“Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever; from generation to generation we will proclaim your praise.” — Psalm 79:13
As our Uber driver dropped us off at America’s Center in St. Louis, he exclaimed, “The news people should be down here telling this story! These people are so young, happy and diverse!” That pretty much sums up the nearly 18,000 who attended Reach2016, the ICOC North American Discipleship Summit July 7-10.
As Jeff Mannel, conference director and lead evangelist for the host Gateway City Church, shared in the summary video, from his hotel room it looked like ants with lanyards took over downtown St. Louis. They came from Canada, the United States and the Caribbean to love, listen and learn. ICOC leaders from around the world attended the International Leadership Conference. Others shared in the teen, campus, singles, marrieds, Spanish and deaf tracks that ran concurrently.
At night and on Sunday the entire crowd filled half of The Dome stadium with spirit-lifting singing, powerful messages and bone-crushing hugs. A new feature incredibly well-received this year was the men’s and women’s programs on Saturday morning in a Ted Talk and interview format.
Each general session celebrated a different theme as Shawn Wooten moved us to Reach Up, Chip Mitchell challenged us to Reach In, Doug Arthur inspired us to Reach Out and Frank Kim showed us that God’s vision is Within Reach. Even as the U.S. was filled with tragic violence and racial tension that very week, disciples of all races, economic, education and social levels stood level at the foot of the cross in love, hope and faith praying for God to use us to bring the real answer to our countries, cities and neighborhoods.
Just the videos of these large assemblies alone have been loaded over 121,000 times in over 100 countries. In addition, hundreds of classes have been listened to on audio. All are available on DToday.tv for viewing, listening and download.
Before Reach, various ICOC Service Teams, the ICOC Delegates and numerous missions groups met to plan and pray for God’s blessings. A new website was released that provides transparent leadership information for our global efforts: www.icocleaders.org.
During Reach, numerous workshops were held addressing needs from grief recovery to Kingdom Kid leaders to empty nesters, adoptive families, professionals, and more. HOPE worldwide’s new CEO Robert Carrillo held an extensive workshop and celebrated their 25th anniversary! During the weekend, the generous gathering donated over $120,000 to HOPE worldwide to serve the poor. Steve Johnson and Sherwin Mackintosh produced a revival of the famous Upside Down musical that sold out six shows in the beautiful Ferrara Theater. The DVD will be available for distribution soon.
God has truly blessed us with incredibly talented disciples to lead us in profound and meaningful worship. Thanks to Brian Craig and many others for months of tireless preparation. Incredible servants volunteered at every level to make this major event happen. Through the visionary leadership of Jeff Mannel and the elders of the Gateway City Church, and the partnership with Disciples Today, new advances were made in technology for the registration, the app, the presentations and the entire experience. The entire team from the Gateway Church heroically set new standards of excellence for us all. I seriously doubt there is any other conference you can attend of this caliber and content for this low of a registration fee. Sometimes it helps to hear the observations of brothers who have not previously been to our gatherings. You will enjoy this column by Lynn McMillon, CEO of the Christian Chronicle who attended with his wonderful wife Joy, former editor.
These gatherings are well worth the miles, hours and dollars just for the family reunion but they are invaluable for the spiritual impact on personal lives and souls. A much smaller conference in Florida changed my life 40 years ago this month. Others too numerous to mention have sped my spiritual growth over the years. How do these assemblies relate to our movement at this hour? My personal view is that God speaks to us and moves us powerfully reminiscent of gatherings we read of in the Bible. After years of incredible miracles and monumental meetings through our movement’s first 20 years, we faced a serious crisis that caused us to reevaluate our convictions, our hearts and our relationships. God honored our humility, faith and repentance and gave us a new, more mature vision for his will. Disciples began gathering again in regional and global conferences first to comfort each other and then to seek his will anew. God hadn’t changed. Gratefully he changed us.
Mike Taliaferro and the heroic Mission Point Church in San Antonio, Texas offered to host a World Discipleship Summit in 2012. Speculation was high about how many would come. Leaders were wondering if we should dare even mention a goal of 10,000. Through great prayer, planning and cooperation, 17,000 showed up for that historic moment. Tears flowed as we worshipped and recommitted ourselves to God, each other and the lost. The membership spoke loud and clear they were ready for our spiritual leaders to lead. A crucial moment happened in the final sermon when Mike Taliaferro challenged us with the need for a new global missions plan. The crowd erupted in applause and joy.
Since that gathering God moved the hearts of leaders on every continent to host a Discipleship Summit in 2016. The Asian Summit was the first held in June in Bali, Indonesia and opened with a baptism service for over 50 people! The African Discipleship Summit was held August 4-7 in Accra, Ghana. The Australian Summit is in Sydney in September and the Las Américas Summit is in October in Lima, Peru. Other gatherings are being held as well.
Mission and generation
Two crucial themes stayed with me from Reach: mission and generation. God showed us in San Antonio we were able to not just survive but to thrive. In St. Louis, God called us to move from just thriving to his mission. Since that moment in San Antonio, our evangelists have been working hard to develop a global missions strategy with our elders, professionals, and men and women of all races and nations.
The Global Missions committee, first led by Doug Arthur and succeeded by AT Arneson of Chicago, distributed an incredible handbook of the ICOC Global missions plan to every person attending the International Leadership Conference, one of the Reach tracks, outlining in detail the work, giving and dreams of the 14 missions groups who are committed to each evangelizing their focused part of the world and to collaboration and cooperation with each other. In his keynote message, with the help of several Scriptures and Frisbees, Boston missionary and lead evangelist Doug Arthur lifted our eyes to “Reach Out” farther and deeper than ever before.
Closing out the conference, Denver elder and missionary Frank Kim drew our attention that God’s plan for mission is from generation to generation. Clearly walking us through the Scriptures, he showed us that the Bible never gives the command to evangelize the world in one generation, which we too often have zealously but mistakenly applied to the Great Commission of Jesus. But throughout the Scriptures, God expresses his heart’s desire that every generation acknowledge him and pass their faith on to the next generation. My prayer is this will become a seminal moment in our movement.
God gave me a personal powerful visual aid for these two messages. Jeff Mannel, Reach director, first came to a vacation Bible school in Charleston, Illinois nearly 40 years ago. I drove him and his brother to our church on Sundays and Wednesdays after that because they loved our Kingdom Kids ministry. Eventually their parents, John and Nancy, came to see what this church was all about. They had put up a for sale sign on their house and been to a divorce lawyer.
Soon after, John and Nancy were baptized into Christ and have since seen all their children and some grandchildren become disciples, and have served in shepherding roles in Chicago, Los Angeles and now St. Louis. Jeff just led us in our best and largest conference ever. How different that story could have been. What a great illustration of mission and generation.
I close with a few prayer requests. Two men met during Reach were baptized recently, one from St. Louis and another from Texas! Also, one of our rising young stars, Conor McCormick, a 16-year-old from Springfield, Massachusetts, was severely injured in a diving accidentwhen he returned home from Reach. Please bring these brothers before the Lord as well as all those baptized in Bali and everyone attending these conferences around the world.
We cannot wait to hear of how God will move in the other Summits this year and in the lives of each person. We are deeply grateful to the valiant Gateway City Church who hosted us in St. Louis. And we pray God will move us powerfully to Reach Up, In, Out and Beyond over the next four years and then gather in Orlando, Florida for the 2020 World Discipleship Summit to celebrate and take his next challenge.