Last week Leslie and I had a wonderful time at ECO’s National Gathering in Newport Beach. We had a lot on our minds going into the trip – an important committee meeting, fundraising hopes and dreams, etc. – but we were also really excited to get to do a trip with just the two of us. Our flights were super easy. When you’re used to taking a toddler and a baby on flights with multiple connections during the holidays, flying as just a pair of adults feels surreal. The weather was beautiful. Leslie found a great AirBnB spot for us within walking distance of the host church.
The conference was held at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, and they have a pretty impressive campus. ECO had a really great showing, and their sanctuary fit the crowd very well.
Leslie and I were able to meet up right off the bat with our friend Jonathan LaBarge. Jonathan and his wife are pastors at a church outside Los Angeles that is home to an English-speaking congregation, a Spanish-speaking one, and a new church plant. Leslie and I first connected with them a conference at Mt. Hermon in 2013 when Leslie was on maternity leave with a very young Lucy. They are really genuine and friendly, and sometimes I even forget the fact that Jonathan is a lifelong Lakers fan.
We also met up with our dear friend Andrew Dickinson. Andrew and his wife Sarah were a part of the church where I did my field education in seminary, and Andrew enrolled at Princeton a year after I did. Andrew and Sarah live with their two daughters in a suburb of Atlanta where Andrew is an associate pastor.
I’m going on and on about meeting with friends because relationships like these are what the church is all about. Of course there were meetings and votes and things, but time together with other members of Christ’s body is supposed to be fun and encouraging and family. I love spending time with friends like Andrew and Jonathan because we can share about the stuff that is important to us on every level. All too often that’s not the case – and we end up compartmentalizing ourselves (faith, relationships, work, recreation) and life starts feeling scrambled.
Leslie and I met with the church planting committee for the presbytery of TX and LA first thing in the morning on the second day of the conference. We talked about next steps and got some encouragement on our proposal and overall vision. There’s still a bit of confusion about which steps are supposed to happen when, but I can tell people are really getting excited about the big picture of missional transformation and church planting strategies. We also met with the presbytery as a whole, and Leslie and I got to introduce ourselves and the outlines of our vision for a new church in Austin.
Jeff Vanderstelt gave an amazing keynote presentation. I was very excited about his talk for a lot of reasons, and he did not disappoint! Jeff is the real deal. The way that Soma (the church – the people) has taken up the quest of bringing gospel saturation to Tacoma (and beyond!) gives us a lot of hope as we try to do the same thing in Austin. The way that Jeff talks about discipleship and faith is inspiring because it sounds simple and sustainable.
Leslie, Andrew, Jonathan and I also attended a breakout session led by Alex Absalom. Alex was on staff at RiverTree Christian Church in Masillon, OH (a stop on the Future Travelers tour) as a kind of embedded missional theologian. He’s now doing a similar thing in at a church in Long Beach, CA., He also runs a missional consulting group, has his first book coming out really soon, and is super active on Twitter (@alexabsalom). Alex gave a talk about group dynamics and mission that was similar to one of his presentations for Future Travelers (I like to think of it as his mathematical proof for missional communities). After the talk, we stuck around and invited Alex to join us for dinner at a neighborhood bar that Leslie and I had scouted earlier. Talking about church leadership is fun, but talking about church leadership with burgers and beer is much, much more fun.
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