Potent Presentations, Compelling Conversations: Recapping Regional Conference Day 2
By Carl Stagner
Madison Park Church of God in Anderson, Indiana, is home to a warm, welcoming, and exceptionally hospitable pastoral team and staff. The prominent and influential church can’t be missed when you’re traveling up or down I-69 in east-central Indiana! But the church campus is also home to the second of three Regional Conferences this year; neither the second event of its kind, nor the second day of the Midwestern meeting, could be justly dismissed as second in rank to prior events or experiences. Thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit evident in the sessions, luncheons, and receptions—not to mention informal and impromptu meetups—there was nothing subpar about Wednesday at the Anderson Regional. Recapping and reflecting on Day 2 of the Regional Conference reveals potent presentations and compelling conversations throughout, collectively clarifying the identity and calling of the Church of God.
Imagine sitting in Starbucks with a few of your closest friends, discussing not the weather nor the ball game, but instead the timely, weighty matters of life. With similar description, Jim Lyon set the stage for the two in-depth panel discussions that marked a majority of the daytime hours on Wednesday. A theological framework marked the morning panel discussion, which sought to give fresh voice and perspective to the theological tenets of the Church of God movement; in the absence of highly regarded theologians like Gil Stafford and James Massey, for instance, a void of public platform for “thinkers” in the Church of God necessitated such discussion. Jason Varner and Nathan Willowby of the Anderson University School of Theology and Christian Ministry joined Richard Smith to offer conversation and scholarly insights on who the Church of God once was, what it is today, and what Jesus calls us to be.
The afternoon panel discussion featured Ra’Lynn Kelley of Church of God Ministries; Abbie Craig, experienced youth pastor and full-time AU seminarian; and Justin Brown, pastor of Monroe City First Church of God in Indiana. Though not designed to offer deep theological insight, the panel was no less articulate and helpful in bringing profound insights to the table from the perspective of younger adults. In each panel discussion, listeners were afforded the opportunity to ask question of the panelists; in each panel discussion, the five non-negotiables were fleshed out and given practical application in the overarching arena of identity.
The Anderson Regional Conference schedule on Wednesday included Heather Semple as speaker for the 11:00 morning session. The conference host pastor (lead pastor of Madison Park) offered a glimpse into her storied past and the redemption she and her husband experienced in the years since. Hope was left in the wake of missteps and trials, spilling over into the souls of all who heard her account. “When Jesus is the subject, people are going to be loved to Jesus,” she exclaimed from firsthand experience, underscoring a popular phrase that proves substantive, though oft-repeated since Jim Lyon first accepted the general director role at Church of God Ministries nearly a decade ago.
Unique, Spirit-led moments characterized the late-afternoon session in which Brian Bennett, pastor of Pathway Church in Vero Beach, Florida, delivered an exceptional expository sermon on shalom—the peace which the world, the church, and pastors’ souls so desperately need. Acknowledging the factors which shook the identities of several Old Testament heroes, Brian offered hope for the unsung spiritual heroes of the present age. “What I see in Elijah’s story, and what I see in my own, is that we’re not alone,” he insisted, “God is with us.” As a fitting conclusion to his message, Brian directed all in attendance to form small groups and pray for one another, bearing one another’s burdens, noting that “what we reveal the Lord can heal.”
Sarah Scharbrough McLaughlin again provided worship leadership during the evening session, preparing hearts and minds for an engaging, humorous, hopeful, and compelling message from the general superintendent of the Church of the Nazarene, Carla Sunberg. A missionary kid (MK) whose lack of clear earthly identity accentuates her identity in Christ, Carla reached back into church history and looked forward to what God’s people can be in the midst of a culture replete with its own vain suggestions of what our identity ought to be. “We need to embrace our true identity,” she asserted, “but it only begins when we release any identity that holds us hostage to the things of the world.”
Special thanks to Everence, Brotherhood Mutual, and Servant Solutions for partnering with Church of God Ministries to make the Anderson Regional Conference events possible. Special thanks also to agencies and partners in ministry hosting luncheons and receptions throughout the three-day gathering.
Though the final session of the Anderson Regional comes Thursday morning, the impact of the experience certainly won’t come to an end. With identities firmly placed in Christ alone, pastors and lay leaders of the Church of God surely see brighter days sweetly dawning.
Learn more about the Church of God Regional Conferences at www.chogconvention.org.
Feature (top) photo: Ra’Lynn Kelley, Abbie Craig, and Justin Brown panel discussion.