Dan Everts, formerly with Intervarsity in Colorado, and now serving at a Presbyterian congregation in the St. Louis area had what I considered to be the most interesting and informative conference of the day today, entitled The Postmodern Skeptic’s Path to Faith. Everts did an excellent job of using specific examples to demonstrate the principles and various stages that skeptics may go through before they are ready to make a committment to be a Christ follower. His illustrations clearly demonstrated the fact that this is by no means an exact, predictable path, though it does represent what research has shown to be a general pattern.
Out the window is the idea that if someone was born and raised in America, they have some kind of church background to which they can somehow connect with Christians. Many are hostile to Christianity, and at the very least, completely detached and disinterested. Investing in relationships becomes extremely important, because the old paradigm of getting the lost to attend some kind of event at the church is no longer available. The first of five thresholds that a skeptic must cross on the way to a faith experience is to trust a Christian. To do that, they must first have some kind of contact or relationship with one, and that relationship must remain committed, and free of kneejerk reactions to behavior or thinking.
The other four thresholds include coming to a point where they wonder about Jesus, then become open to change in their life. At some point, they become a seeker after God, though that may not manifest itself through a church experience. The stress that accumulates while seeking means that the moment when they may make a faith committment is a window of opportunity that may not last for a long time, so Christians who are in a position to minister in this way have to be alert and aware of the individual’s situation. They must also be patient, loving and forgiving, since it may take a considerable investment of time, several years in many cases, to move from one threshold to another.
Once again, the emphasis was placed on this being a work of the Holy Spirit, with the believer simply being the instrument. Success occurrs because God opens the door to it. Lives are genuinely transformed, and the testimonies of where people came from are evidence of God’s hand, and not a work of the human intellect. Perhaps, in our effort to share the gospel, we become more reliant on our own skill, and on getting everything right, than we do in depending on the Spirit, and we are not capable of transforming another human being, especially not into salvation.
As far as the conference itself, this has been another excellent, productive experience. The format has been changed from last year’s conference in response to comments and suggestions made last year. The schedule was changed with general sessions on the first and last day, and the breakouts in the middle to accomodate those who needed to travel and who did not want to stay an extra night in the hotel. The Reveal Conference was held the day before, in order to help those who wanted to go to both.
The conference goers are largely 40 to 50 somethings, leaders in their churches, and from a wide variety of churches, including just about everything from the Assembly of God and Pentecostal/Charismatic groups to Baptists, to non-denominational evangelicals to mainline denominations. And they are also from 46 different states and 10 foreign countries, not counting those viewing via satellite. Yes, there are plenty of Southern Baptists here, too. I have not observed that either the SBC, or the BGCT has the leadership to produce the resources and conduct the conferences related to small groups ministry. The Willow Creek Association is way out in front in this ministry, and they are willing to admit and learn from their failures as well as their successes. The result is a high quality line of resources by people who have been tried and tested in the field, and a great conference experience.