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Monday, November 16, 2009

A report on the Innovative Evangelism Conference

On November 10-13th, over 350 national and international evangelists gathered in Portland Oregon to attend the Innovative Evangelism Conference. The conference was organized by the Next Generation Alliance, a ministry of the Luis Palau Association. Luis Palau is famous for attracting hundreds of thousands of people in cities across America and around the world to his “festival events”, pioneering what has now become known as “festival evangelism.” Although Luis Palau is about 15 years his junior, many people consider Palau to be the heir to Billy Graham’s legacy.

The first night of the event brought about 1,000 people from the community for a free Matt Redman concert. Although Redman is well known around the world for his contemporary worship songs such as “Blessed Be Your Name” and “The Heart of Worship”, few people know that Redman was converted at a Luis Palau event in London when he was 10 years old. As a missionary/evangelist attending the event, Redman’s presence, followed by an exhortation from Luis Palau, served as an inspiring example that—contrary to popular belief—mass evangelism does work.

The following evening, after a full day of workshops exploring topics like “Guerilla Evangelism”, “How to Shake a City”, and “How to Effectively use Extreme Sports for Outreach”, Dinesh D’Souza was the headline speaker. The renowned apologist was named one of America’s most influential conservative thinkers by The New York Times Magazine and is best known for his books What’s So Great About Christianity and Letters to a Young Conservative. D’Souza spoke to a crowd of well over a thousand people (many of them seekers) about how to defend the Christian faith from the “New Atheists” (people like Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins).

One of the surprises of the night was that Dinesh D’Souza didn’t follow the classic defend intelligent design/bash Darwinism paradigm preferred by many Christian apologists. Rather, D’Souza chose to uphold Darwinism as a natural mechanism explaining the diversity of life (and also upholding the 13-15 billion year age of the universe accepted by most scientists) while rejecting the usage of Darwinism as a metaphysical argument for atheism. D’Souza instead chose to appeal to arguments based on modern scientific discoveries such as “multiple dimensions”, “dark matter”, and the fact that time and space are part of the material universe, (created during the Big Bang) thus making it possible to believe in an eternal being that lives outside of time and space—something that would have been considered nonsense by mainstream science a hundred years ago.

On the final day, the headline speaker was Miles McPherson, a former NFL star turned pastor/evangelist. McPherson wowed the audience with humorous examples about how some of his smaller teammates used to “talk trash” to guys twice their size, even after being knocked down. McPherson’s point was that while the Devil tries to intimidate evangelists by knocking them down, evangelists should always be on the offensive—and never quit! A striking feature of McPherson’s presentation was his emphasis on the elite nature of the evangelist’s calling and how those of us attending the conference were called to a difficult task that few are willing and able to do.

On a personal note, one of the things that struck me about the conference was the noticeable lack of ego on the part of the Palau staff and the conference attendees. Evangelists often get a bad rap in American culture, especially successful evangelists. Many people assume that evangelists that draw large crowds are bound to have large heads as well. What I saw at the conference was over 350 evangelists, many of whom preach to tens of thousands of people a year, ready and willing to help and serve one another, regardless of the size of their ministries. What other conference can an evangelist go to where you can have lunch with someone like Andrew Palau (who preaches to hundreds of thousands of people a year) and rub shoulders with someone like Scott Lenning (who was one of Billy Graham’s North American Crusade directors for 20 years) and feel like you’re a part of the team? Without question, the spirit of camaraderie is due to the staff of Luis Palau Association and the Next Generation Alliance and their vision to train and to mentor the next generation of evangelists. Thank you Luis Palau and NGA for a wonderful event!

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