The Lord of the Fellowship: A First-Hand Report

I went to the International Discipleship Jubilee in Portland to support a friend in the Lord who was a guest speaker at one of the classes. I went in pretty cynical about what would be said…I expected to hear the same teachings, with no thought given to any lessons learned from the meltdown of the I.C.O.C. last year. In this summary, I will briefly describe the events of the conference, as anyone can get the lessons on CD from the Portland church website and listen for themselves. I will also talk about what I did, to make the reading a little more personal.

I flew to Portland on Thursday, partly because the plane ticket was less expensive. I stayed in the hotel, working on my laptop, because I didn’t want to take any vacation time to go out there. On Thursday evening I found out that my dear friends from Las Vegas were DRIVING up, easily a 17-hour drive. They, too, were curious about what was going to happen at the conference.

Friday night rolled around, and I was installing Windows XP Service Pack 2 on my Tablet PC around 6:00 pm. I figured that it wouldn’t take more than an hour, but it took over two hours, so I had to leave my “Bible” in the hotel while I rushed over to the convention center, arriving with two minutes to spare.

The conference started off with some non-flashy yet heartfelt singing filled with a lot of real joy in the crowd. Personally, I did sense some tension, since it’s been quite an interesting and unsettling few years. But perhaps that was tension on my part, wondering exactly what would be happening this weekend. After several songs, Kip McKean got up with a warm welcome to the crowd and we spent a few minutes getting to meet the people in our rows in a five-minute “meet your row-neighbor.” I met some college students in Portland who sat to the right of me.

The singing started up again, which was followed by the Friday night keynote speech by Chip Mitchell of Boston, titled “Israel had no King, Everyone Did as He Saw Fit.” He preached about how disciples trying to follow Jesus need Jesus as our King, but also need leadership in the form of evangelists and elders to help guide us to God. He charged the leadership of the churches to get along, stop bickering, and to work together; to stop drawing lines and start building bridges with one another. He charged the people to be godly in their criticism of the leadership.

After that, a World Missions Report was given by several of the representatives from each former “World Sector”.  For the most part, the Third World churches are doing quite well, but with the drop in funding, most of the most experienced missionaries from America had to return home. Some Third World churches have grown, but most have declined in membership, about a 10% drop on average, from what I remember. It was an honest and real assessment of where things stood. 

Then the Portland house-church leadership (non-staff) gave a synopsis of the Portland church split. The Portland church suffered the loss of about 100 people back in May/June 2003, leaving 120 people in the church. They explained how the church was wounded, and they requested the leadership of the McKeans. They had an Atonement night where there were apologies given by both leaders and members, with all the people taking personal responsibility for their own sins. They were able to move forward with a relatively clean slate after that night. They were excited about their healed hearts and the addition of around 60 new members to their congregation since that time.

After the Friday night event, my Las Vegas friends and I went to Red Robin to catch up on life over the past several months, and to discuss the things we had seen and heard so far. We ran into some old friends from my city, and we said hi.

Saturday morning, we went to Starbucks, next to the Convention Center to read our Bibles (but got very little reading done!). Many disciples with their conference name tags hanging around their necks came in to get their early morning caffeine fix…I got a mocha frappuccino. By 9:00 am, we all met back at the Convention Center for more singing.

We had a HOPE presentation, discussing the financials of the organization. The presentation showed how the congregations paid for “unrestricted funds,” and with that, the overhead was paid, so that “restricted funds” donated by other organizations could go directly to charity projects. Individuals could request DVDs to bring back to their home congregations and show the full presentation (we only saw the financial chapter). The request was made for $1 per week per disciple to fund the “unrestricted account” of HOPE, which would continue go to overhead costs.

After that, Roger Lamb presented “Disciples Today,” a new online subscription-based website for the members of the church. There, they can read articles about happenings of the churches around the world and view multimedia projects, as well as meet other church members online. 

After this, Steve Johnson was introduced by Kip. Kip presented him with a short sword as a fellow friend and brother alongside him in the good fight. Kip choked up with tears as he read a scripture describing their friendship, stopping for a few seconds to compose himself. After one more song, Steve Johnson preached a lesson entitled, “I Was Saved from the Lion’s Mouth.” He shared how we all must stay faithful to God until the day we are taken to heaven. At that point, will we truly be saved from the Lion’s Mouth. He shared some of the trials that he had gone through in the past few years and how God broken him down and humbled him through those trials.

