A few weeks ago I attended Intervarsity Christian Fellowship’s student missions conference, called Urbana. It was a gathering of just over 16,000 students in St. Louis for five days, where we worshipped, learned, celebrated, and served together into the beginning of the new year.
My reflections post-Urbana:
1) The term missional annoys me. Most trendy Christian terms tend to. Nevertheless, missional is exactly what we are called to be.
2) This was the best conference I’ve ever been to, in the sense that it was the most effective conference I’ve been to. I don’t generally go to conferences expecting to gain much more than a good time, and that’s honestly how I approached Urbana: I was expecting to have a good time, but at the end of the day not really learn anything new or gain anything truly profound from going. I approached this conference especially cynical and critical, because I’ve heard so many people call it “life-changing.” The more people called it life-changing the less convinced I became. So I was pleasantly surprised when the conference defied my expectations. I’m not sure I would call it life-changing, but I think it was an excellent compliment to where I am in my life right now. It definitely helped encourage me to be more “missional” and reminded me that my first passion should always be Christ. I left the conference recharged, energized, and ready to make the great commission a more intentional part of my life.
3) I think one of the main reasons why Urbana was so successful is because it had a clear focus: missions. The word mission was constantly pounded into your head, and it was related to everything. Worship songs were chosen with this focus. Books from the Urbana bookstore highlighted each night dealt with the topic. Though seminars and sermons were on diverse topics they always related back to the missions field (for example: a seminar titled “Spiritual Warfare And Missions). And the missions field, at least according to Urbana organizers, is anywhere you are. Essentially, you do not have to be a missionary, as missionaries are traditionally conceived, to be involved in missions. In fact, I think this was one of the most important lessons from Urbana and was best summed up in one of David Platt’s seminars I attended, “The Life of a Disciple-Making Disciple.” He spoke about the great commission, and then delivered this blow: making disciples is not optional. Christians often confuse the concept of a command and a calling. Everyone is commanded to make disciples of Christ. Our individual callings in how we make disciples are different, but the command to make disciples is the same for all Christians, not just missionaries.
4) Worship was great. Every morning session highlighted a different culture’s (culture in a general sense, such as Asian, African-American, European-American, etc.) worship style, and every evening session featured songs in different languages, an appropriate endeavor considering the many, many places people came from from around the globe.
5) St. Louis is the strangest city I have ever been to. I’m from the east coast, where I’m used to crowds and things generally staying open past 3 pm. Apparently, this isn’t true in St. Louis. It was truly bizarre to walk around the city at 3 pm on a Saturday trying to find an open restaurant and not being able to find one.
6) All in all, it was a great experience. I’m glad I went, because I was definitely feeling down and out after last semester and this was just the refresher I needed. I was glad to gain perspective on what it means to be missional in various aspects of life. And I was glad to spend time with friends, in discussion of many important topics.