I follow many people on twitter that I’ve never met in real life (IRL). Many of them are fellow United Methodist pastors. Through twitter, I’m able to hear their stories, discuss issues facing the church today, be encouraged, and, of course, read lots of quotes from famous dead people.
One of those pastors that I began following a while back is Paul Lawler, lead pastor of Christ Church United Methodist in Birmingham, Alabama. I became interested in the church Paul pastors when I found out that over the last six years they have helped plant over 102 churches around the world!
That’s not your average United Methodist Church.
I became even more interested in Christ Church United Methodist when Paul began advertising the Rejuvenate Conference—a conference focused on the renewal of the American church that is hosted at Christ Church each year. After seeing the vision for this conference and its list of presenters, I knew that I had to register and join in on the conversations.
Recently, I had the chance to chat with Paul about the Rejuvenate Conference,and I’ve become even more excited about going. I hope that after reading this interview with him you’ll join me in Birmingham on February 21-23. You can register here.
What is the Rejuvenate Conference all about?
Rooted in the belief that God can renew the mainline church and the North American Church in general, Rejuvenate 2013 is a renewal conference centered in the prayerful hope of God renewing our first love of Jesus Christ resulting in a revived expression of disciple-making and missional movement in our cities and among the nations.
How did this conference come about?
Rejuvenate was birthed out of prayer and intimacy with Christ.
I was praying in my office with our mission staff in the spring of 2011 and we began to get into discussion around the potential of doing a church renewal conference for the greater church, which would serve both the need for renewal in the North American Church, as well as the United Methodist Church. The conference idea had been stirring in my heart for several years, but we sensed that it was time. The Rejuvenate Conference takes place every other year in late February. Rejuvenate 2013 will be the second Rejuvenate gathering.
Rejuvenate was also birthed out of people wanting to learn about what we are doing as a local church.
Let me clarify that. The Rejuvenate Conference is NOT about Christ Church. We are keenly aware that Christ Church is not a perfect church. But the fact that many were inquiring about what God was doing at Christ Church provided some of the catalytic seeds for our doing the conference.
Over the last six years, Christ Church United Methodist Birmingham has made a high commitment to equip persons for discipleship multiplication. We define discipleship as follows: To develop fully devoted followers of Christ who are committed to developing fully devoted followers of Christ. As we embraced a full-orbed commitment to disciple-making, we watched Christ begin to move more fully through His people. The fruit of developing disciples is as follows:
Christ Church has planted 102 churches around the world over the last six years. Many of these churches have now planted daughter and grand-daughter churches. This has resulted in over 13,000 persons making first time professions of faith. This effort has not been led by ordained clergy, but by the people who have been equipped and trained to serve as fully devoted followers of Christ.
Christ Church also made a 25 year commitment to serve a specific segment of inner city Birmingham. We want to serve them long enough for us to develop life-long relationships that cultivate love and trust in order to be “with them” (i.e. Incarnational Ministry). This involved church families willingly relocating to the inner city out of their first love of Christ; tutoring and mentoring in schools; forming 501C3’s which refurbish existing houses and make them available for the poor; and engaging in intentional collaboration to serve in the development of community shalom.
In light of what we have been experiencing as a local church, it is our conviction that every local church can be renewed in her first love of Christ in a manner resulting in revived expressions of disciple making and holistic missional movement in our cities and among the nations.
How does the founding of this conference also connect with your own personal experience as a pastor?
This is a very personal question for me, but I am willing to be transparent.
The conference was also birthed out of a holy wreck that happened in my heart and thinking in 2007. I had planted a church in a medium-sized southern city and served it for sixteen years. The church had grown to be a vibrant witness in the community and around the world. In 2007, I was given the opportunity to then serve an existing church in Birmingham, Alabama. Upon my assignment in Birmingham, I quickly became aware that the critical mass of people in the church could not give a simple definition of the word, “disciple”; nor did they understand our responsibility in “making disciples” as Jesus taught. Most of these persons had been in church for decades. I kept questioning: How could so many people miss the main thing Jesus taught His church to do? All of this was in blaring contrast to what I had experienced the previous 16 years. It was a rude, heart-wrenching, awakening.
Out of this holy wreck came the conviction that it is unjust for any local church not to understand and live out Christ mandate to “make disciples.” I was reminded through this season that this was not just a Christ Church Birmingham problem, but remains a problem for much of the North American Church and particularly for many mainline churches. This is why The Rejuvenate Conference not only focuses on the rekindling of our first love of Jesus Christ, but on a myriad of ways to live out and demonstrate this love through disciple making, ministry in our inner cities, among the nations, and unto those facing immense suffering around the world.
One of the conference’s purposes listed on the website is “to restore the church to its primal expressions.” What do you mean by that?
We are not only witnessing the fade of Wesleyan Christianity in North America, we are witnessing the fade of Christianity in general. Many say we are already post-Christian. Do we soberly contemplate the effects of the absence of “salt and light” in our culture? I am not only alarmed by the trends, I am also alarmed so few are alarmed by the trends.
