I recently attended the Midwest Leadership Conference held in Springfield, Illinois, on January 21st through the 23rd. I didn’t want to go. Scott Kallem made me.
Actually that’s not entirely true. I had decided not to go, since I was already committed to attend another conference in the spring. But Scott, who is our fearless leader—Moderator of the West Central Baptist Association—called me and said they needed one more person to go, to be a roommate with Tom Savage. I have never seen a person drink as much sweet tea as Tom Savage, and that’s always fun to watch. So I reluctantly looked over the list of breakout sessions offered, and found that there were several I was interested in. So I called Scott back and told him I’d go. And I said, “Tell Savage he’d better not snore!”
We traveled over in style. Since none of our churches had a van that we could trust on a long trip, the association rented a nice SUV for us. As it turned out, what with vacations, potential hospital calls, and Scott Kallem coming down with the flu, only three of us actually traveled in the SUV: Dr. Savage, Pastor of Sugar Creek Baptist Church, Cody Simpkins, Youth Pastor at New Life Baptist Church in Greencastle, and me. Mark Houvenagle of Immanuel Southern Baptist Church in Rockville had to drive separately, in order to be available for a possible hospital call. Cody drove, and Tom and I talked all the way over. Cody didn’t say much; he was just listening to the two old guys, gathering material for future sermon illustrations at our expense.
The sessions were held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Springfield. Our rooms were in the Hilton Garden Inn right next door. Tuesday and Wednesday evening worship sessions were held in the ballroom on the 2nd floor of the Crowne Plaza. 1200-plus people from 9 different states filled the room, and many more were in an overflow room connected by video. The worship band was wonderful, the assembly sang exuberantly (I love to hear pastors sing! Well, most of ‘em…), and the speakers were passionate and enthusiastic about reaching others with the Gospel.
Wednesday was a marathon. Including the bonus session held during lunch time (while we ate our box lunches), and counting the evening worship session, there were 7 sessions, all in that one day. I was dreading it a little. But with the help of the caffeine supplied by the 2nd floor coffee shop, I made it through all 7. Five out of the six breakout sessions I attended were fantastic. To say that the last one was only mediocre may have had as much to do with my weary state of mind as with the session itself. (Caffeine can only do so much.) The sessions were practical, informative, and helpful. I wrote pages of notes, and have reviewed them since returning home. Good stuff!
The high point of the conference, for me at least, was hearing J. D. Greear, Pastor of Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina and the current President of the Southern Baptist Convention. He spoke on Wednesday evening. (I was surprised to learn that he had a background in independent Baptists, like me. And so did one of the presenters of the breakout sessions, Joel Southerland, Lead Pastor of Peavine Baptist Church in Rock Spring, Georgia.) Dr. Greear spoke passionately about evangelism being the core calling of the church.
But I think my biggest takeaway from the whole conference came, not from the sessions or the speakers, but from the people. I knew a few people there from Indiana, but most of the conference attendees I didn’t know. There were Caucasians, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Hispanics, all flooding the hallways and filling up the conference rooms. They were dressed in everything from Sunday best to summer camp rumple. Some of them had tattoos, earrings and big bushy beards. (For the record, none of the women had big bushy beards.) Most of the time I sat by people I didn’t know in the breakout sessions.
But I had the overwhelming feeling that these were all people just like me. These were our people. They believed the same things we do, and see the world with the same Biblical world view. They are grieved by the same things that grieve us, are burdened with the same concerns, and rejoice in the same things that thrill us. Most of all, they worship the same Savior we do, love the church like we do, and long to see more people reached with the Gospel, like we do. It didn’t matter what they looked like, how old they were or how they dressed, there was a pervasive feeling of oneness. We truly were one in the spirit. And it was a wonderful thing to experience.
I came away encouraged. And the fellowship with the other guys was great, too.
And just for the record, there was a problem with snoring. But it wasn’t Savage; it was me.
I’d highly recommend the Midwest Leadership Conference to anyone. And if you go, Tom Savage will probably be looking for a new roommate.
Soli Deo Gloria!