I just got back from the Send North America Conference in Nashville. Hosted by the Mission Boards of the Southern Baptist Convention, it was sold out at somewhere around 13,500 tickets. Just two years ago, the same conference had around 4,200 hundred attendees. What is happening in the Southern Baptist Convention? How is it that the SBC managed to make a missions conference the hottest ticket in town?
I can tell you that the Bridgestone Arena was packed with young people. There were people of all ages there, but there was such a large number of young people that it was striking. While I was sitting in a full breakout session waiting to hear Dr. Thom Rainer, I turned around to the row behind me to ask a question. And then I realized that the entire row behind me, and most of the room, was filled with young, hip-looking boys with cool haircuts, all waiting anxiously for Dr. Rainer. They had their notebooks open and their pens poised, obviously looking forward to hearing from a man they follow closely online. They read his blogs and books and they listen to him speak in their dorm rooms or on their commutes to work, and they were excited about seeing him in person. Not only was Dr. Rainer going to speak, but he was going to speak about them–his session was about Millenials in the church.
In fact, the entire conference schedule was loaded with men who have huge followings. We’re talking Southern Baptist ministers who, through their writing and their highly accessible sermons, manage to disciple an enormous number of people. Young men and women were drawn to the conference because they are true fans of the men who were speaking. They admire these pastors who have helped shape their theology, who have inspired them to read and study and discuss and think. The arena was filled with fanboys.
And, it was glorious.
There was an electricity in the arena. A unity of mind and spirit. We knew that we were experiencing something special, and that God was working among us. We were fans. We were. We were followers of some really great men who are being used by God. But, the greatness of the whole thing was that the men weren’t the objects of the praise or adoration, and they weren’t the recipients of the glory.
The music was loud and the speakers were big names. But, all of the glory, across several generations, went straight to the God of the universe. The hipsters and the old timers stood side by side and sang at the top of their lungs, prayed with tears streaming down, and furiously took notes while the likes of David Platt and Al Mohler and Russell Moore poured out their hearts and minds.
I left the conference inspired to live on mission, and encouraged by all of those cool kids with great hair and hip shoes. The future of Christianity is bright. No one could have predicted that God would use the most filth-filled element of our culture–the internet–to disciple a whole generation of young people. But, it is happening. And, He has raised up truly great, godly men to do the discipling. I have no doubt that by the time my children are the hip 20-somethings, some of those fellas with the great hair in the row behind me will be leading a new generation into faithfulness to Christ and to His word. It’s an exciting time to be a Christian.