Co-sponsored by the Cross-Cultural Alliance of Ministries, the Montreat Conference Center, and the Presbyterian Outlook Foundation, the five-day event invited participants from 33 states to ask, “What is the church you’re dreaming of?” On the encouragement of co-convener, Louise Johnson, the conferees also were encouraged to ask themselves, “What is standing in the way? What are you going to do about it? and … Who else can you dream with?”
Indetermination seemed the order of the day, at least at the start. After that preface, Jud Hendrix and Elizabeth Kaznak, founding co-pastors of Covenant Community Church in Louisville, Ky., introduced the opening worship. “We don’t know what’s going to happen in the worship,” said Hendrix. “They told me to say we would be co-creating with the Spirit, but in actuality, we just don’t know what will happen.”
Elizabeth, who now leads a ministry with immigrants, quickly added, “We don’t know what will happen, but we do have a plan. We do have a structure.” With a grin she added, “So all the ‘Js’ can relax.”
An eclectic mix of musical leadership engaged the attendees through impassioned singing in an emergent style. Soon conferees were caught up into a whirl of apocalyptic unboundedness via the biblical exposition of Brian Blount, president of Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education. “Freedom is a frightening thing,” he declared.
“That is John’s point in this very strange section of his outlandishly strange book of Revelation. We are — those of us who believe in the Lordship of Jesus Christ — born free. At 1:9, John declares that Christ set us free by his blood. To be washed in that blood is to be born anew, to be born free. The problem is, in a world infested by a dragon, to live free is a frightening thing.”
Ironically, said Blount, “The same God who sets us free in Christ, apparently sets the dragon free on us. That’s right, God lets the dragon out.” Conflict imagery – so intensely portrayed in the book of Revelation – was expressed with an equivalent intensity in the fiery preaching of this biblical scholar-statesman.
“What do you do with your knowledge that you have been born free in Jesus Christ in a world where a dragon lurks unbound? Are you bound or unbound?” He got to the point. “Well, what does an unbound church look like?”
· The unbound church isn’t tethered to its safe space sanctuaries, but operates behind the enemy lines of poverty and social injustice.
· The unbound church isn’t tethered to tradition, but builds upon tradition to create new traditions as it engages the world in new ways.
· The unbound church isn’t tethered to just doing mission trips but has begun a journey that will recreate itself fully as a missional reality.
· The unbound church isn’t tethered to the idea that church members ought all to look alike and think alike, but drags people of every physical hue and theological complexion into its spiritual and missional endeavors.
· The unbound church doesn’t sit on the sidelines while politicians and lawyers and activists decide our social fate; it lives and operates as powerfully on a social and political battlefield as it does in a spiritual bubble.
· The unbound church doesn’t just fight for issues that affect people in its neighborhoods or congregations, but is willing to exhaust itself and its resources on behalf of people it does not know, may never see, and will certainly never join.
· The unbound church doesn’t fear fights that may cost it dearly, because the unbound church is free from fear and ready to follow Christ’s call into any and every draconian situation that is devouring God’s people.
· The unbound church doesn’t do its high wire ministry act with a safety net, because it doesn’t fear falling before the dragon. It believes that no matter what happens, God will raise it up again.
“I’ll tell you what we unbound believers in an unbound church are. We are hunters by nature. We who have been born free, bred in the blood of Christ, we are natural-born dragon slayers. Don’t be domesticated out of that destiny. Be dangerous. Seek the dragon out. Don’t wait for it to come to you. Hunt it down. Since you don’t fear the confrontation, provoke the confrontation. Unbind the cords of spiritual sensitivity, of devout decorum, of religious ritual, of fear masquerading as faith and take the dragon on. The dragon is busy. There’s a whole lot of world and so little time to terrorize it. It might take a while to get around to you. But it will find you. Some day, some way, it will get resurrected in your world, too. I say, be preemptive. Strike it before it strikes you. Be the hunter you were born to be. And take the church with you. Set yourself and your church free on the dragon and the world the way the dragon has been set free on you.
“Live unleashed. That is our calling.”
With those words, the Church Unbound Conference was launched, or rather, loosed.