The heart of the 2015 Send North America Conference this August at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena was to see a movement of people from within the church living out the mission of God in their everyday lives. Those from all walks of life—including business people, soccer moms, retirees, high school and college students, lawyers, pastors, and baristas—gathered for the two-day event and were encouraged to go home and join the everyday mission of God.
“Send is unlike other mission conferences where a chosen few are called out at the end. This is for everyone,” said International Mission Board (IMB) President David Platt in the event’s final session on Tuesday, August 4.
The North American Mission Board (NAMB) and IMB partnered to host the third Send Conference, which more than tripled in attendance from the previous conference in 2013.
“We are going to send until the whole world hears,” NAMB President Kevin Ezell told attendees at the close of the gathering. “This is not about a conference. It’s about God starting a movement. This is something we are all committed to for the rest of our lives.”
Over 13,600 attendees, from all fifty states and four Canadian provinces, participated in large group sessions as well as three dozen breakout sessions. Participants heard from professional athletes, CEOs, working moms, church planters, Southern Baptist entity leaders, seminary presidents, worship leaders, and more throughout their experience at the conference—all revolving around living on mission in everyday life.
“I attended because living my life on mission is at the heart of everything I do,” said comedian Peppi Garrett of Mobile, Alabama. “Using the skills and talents that He has given to all of us to share His message is the most important thing any of us can do. I needed to learn more about how to do that, and how He wants me to use what I do.”
Garrett, who made the unexpected career change from corporate business to stand-up comedy three years ago, attended the conference with her home church, First Baptist Church, North Mobile.
“It was a freeing and liberating transition,” said Garrett of her unanticipated career change. “My old job, although it provided for the family, was not fulfilling. I didn’t even have opportunities to talk with people because I was in an office by myself all day. I knew God had something else for me, I just didn’t know what that was.
“It took a lot of trust for me to make the switch. We thought we depended a lot on my salary, but we have learned since that we really depend much more on the Lord.”
Anita Fore, a senior tax manager in Abingdon, Virginia, came to the Send Conference as one of six hundred volunteers who helped make the event possible. After seeing an ad for the conference in On Mission magazine, Fore felt she needed to attend.
“I found out after I decided to go that there were volunteer opportunities, and I was approached about being on the intercessory team,” said Fore. “I prayed about it for a few days and felt like that was exactly what God wanted me to go for. I have a burden for the younger generations coming up. I want to see God do a work of revival in the church. I want there to be a spiritual awakening across the country because if that happens here, it’s going to have a domino effect and spread to the nations. I believe Send could be the start of that awakening.”
Ashley Elkins and her husband, Coley, came with twenty-two members from True North Church in Anchorage, Alaska.
“Connecting with people who are on the same journey as we are was one of the best parts for us,” said Elkins. “It was the first time a lot of our team members, even those who have been doing church planting for a long time, have ever been able to go to an event like this. My biggest takeaway was that every single one of us is sent. There is not just an elect group of us who are sent. It is more about a heart being obedient to the mission God has put us on, wherever we are.”
Several church planters said they drew encouragement from the conference simply for the reminder that they are a part of a larger community across North America of people who are serving in similar ways.
“I came because of the camaraderie of all the church planters,” said Gabe Dodd. Dodd, a church planter in Dahlonega, Georgia, who launched The Branch Church last year, came with his sending church, First Baptist Church, Alpharetta, Georgia.
“I came because of the church planting mentality, and the desire to advance the Gospel in America. It helped me know that I am not alone. Being able to worship with my brothers and sisters who are doing everything we can to advance the Gospel was exhilarating,” Dodd said.
Garrett found encouragement in the conference message that every Christian is called to be on mission and God wants to use our unique characteristics to help draw others to Himself.
“He has worked so much in my life,” said Garrett. “I battled depression for a long time and He healed me of that. I also struggled because the enemy always told me that God couldn’t use me because I had ADD. I prayed for years that God would take it away. I have realized, however, that God calls us out of our comfort zones and uses us even in our weaknesses. So many of my jokes actually come from the funny things I have done because of my ADD!”
Garrett has been able to use her gift of comedy to bring joy to other women dealing with similar issues, but admits it took her a long time to truly have joy.
“I pursued happiness for the longest time, when I should have been pursuing holiness. When I started pursuing holiness, only then did I discover the joy and peace that comes with fully trusting God. The Send Conference has been a great experience. I have learned so much and have been encouraged in seeing how God can use each of us, in our own unique ways, to share the good news of Christ,” said Garrett.
“We are praying this conference will be a turning point for a lot of Christians, and churches, who will go home and make an impact for Christ like never before,” said Ezell. The Send Conference was more than just a typical missions conference, and that was evident throughout the entire event.
“This conference is not about gathering together for the purpose of making plans or designing strategies,” said Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd. “It’s not about organizations, or any denomination. There is a much higher purpose for why we gather. It is in His name. This is Jesus’s conference.”
If you are ready to explore church planting, chaplaincy, disaster relief, or any other avenues for next steps through NAMB, visit mobilizeme.sendnetwork.com. To connect with one of thirty-two Send North America cities, consider a Catch the Vision Tour and go to NAMB.net/catch-the-vision. For the latest on next steps with the Send North America Strategy and NAMB from Kevin Ezell, consider attending a Sending Church Lab. Learn more at sendnetwork.com/sending-church-lab. For information about connecting with IMB opportunities, visit IMB.org.
A set of life on mission next steps resources are available, including a six-week Bible study by church planter Matt Rogers with corresponding videos, blog posts, and other items released on a weekly basis. Visit sendnetwork.com/lifeonmission for more details.
Meredith Yackel writes for the North American Mission Board and is a member of Redemption City Church in Cumming, Georgia, a church plant of First Baptist Church, Cumming.