This last weekend I took a group from First Baptist Church to Kansas City, MO for the Acquire the Fire Conference. It has been awhile since I’ve been on a trip like this so I really enjoyed it – lack of sleep and all.
Friday night we got sooooo lost trying to find Kemper Arena. We needed to pull over to look at a map and I found a spot outside of a downtown Jazz club. I’m sure the image of a Baptist church van parked outside of a jazz club is now seered in someones brain.
The theme for the conference was “Branded by God”. I have mixed feelings about the conference. I appreciate the appeal to youth to not be apathetic about their faith and on Friday night many kids committed their lives to Christ. I struggled however, with the message from Ron Luce about branding – sharing how corporations try to brand kids with their product. It is a deplorable practice. It fosters materialism and that is an attitude that should not be present in the life of a believer. How does one know that they are branded? If I really like Starbucks (which I do), am I branded by them? I don’t think so (I am actually equal opportunity with coffee – I like coffee period). Do people know me as one who likes Starbucks, and not one who is a follower of Jesus Christ. Absolutely not.
I admit that I am likely simplifying this, and I know their are kids who are in bondage to branding, materialism, and trying to gain acceptance by outward appearance and practice. I am also sure their are kids who are know more for the brands that they like, and not for their faith in Jesus Christ. I can think of a few kids in past ministry who would fall into that category. So I’m not so sure that my problem is so much with the message that was given, but rather how it was presented. Kids were also encouraged to destroy that which brands them. One of my students asked in regards to clothes – “wouldn’t it be better to give the clothes to those who need them?” My sentiments exactly.
Also at the end of the conference Ron Luce talked about the war before us – spiritual war and culture war. He exhorted kids to stand up to things they see in their culture that contradicts the Bible. Regular readers to this blog will know that I speak out on topics that I believe impacts culture, so you know my heart. I have to respectfully disagree with the approach that Ron Luce is advocating. He listed numerous examples of kids speaking out, one such example included a group of 30 kids going into a Victoria’s Secret one by one asking the store manager to remove the posters in the front windows. One by one they were kicked out. Finally after the 30th student was kicked out they as a group went in shouting their demand that they take the posters down. After what, I’m sure was an awkward moment the manager relented. Customers were staring, and I can’t help but think what message about Jesus was communicated in this whole episode. Some other questions come to mind. Did the posters went back up later? Does the store manager even have the authority to remove the posters (since they are a chain store)? Why the group think it was okay to go into the store after they all had just been kicked out?
Sunday morning we attended Rivercity Community Church which was located about two miles from our hotel. I have to give props to this church. It was a newer church (been around 7-8 years), and was a smaller congregation (I estimate slightly over 100 for the Sunday we were there). They were incredibly welcoming. I felt at home, I had at least 11 people come up to me to introduce themselves. I felt comfortable. The worship was engaging, simple and done with excellence. The sermon was biblical and engaging – actually it was a counter message to what we heard from Ron Luce. The title of the sermon was “Love wins”. The pastor shared that the world often operates like this: we have authority, which holds us accountable, and if we do what authority wants we are accepted and then affirmed. Jesus flips that around – he accepted and affirms (loves) then holds people accountable and exercises authority. We need to love and then truth-tell. We are commanded to speak truth in love, (Ephesians 4:15). How often do we really do that? They were putting that into practice by participating in an AIDS walk (they have a ministry they call “Church on the Streets” which will find ways to demonstrate love to their community. For a lot of our kids, the service on Sunday morning was the highlight of the weekend. It was for me as well.
Love does win.