Today it's Barclay College and its president, Royce Frazier, is a long-time friend of mine, dating back to our youth ministry days. Royce and his faculty and staff are doing fine and innovative work at Barclay and are reaching out to equip Friends beyond their student body and local constituency.
One of the ways they are reaching out is the reason I was there (after many years of finding excuses not to visit this very small town in the middle of Kansas!). Barclay College's Jim LaShana and his staff put together the "National Friends Church Multiplication Conference." The conference was billed as a a "Church Multiplication Conference for previous and potential church planters, church and denominational leaders, students, and anyone else who has a heart for church planting and fulfilling the Great Commission through the Friends Church. The conference will feature inspirational messages, 'best practice' workshops with speakers who have 'done it' from around the country, and time for fellowship, synergistic networking, sharing, and dreaming." As the coordinator for FGC's New Meetings Project, I thought I should be there. I wanted to be other folks who care about spreading the Friendly message as much as I am.
So off I went to Kansas. And while Haviland is hardly a thriving metropolis (population 701), it was pleasant and filled with friendly Friends and others. And the conference was worth the trip.
I enjoyed seeing this place that I'd heard about for so many years. And it was fun to look at the photos of graduating seniors through the years -- and recognizing many of them (well, the names, if not the faces. But then I look much different than my college picture, too!).
The highlight of the conference was the networking. It was especially helpful. It was good to talk with others who had the same passion for healthy, growing, and new congregations that I have. The meal time and break conversations were especially deep and meaningful.
I found the main speaker, Bruce Redmond, interesting and challenging. I appreciated his piece on the "varieties of church plants" (including core team plants and house churches). And the piece he passed out titled "Build Movement, Not Ministries" resonated with my thinking. I didn't agree with everything he said -- but then, I rarely agree with anybody else but myself. And sometimes I'm not sure I agree with me. The workshops that most interested me were "Bi-Vocational Church Planters: A New (Old) Way to Start Churches," "Cross-cultural Church Plants," and "Missional/Incarnational Communities).
One thought that kept coming to me while I was there was what do Friends have to offer in planting new congregation. Why should we bother to plant new congregations? What do we as Quakers have to offer that the Nazarenes, Wesleyans, et al do not that justifies our separate existence as a people of God?
There was a lot of talk by about our (Friends) Christian faith, but not so much about the value of our Quaker distinctives.
I do worry that some Evangelical Friends have devalued the peculiar nature of Quaker faith by constantly emphasizing the claim that we are Christian first. I have no problem saying Quaker faith (especially in certain sectors) is Christian (I am!) -- but we are Christians of a particular persuasion. Just as Lutherans, Wesleyans, or Nazarenes are. But, if we don't retain the Quaker distinctives, what possible reason is there for the Friends church to exist? We may as well lose the name Friends and become community churches or join another denomination.
I don't think that's the answer, though. There is a renewed interest in the things that Quakers stand for.
In a small way, that is evidenced by the number of books of mine that sell -- mostly to non-Friends. Another is growth of unprogrammed Friends (the only group of Quakers that is showing growth instead of loss. It's a modest 4%, but better than the double digit losses that other groups are recording).
Another is the fact that 80-000 to 100,000 people a year visit FGC's Quaker Finder site looking for a Quaker meeting or church. As an aside, ALL Friends congregations should be listed on it. It's not just for FGC meetings -- a church can note that it's pastoral, FUM, EFI, etc.
Another is that 30,000 people a day take the Belief-O-Matic quiz on Beliefnet.com and many of them (around 6,000 or so) come out liberal or moderate Quaker -- and we have no organized means of reaching.
I understand the Evangelical concern that if we don't emphasize that we're Christian we'll lose something valuable and part of the core. We need to recapture the vision of Fox, Fell, Woolman, Gurney, Kelly, Trueblood and others and revision it for the 21st century. We have an ancient/modern faith that is available to all and which leads to transformed lives. To not point people to it is to miss a mission field right here at home -- a people who are hungry for an authentic spiritual experience directly rooted in the Love and Grace of God and not bound by tight doctrinal creeds. As Fox himself said, our call is to lead people to the presence of Christ and leave them there. Let the Holy Spirit work and work at the speed that is right for the person -- not to issue theological tests for correct doctrine.
So the questions continue:
- Do we trust Christ to teach his people himself?
- Or God to defend God's self from unbelievers?
- Or the Holy Spirit to lead people aright (instead of awrong!)?
I’m glad I had a chance to attend. It was a good experience for me. It was great to see old friends and meet new ones. I, as always, needed my thinking challenged and stretched. And the questions are ones that I will continue to wrestle with -- both professionally and personally.