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by Kevin Chen, Pastor: Christ Church, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
Over the summer, Brian Jose, the Executive Director of Radstock, and I caught up for coffee in Ann Arbor. During our meeting, he invited me attend the Radstock Round Table in Kiev, Ukraine. I thought about going, but I had 3 big reservations:
I am a church planter in Ann Arbor. My wife is busy finishing up her PhD dissertation.
We are pretty busy. I am not only thinking about “if I have time for this round table”, but also “whether my wife (and in-laws) have time to fill my void while I am away.”
Outside of my church, I also have quarterly and annual conference and teaching commitments. I thought to myself, “Is there still any room for Radstock Round Table?”
I love traveling. It is nice if my church gives me a paid trip to Kiev. But is this trip for business or for pleasure? Am I signing up for this trip because I want to get out of Ann Arbor?
Despite my reservations, with elders’ approval, I attended with a colleague from church.
The Radstock Round Table turned out to be exactly what I was hoping for, overcoming my reservations. There are three things I learned on this trip that makes me want to go back for another round table.
I was not sure how global missions would fit in with my local church. First, we are a young church in a transient college town. That means our weekly attendance fluctuates from one summer to another. Second, many pastors - myself included - worry that their own church can be so global minded that we become no good locally. In other words, global missions could potentially undermine our effort to seek the good of the city of Ann Arbor.
This trip reminded me that this zero-sum mentality does not exist in global missions.
Whatever is gained by one end is not lost by the other. At the Radstock Round Table, I was surprised to find many active church members who love their own local church and city and are also passionate about global missions. I learned that members who are most active in global missions are often ones who are most active in their own local churches.
If I want members at my church to be active and faithful in Ann Arbor, I need them to see God’s vision for global churches. Being globally-minded inspires us to be more involved at a local church. The same Bible that calls for faithfulness in your local church also calls faithfulness in the Great Commission. Both ideas are from God.
Whatever is gained by one end is also gained by the other. Zero-sum mentality does not exist in the kingdom of God.
Second, I also enjoyed fellowship with brothers and sisters all over the world. It was sweet to worship together with them in the same room. Gospel friendship is sweet. This point may sound trivial. But bear with me.
Jonathan Edwards once talk about knowing something is sweet vs. tasting something that is sweet:
There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness. A man may have the former, that knows not how honey tastes; but a man cannot have the latter unless he has an idea of the taste of honey in his mind.
A man can be told that God is wonderful but actually never taste and sense the wonder of God.
I think it is appropriate to apply Edwards’ observation to what I experienced in Ukraine. There is a difference between having a rational judgment that the fruit of the Gospel is sweet and having a sense of its sweetness. In my case, I have tasted the sweetness of Gospel friendship.
Lastly, I learned that there is such thing as godly discontentment. Discontent can be godly when we are dissatisfied with our apathy toward making the name of God famous (Romans 9:17).
On my flight home, it dawned on me that my desire to get out of Ann Arbor is not a desire to run away from my responsibilities. It was the Holy Spirit’s leading. God made me discontent because he wanted me to learn two things: (1) Global missions and local church planting can coexist, and (2) Gospel friendship is sweet.
Radstock’s vision is this: “Local churches at the heart of mission. Mission at the heart of local churches.” After my trip, I find myself agreeing with this. I too want global missions to be the heart of my church and I also want my church to be part of the global missions.
My mentor Kevin DeYoung once wrote about the importance of conferences:
“Conferences are far, far, far from the most important thing in a Christian life - like a thousand miles away. But they are one of the means God has seemed pleased to use in the past 100-150 years. It can be powerful to sing songs with so many people, and the fellowship and comradery across denominational lines are powerful.”
Radstock Round Table is one of the means God has seemed pleased to use in my life. It was a powerful moment when I worshiped with believers from all over the world and across all denominational lines (see video). I pray that God will continue to use Radstock Round Tables in the next 100 years to build His church and make His name famous.