We broke for a 30-minute break and I ran to Starbucks to get some hot coffee. During that break, my wife called me telling me that our hot water pipe busted during the earthquake in California. A lot of our possessions were soaked with water. Luckily the landlord was coming to fix it, and I could continue to focus the rest of the lessons. I was grateful.

For the first Saturday class session at 11:00 am, I went to Scott Green’s class on Motivation. He shared with us that our motivation and mindset need to change from an achievement-based mindset to a servant-based mindset.  We talked further about having our hearts changed so that we serve people. In this way we can win the hearts of the Christians, and those who have yet to hear the Word. Love was to be the real motivator.

We broke for a two-hour lunch break. I had to check out of the hotel during this time, and my friends invited me to stay with them for that night, because we had so much to discuss. We went to the nearby mall to the food court for some Greek Gyros. 

We came back for the second round of classes. We decided to go to Kip’s “Can You Drink the Cup?” class about being in the full-time ministry. He preached about how being a minister is a sacrificial, lonely, fatiguing, and thankless job, especially nowadays when few hold their ministers in high regard. It was definitely a challenging lesson for those who are entertaining going into the full-time ministry. Those who desire this task surely must be in it for God’s glory, because there definitely is no human glory in this position any longer.

Afterwards, we had a four-hour dinner break from 3:30 pm until 7:30 pm. We went back to the hotel to rest and talk. Then we ran to Denny’s for a quick dinner before we went back to the conference. 

During the last leg of the Saturday part of the conference, Kip presented some of his old Bibles to some of the men of the Portland church, and then gave a speech entitled, “A Great Light Has Dawned.” He talked about his perspective on the current disunity within the churches and the humbling of the ICOC leadership, and called for a spark to reignite the churches around the world. He asked people to go back to their home congregations and to be that spark that gets the disciples to recommit themselves back to God. 

A band called “The Edge” then played some rock music while many people fellowshipped and talked about what they had learned.

I stayed up late with my Las Vegas friends, and some friends from Eugene, Oregon, who had moved there from my hometown. We went to the Cantina at the Doubletree Inn and we talked about how the churches in Oregon were doing and our personal faith. We left about 1:00 am and slept until 5:00 am, when I had to leave to catch my flight home at 6:30am.

The reports I hear of Sunday made it out to be an incredible Sunday. Peter Garcia and Mark Templar both spoke and helped people to worship God and to close out the conference.

One thing I want to point out is that this conference was different from previous conferences I’ve attended.  It didn’t have all the flash that previous conferences had, with elegant audio/video presentations and performances. While those things have their place and inspire other people in the way they need to be, this conference was very plain and real with no polished veneer. I think that went a long way to inspire people. I heard first-hand that Kip McKean gave each speaker a topic to preach on, but did not give them their lesson plans or direct them to preach specific things. One evangelist changed his topic because it wasn’t what his heart was set on. But the point is that the content was left very open-ended and up to the individual evangelist. This was inspiring because on core matters, the brothers were unified, and on opinion matters there were open differences. And that was “ok!” Kip asked each speaker that since he did not tell them what to preach, that, in turn, they should not preach what their people told them to say either. They should share only their convictions from the Scriptures and not get off the stage until they had preached what that individual evangelist wanted to share before God.

Overall, my personal synopsis is that I went in cynical and came out inspired. While I didn’t agree with some of the “opinion” matters that were presented, I did get some personal convictions re-ignited. In my personal church, the involvement in each others’ lives has effectively died down to a trickle. Very few people are stepping up to build friendships, love one another and call out sin in each others’ lives. These are Biblical commands, and whether someone calls it “discipling” or “getting involved” or whatever the terminology, we need to be dedicated to one another. Another renewed conviction of mine is to help our church to bring the gospel to my city. It isn’t happening at this point. I don’t care “how fast” we grow, as long as we are serving God’s word to the lost in my city. I am definitely compelled by Christ’s love to love as He did and to help and remind others to do the same. I hope this summary gives you an idea of what my experience at the Lord of the Fellowship Conference 2004 was.

--Name Withheld by Request
ICOC Info
Latest Updates on the International Churches of Christ