I find there are many who are baptized in the comfortable accoutrements of Christendom. They are, therefore, not allowing themselves to be disturbed by what is happening on our watch. Christianity will not re-surge merely because Christendom exists. All we have to do is observe what happened in Europe one hundred years ago when a strong Christendom existed and a vibrant Christianity was absent. History proves that Christianity surges where the apostolic faith in Christ is vibrant. Therefore, I would submit we need to revisit our primal origins and embrace them.
Ultimately, what do we mean by “primal expressions?” We mean that Christendom needs to re-discover her originating impulse. Her originating impulses were centered in a clear understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ; a commitment to its propagation; a commitment to disciple-making among all peoples; and a willingness to serve these originating impulses with a selflessness that impacted the poor, and marginalized, and the culture in general for the glory of God. You can read more extensively on this topic through a series on the Rejuvenate blog.
The session speakers (David Platt, Timothy Tennent, John Perkins, & others) have a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and current leadership roles. What are your hopes for bringing this group together?
First of all, I would submit that it is completely Wesleyan to embrace a diversity of Christian leaders and influencers who are committed to lifting up the name of Christ in the framework of historical orthodoxy. While Wesley and Whitfield had their heated differences, most Methodists are aware of how John Wesley spoke lovingly of George Whitfield at his funeral, “There are many doctrines of a less essential nature with regard to which even the most sincere children of God…are and have been divided for many ages. In these we may think and let think; we may ‘agree to disagree.’”
The Rejuvenate Conference speakers are diverse. I believe this diversity brings voice to the church and not just a church. This voice is strengthened by their passion for the supremacy of Christ and a relentless commitment to His mission. Each speaker brings an expression and capacity for equipping the church to serve God’s call to the reached and un-reached in discipleship, among the poor, the persecuted, and the trafficked.
While the conference isn’t geared specifically to United Methodists, it is being hosted at a United Methodist Church (UMC) and features Dr. Tim Tennent, the President of Asbury Theological Seminary, as one of the session speakers. How do you think this conference will contribute to the conversations about renewal and revitalization that are so common in the UMC today?
While this is a trans-denominational gathering, we are very intentional in hoping this conference will have a positive effect in a resurgence of vibrant Christianity through the UMC.
We are hosting a pre-conference Whiteboard Session hosted by Dr. Robin Scott. Dr. Scott is a District Superintendent and a future Episcopal candidate. He will facilitate a whiteboard discussion on renewal in the UMC as a part of the Rejuvenate pre-conference program on Thursday afternoon. Information will be coming out on this gathering in a few weeks. Participants must be registered for the conference in order to participate.
While there is much conversation regarding renewal and revitalization going on today, I find there is a great void in dealing with the essentials of primal or core Christianity. We have much conversation around pensions and programs, buildings and budgets; but not around His Person and purpose. We are hopeful, between the Whiteboard Session which focuses on spiritual renewal in United Methodism, blended with the focus of the conference itself, that a positive contribution will be made into the DNA of United Methodism that serves to spark a resurgence of vibrant, life-giving, Christianity.
There are now so many great Christian conferences that someone could attend them full time if they wanted. What makes this conference different from all the other ones out there?
First, the Rejuvenate Conference is focused on church renewal which is unto cultural renewal.
Christian history demonstrates the following axiom: A renewed Christology results in a renewed missiology. The primary purpose of the conference is to serve the cause of renewing our first love of Christ. As our first love of Christ is re-kindled or ignited, the conference is designed to lead us into the ministry of Jesus to the world.
There are many conferences that teach you how to “run a more efficient church.” There are many conferences that focus only on evangelism or serving the poor. The Rejuvenate Conference is different via her holistic nature. By combining times of corporate prayer, worship through song, stirring exhortations by world renowned presenters, and practical application of the expression of disciple-making and missional movement in multiple breakout sessions, this conferenceis designed to light a fire that spreads in your context of ministry. I am not aware of any conference that is focused on spiritual renewal that is unto revived expressions of disciple-making and missional movements in our cities and among the nations of the world. This makes theRejuvenateexperience different for her participants.
Second, the Rejuvenate Conference has a diversity of presenters from all over the world.
This conference has presenters serving movements making historic impact in Asia, Africa and North America. The majority of Rejuvenate presenters are practitioners, and not merely theorists writing books about what others are doing.
I encourage people to research the “Billy Graham” of China named, Peter Xu, and the rich diversity of persons from around the world which we have an opportunity to learn from on the Rejuvenate website.
Third, the Rejuvenate Conference offers nimble application in your context.
If you would like to be intentional in making disciples in your context, there are those who will help you serve more effectively. If you want to involve your church in planting churches in 2013, you can learn how at Rejuvenate. By the end of 2013, your church can be actively participating in having planted several new churches. If your church has no ministry to those suffering the plight of human trafficking, there will be those who can assist you in launching a ministry to those being trafficked. Everything is designed so that you and your team might be renewed in Christ and so that you might be equipped to equip and empower others in your context of ministry for the glory of Christ.
Paul will be interacting in the comments over the next few days.
Feel free to make a comment or ask him a question.