Recap from Thriving Frequency 2015

Recap from Thriving Frequency 2015

Last weekend, Ben, Nooree, and I had the privilege of attending the Thriving Frequency Conference, held at Temple University in the heart of Philadelphia, PA. Thriving Frequency is an annual training conference for men and women who are conducting gospel mission in an urban context, with a particular focus on African-American and multicultural churches. Many in attendance serve in the most challenging inner-city environments, where they proclaim the hope of the risen Christ in places that are impoverished economically, socially, and spiritually.

If we do not engage with people that are different than us, we severely handicap our ability to know God and know ourselves.

You might be asking, why would we invest our time and resources attending a conference focused on inner city missions? Why is it important for us to worship and learn from people of different cultural backgrounds? Aren’t there other training events out there that would be more directly applicable to us, and our ministry to Rockville, Maryland? There are many ways that question can be answered, but here is my attempt: If we do not engage with people that are different than us, we severely handicap our ability to know God and know ourselves. Or, stated differently, fresh and deep insights about God and ourselves come when our assumptions and biases are challenged by Christ followers from different cultures and backgrounds.

One concrete example of the power of cross cultural engagement, given by one of the speakers at the conference, is in the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the influential German pastor, theologian, and anti-Nazi dissenter. In 1930, Bonhoeffer spent a year at Union Theological Seminary studying under world-renowned scholar Reinhold Niebuhr; yet it was his time learning and worshipping with the African-American church in Harlem that left the most indelible impression on his time in America. It was under the preaching of Pastor Adam Clayton Powell Sr. at the Abyssinian Baptist Church that Bonhoeffer was introduced to the dangers of “cheap grace”, a phrase he later borrowed and became the focus of his most famous work, The Cost of Discipleship. It was from the Black church that he witnessed a costly grace embodied in a long tradition of faithfulness and suffering, a gospel that called for both individual and social transformation. These were ideas that served as the critical foundation for his work for justice on behalf of the Jews, a cause for which he eventually laid down his life when he was executed by the Nazis in 1945.

Is it possible that their music, emerging from an experience and history of being on the margins of society, can be far more theologically deep than I can ever understand?

Another example by way of personal experience: at the conference, we had the privilege of gathering together and singing songs of worship. During these times, I could feel the energy in the room as songs extolling God’s greatness and love were exuberantly sung by all without inhibition. To be honest, initially I felt more like a spectator than a participant, and I was tempted to judge the worship as overly emotional and lacking depth. Yet I distinctly remember a moment in the second day where God opened my eyes to see the beauty of what was taking place. I started asking questions: Is there something pure about their raw and authentic expressions of worship? (Yes.) Is it possible that their music, emerging from an experience and history of being on the margins of society, can be far more theologically deep than I can ever understand? (Yes.) Are there certain aspects of the gospel and character of God that folks living in an inner-city urban context will “get” more than some smug Asian American white-collar suburban dude like myself? (Definitely yes). I am thankful that, albeit through a mildly uncomfortable experience, God challenged my assumptions for what constitutes worship that is good and appropriate and for exposing my own preferences for what they are, namely, just preferences.

In summary, in addition to the fantastic workshops and messages we hope to share with you in the coming weeks and months, we are thankful that the conference helped expand our vision for what God is doing in the broader body of Christ. We are freshly reminded that the gospel is for everyone across the globe throughout all history, and this is the gospel we celebrate at Cross Community Rockville.