Each month, The Foundation for Evangelism looks to the community to see what progress in leadership is taking place. Evangelism, youth and young adult ministries and leadership training being key focal points of this series. We hope to share resources with our readers to help them find programs, events and speakers who motivate and inspire with a passion for evangelism.
This month we speak with Don Woolley, who shares this look at the annual Catapult Conference. Speakers at this yearly event included Alan Hirsch, Debra Hirsch, Michael Frost and Elaine Heath.
The Catapult Conference was held at Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, AL, September 26-28. It is an initiative launched by the Mobile District of the Alabama-West Florida Conference and has become a significant missional catalyst for the larger region. The conference is part of a broad effort to help our congregations better reach their communities in the name of Jesus Christ. We believe that “missional” properly understood is “evangelism” properly done. Three years into this emphasis, many congregations are increasingly in ministry “out there” with people who would never have darkened the doors of our churches. This year’s Catapult Conference was challenging, inspiring, and deeply nourishing. It is already being used of God to increase our faithfulness in the mission fields that surround us.
Our work in the Mobile area is affiliated with the Forge organization – a missional training network originating in Australia. We were pleased to have the founders of Forge as keynote speakers: Alan Hirsch, Debra Hirsch, and Michael Frost. Other speakers included Dave Gibbons (NewSong), Mark Beeson (Granger Community Church), John Edgar (Church for All People), and Elaine Heath (Southern Methodist University and Perkins School of Theology). Breakout sessions were offered for a wide range of interests and were designed to help participants become missional in their own unique contexts.
Michael Frost opened the Conference with a powerful invitation to boldly declare the reign of God both with our words and our actions. He challenged us to listen to God and our communities, to commit ourselves for the long-term, and to work towards the realization of God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven. Our job, he said, is to wipe the grime from the window, allowing the light of Christ to dispel the darkness.
John Edgar confronted our scarcity mentality as he shared the tremendous work of “Church For All People.” This dynamic church was birthed from a social service ministry in the most hard-pressed area of Columbus, Ohio. It has expanded to holistically address the needs of its community, offering worship and spiritual growth opportunities, a “free store,” a medical clinic and pharmacy, and affordable housing. John doesn’t just talk about God’s “divine abundant economy,” he lives it. We were convicted to do likewise.
Alan Hirsch and Mike Frost shared together from their recent work, “The Faith of Leap.” Their focus was on the risk and adventure inherent in truly following Jesus. We were encouraged to consider what church looks like when we center the congregation’s work around the mission of God instead of the worship service. Debra Hirsch and Alan taught on missional discipleship, critiquing our academic-only discipling methods. Deb and Alan made a strong case for action-reflection learning that embraces “acting our way into a new way of thinking” versus “thinking our way into a new way of acting.”
Elaine Heath and Mark Beeson together represent the breadth of the missional movement. A professor at Perkins Theological Seminary, Elaine has pioneered a network of new monastic communities – small communities of faith that do life together, serving God incarnationally as a group. Mark Beeson is pastor of Granger Community Church, a mega-church with 5,500 in weekly attendance. God has used them to plant over 950 churches in India which include over 120,000 people. They have re-tooled the way they do church in their own community, becoming even more missional for the purpose of reaching a post-Christian culture.
The Catapult Conference closed with Dave Gibbons as our speaker. It was the perfect ending of an amazing time with God. Dave shared about the role of a leader, and recognizing our weaknesses and pain as something God transforms into a gift. We were encouraged to stay healthy spiritually, physically and relationally. One of the most moving sessions of the Conference resulted from Dave’s sensitivity to God’s leading. He felt led of God to remind us of our tremendous need of the Holy Spirit. It was an incredibly moving time, and the pews were near empty when he invited us come forward for a wonderful time of prayer.
The Catapult Conference was a time of re-orienting and re-energizing. Our hope is not to simply challenge our thinking about the Church but actually change the way we do church. Action, not education, is our primary goal. To that end, Catapult has already dispursed over $7,000 in grants toward new missional initiatives in local churches. We look forward with faith to seeing new people reached with the good news of Jesus Christ as our leaders and congregations embrace the call to risk-taking mission! To God be the glory!
The Catapult Lead Team is grateful to everyone who worked tirelessly to make this such a great experience. A special thanks to Rev. Jeff Spiller and Christ UMC, our District Superintendent Tonya Elmore, Bishop Paul Leeland and the Cabinet for their support, as well as all the volunteers who gave of their time so generously.
Speaker images provided by Chad Riley Photography!