A couple weeks ago my wife and I headed south to Oregon for a missions conference. It had been awhile since I had been to one and I wanted to get updated on what was going on in missions in our denomination. It was billed as the Northwest regional conference. There was one in the Midwest and the East, as well. First impressions: First, our upper middle aged selves were among the youngest attendees which caused some concern and the turnout from the Northwest was pretty poor which either meant the Northwest cares less for missions or there are fewer churches to draw from (most of the attendees seemed to be from Oregon); Second, there seemed to be a whole lot of cheer leading for missions going on from the denom admin folk which was a cause for concern cus if they were anxious about the missions program of the denom what were we supposed to do about it; this was reinforced by the missions offerings that were taken at every meeting; Third, there seems to be a requirement that every time you have a church meeting today you have to have a worship band and contemporary music. This was the case here and I had a thought that the composition of this audience was mostly the group of people who had fought the worship battles in their churches .... and lost.
Second Impressions: By the time we got around to the content of the missions conference, ie, the reason we were there, things had improved. There are some deeply committed people who are open to God using them to make a difference in the part of the world they serve. There was a woman working with young men and women caught up in the trafficking of bodies for sex and/or work in Asia. There was a couple working in a seminary in war torn Lebanon. There was a couple training pastors in Costa Rica and a man doing the same in Congo. They all had fascinating stories to tell about what God was doing in their lands. This was why we came and we wished for more of it. But what we got was a push for short term mission trips. It must be harder to get people to commit to a full time career in missions today or maybe the money isn't there to support them. Surely, the offerings that were taken were not going to solve this problem.
Final Impressions: It was hard not to leave with the impression that missions in the mainline church and perhaps American Christianity is a sideshow. Mainline denoms are dying and the megachurches are too self absorbed. Missions is what we are doing with the leftovers. As was evidenced at this conference missions today is still a heroic work at the heart of God. It is the lifeblood of the local church and if missions is going to be revitalized it will not be the big denoms that do it but it will be the local church. I remember hearing when I was younger that the church exists for missions like a fire exists for burning. We need a fire for missions rekindled in our local churches.