers
by Carlos Enrique Whittaker
The Best Yes
by Lysa TerKeurst
(Thomas Nelson, 2014)
Walls Fall Down
by Dudley Rutherford
(Thomas Nelson, 2014)
Acts of God
by Bob Russell
(Moody Publishers, 2014)
Enter the Water, Come to the Table
by John Mark Hicks
(Abilene Christian University Press, 2014)
Life on Mission
by Tim Harlow
by Arron Chambers
I Am Revealed
by Mike Baker
(Standard Publishing, 2013)
One Year to Better Preaching
by Daniel Overdorf
(Kregel Ministry, 2013)
by Byron Davis
(Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 2013)
by Vince Antonucci
(Baker Books, 2013)
Pray for One
by Bo Chancey