“We are a movement of individuals, congregations, presbyteries and communities called to follow God into the world, partner with Him, and proclaim the love of Jesus Christ by serving his children,” said Kannwischer in her welcome to the group.
“How do we move evangelism out of the hands of professionals but into the hands of ordinary people who have a story to tell that is connected to God’s story?” asked Rev. Mike McClenahan, pastor of Solana Beach Presbyterian Church in San Diego, one of the conference’s hosting churches. “I’m guessing that none of us became Presbyterian to become politicians that follow Roberts Rules of orders,” said McClenahan to scattered laughter, “but to be connected to one another.”
After McClenahan’s introduction Rev. Dr. Robert Weingartner, Executive Director of The Outreach Foundation, welcomed staff members of the General Assembly Council and mission co-workers who are attending the Inside Out Conference. Weingartner led the group in prayer for these leaders.
The first Inside Out Conference was held in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2006 as a response to the decline in the denomination as a whole, as well as a response to the actions of the 217th General Assembly. The name Inside Out refers to the desire to be inwardly strong and outwardly focused. The conference website explains,
Instead of expending energies on the infighting, it was the desire of the PGF to work on encouraging people to become the missional church – not by changing programming or altering a few things to make the church appear to be different – but to truly change the culture of congregations by teaching them what it means to be the “sent ones” of Jesus Christ.
“We need to broaden out our idea from being primarily focused on the pastor/teacher,” challenged Alan Hirsch, author and plenary speaker. “If you want a missional church then you have to have a missional theology to go with it,” said Hirsch.
Hirsch began his plenary presentation with a story about mesmerizing chickens. Two boys who were playing hooky from Sunday school drew a chalk line on the porch. After holding a chicken’s beak to the line for a couple of minutes, the boys saw that the chickens were ‘stuck’ to the line. When their fathers returned home and found a row of chickens with beaks pressed against the chalk line on the porch the boys were in trouble and the chickens were given a swift kick in the rear to ‘release’ them from being stuck. “It’s very easy for us to have our beaks held down to the line,” said Hirsch, “and I think we need to get our backsides kicked just to stir us up!”
Apologizing for using more than his allotted time, Hirsch challenged conference attendees to recover the absolute centrality of Jesus in his own movement. “If our base is wrong,” suggested Hirsch, “then we will find ourselves out of alignment.” We have to go back to our roots to discover ourselves. “If we are going to renew any denomination then it is not good enough to go back to Calvin,” Hirsch. “It is back to Jesus that we have to go to find ourselves.”
“We need other options than merely repeating the past,” challenged Hirsch in closing. “We have to take our beaks off the line and say, ‘Are there other ways of doing things?’”
Pastor Mark Brewer of Bel Air Presbyterian Church, co-host of the conference, closed the evening session in prayer. “May you whisper to us of the dreams you have planned for us tomorrow,” prayed Brewer, whose words were met with a resounding “Amen.”