By Joe Conway
NASHVILLE — A sold-out crowd of more than 13,500 from all 50 states and four Canadian provinces flooded into Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena to celebrate the call of Jesus and the response of life on mission at the 2015 Send North America Conference Monday, Aug. 3.
North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell and International Mission Board President David Platt welcomed the assembly and challenged attendees to serve wherever God calls them.
“This is where I want to call 13,500 plus people in this arena, from the beginning to put a blank check of our lives on the table for God — no strings attached,” Platt said.
Ezell noted, “We need pastors, students, men and women to rise up. We want this to be more than a conference you attend, we want it to be a life-altering experience.”
The mission entity leaders were joined on the platform by Southern Baptist Convention president Ronnie Floyd, Tennessee Baptist Convention Executive Director Randy C. Davis, and others who helped lead prayer.
Davis welcomed those attending the conference to his “adopted home state of Tennessee.”
He noted that when God led him five years ago to leave the pastorate of First Baptist Church, Sevierville, to become executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, he kept asking “Why?”
It eventually came down to one word, Davis said. “Lostness.”
There is a growing gap between those who know God and those who don’t, Davis told conference attendees.
While some call Tennessee the buckle of the Bible Belt, the truth is that on any given Sunday morning in Tennessee (and other Southern states for that matter), 80 percent of the population is not in church.
Davis observed that his oldest granddaughter (Maddie) will begin third grade this week. “If current trends continue, 9 out of 10 people in her generation will not have a relationship with Jesus Christ,” he said.
“We need a spiritual awakening. Oh, God, won’t it start here at Bridgestone Arena?”
Opening session keynote speaker J.D. Greear told attendees they have a call to leverage their talents and lives for the Great Commission.
“True growth only comes through scattering and gain only comes by losing,” said Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh, N.C. “It’s counterintuitive, but it’s true. Jesus’ promises about the greatness of the church were always tied to sending. He always focused on leaders being raised up and sent out, not an audience being gathered in and counted.”
Illusionist and host Harris III opened the gathering by taking the stage with a seemingly empty white box representing a life lived on mission. He described the contents of the box as a “mystery” before, piece by piece, removing items that signified unique lives lived on mission, explaining, “You don’t have a mystery to solve. You have a ministry to serve.”
A dozen breakout sessions at three venues presented participants with topics on living out missions in everyday life. Panelist Danae Herndon, who ministers in her Colorado Springs neighborhood, said, “(My husband and I) decided we don’t want to wait to be on mission for someone to fund us. We promised God that we would be on mission today. So we started praying, ‘God, whose life can we breathe into? Who can we be in relationship with? Who can we impact?’ And it always went back to our local community.”
Video interviews, including one with Tyson Foods CEO Donnie Smith, were presented at main sessions in the Bridgestone Arena. Smith said, “People don’t mind Christians living Christian lives in the workplace. They hate hypocrites.” He said faithfulness is key to maintaining an effective witness in the corporate world.
The evening sessions keynote speaker, Louie Giglio, told attendees they were celebrating the gospel — and a name.
“The gospel is not that sin made us bad,” said Giglio, pastor of Atlanta’s Passion City Church. “It is worse than that. Sin made us dead. But Jesus stepped into our dilemma. He did not leave His throne to make us good people. He came to make us not dead.”
Giglio said the resurrection of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit set in motion the plan of God, outlined in the Book of Acts, setting in motion a church that would send its people.
“Sin leads to in. It always turns the focus on me,” Giglio said. “The first two letters of Gospel are g-o. The Spirit says go. It takes the propulsion of the Spirit to overcome the inward pull of the flesh. It is all about the name of Jesus. That is what God has given us to celebrate — His name.”
The night concluded with a concert by David Crowder.
– B&R Editor Lonnie Wilkey contributed to this article.