(THE OUTCOME FOR YOUR CHURCH WILL BE REVOLUTIONARY.)
So read the flyer announcing an Alpha Training Conference in L.A. April 8th-9th. And so on Thursday evening, April 7th, Ed Nesheim and I flew from Bismarck to Orange County, CA where we attended the conference, held at the Rose Drive Friends Church in Yorba Linda. Nicky Gumbel, the author of the Alpha course and his team from London were with us for two wonderful days of instruction and inspiration.
Nicky Gumbel, Ed Nesheim and Pastor Steve
The purpose of our trip was to get Ed trained in as our new Alpha Administrator (replacing Denny Goetz). Ed and Mary Berntson, our Church Leader for Alpha, will be heading up our team as we resume this ministry in the fall. Both Ed and I attended Nicky’s sessions on the Principles and Practicalities of Alpha. On the second day, we split up for part of the day to attend different workshops. For instance, Ed attended a workshop on Administration while I attended the workshop on the Alpha Marriage Course, which we are currently running on Friday evenings in our home. It was an immensely helpful conference, and I particularly appreciated the opportunities for worship and personal ministry which punctuated our time in Yorba Linda.
When the conference concluded on Saturday afternoon, we drove down to Lake Forest for the Saturday evening service at Saddleback. (Ed is convinced I must have been guided by some divine G.P.S., in that we made it there without getting lost!) While Rick Warren (author of The Purpose Driven Life) was not there in person, he delivered part of the sermon via videotape. We heard a great stewardship message! The worship and hospitality we experienced at Saddleback were top rate. Sunday morning we drove more than an hour to worship at Mosaic-part of what is called the Emerging Church. This was an unchurchy church for a young unchurched culture. We worshipped in a rented Senior Center, with some 200 chairs set up. Pastor Erwin McMannus preached a great message from Genesis, while a young artist painted on canvas. The worship team was young and intense and talented. I’m convinced that very few of those 200 young worshippers realized that their pastor is a nationally known figure. It struck me how different these two worship settings were-Saddleback and Mosaic-one a mega-church and the other barely recognizable as a church-yet both ministries intentionally and passionately bringing the gospel of Christ to lost and searching people.
After church, we stopped at In-and Out for a burger (delicious!) before driving back to John Wayne airport. We were scheduled to fly out at 2:00 PM-but when Ed checked the flight board, he saw the news: FLIGHT CANCELLED. A snowstorm in Denver meant we were “stuck” in Southern California until Tuesday. We were given the “Distressed Travelers’ Rate” at a nearby Embassy Suites. And what are poor distressed travelers to do when stuck in Southern California? Well, we and our two friends from Hope Lutheran in Fargo (Harry and Pastor Kevan) went back to Saddleback where we attended part of their new member class (500 in the tent). Then we watched baptisms (around 100 of them-adults, couples, whole families-very moving!).
The next day- we walked out on the pier at Newport Beach, and saw dolphins swimming in the ocean. Then the four of us went to Disneyland! On Tuesday, we flew without complication, back to Bismarck, by way of Denver.
What did I bring back from this trip?
1) An even greater enthusiasm for Alpha. It is a great tool for renewal in the church, and for those outside the church-a big welcoming front door to the church!
2) A conviction that whatever we do in Christ and in His Church is worth doing 100%. We experienced great hospitality from the members of Rose Drive Friends Church, Saddleback, and Mosaic. Those churches had formed a culture of high commitment (not high pressure, but deep commitment to the mission of the church). I see that commitment at Atonement as well-yet how easy it is to become complacent in our church life. In a recent staff meeting, we realized we needed to once again lift up the importance of every member, and how vital it is that each of us follow through on the commitments we make.
3) The conviction that New Testament Christianity should be the norm for the church. Healings, spiritual gifts, miracles, words of knowledge, and things of that nature can be frightening for many church people. But as Dave Householder, Pastor of Huntington Beach Lutheran Church, said in one of the workshops, When those things start happening in a church-it is just the church getting back to normal! The supernatural was normal for the New Testament Church.
Ed and I thank you for the wonderful opportunity you afforded us. We trust that it will serve to enrich the life of our whole congregation.
May God renew us in the power of the Holy Spirit this Pentecost (May 15) and always!