At first Cross Conference, Mohler, evangelical leaders encourage college students toward missions
A new missions conference attended by 3,600 college students, held Dec. 27-30 in Louisville, Ky., featured Southern Seminary’s president R. Albert Mohler Jr. and other evangelical leaders.
Leadership of Cross Conference — Kevin DeYoung, Mack Stiles, David Platt, David Sitton, Thabiti Anyabwile, John Piper and Zane Pratt — shaped the conference around the theme “missions exists because worship doesn’t,” drawn from Piper’s popular book, Let the Nations Be Glad, in order to encourage students toward missions work to the unreached people groups of the world.
In an interview following the conference, Mohler said that the sizable participation in the conference conference encouraged him.
“What an incredible encouragement to look out and see nearly 4,000 college students giving up time between Christmas and New Year’s Day to do nothing but listen to God’s call to missions in order to expose themselves to respond to it,” he said. “It’s an incredible thing. I can’t imagine anything happier for the church than seeing the quality of these young people here saying, ‘We’re here, and by our presence we’re saying we’re ready to go.’ And I believe many of them will.”
In the final session of the conference, about half of the attendees expressed an interested in becoming missionaries.
Mohler led a breakout session about Christians ministering to people in cities, “Mud Huts & Mass Transit: The Urban Future of Missions.” According to him, more people live in cities today than ever before, which is why Christians need to be there.
“Because the cities are so influential on people, we need to give time to the city. And we’re going to end up in a city,” he said. “The city that is our goal is not one we can build, but is one God gives to us,” he said.
Mohler presented four themes about cities from Scripture: “idolatry,” citing Genesis four where Cain names a city after his son, Enoch; “covenant,” saying that the covenant of God helps us to understand the city is not God’s main focus of his covenantal promise, but a necessary provision; “mission,” citing Paul going to the heart of the city to share the gospel; and the “grace and glory of the city” in Revelation 22.
Mohler emphasized that the church waits for an eternal city.
“While we wait for the city to come, let’s go into the cities that now are and take the gospel with boldness,” he said.
Christians going into cities, Mohler said, is an issue of obedience, not only for missionaries but for Christians who will strengthen church congregations.
“We are obeying two simultaneous and cooperative loves when we love our neighbor and love God because Christ himself, the second, is derivative of the first,” Mohler said. “And the mission of obedience is obedience to God but also obedience to brokenheartedness when we see the need of the gospel all around us.”
A student from Southern Seminary, Jane Doe*, gave her testimony at the conference.
She shared how she grew up in a Christian family, but became a believer while in Syria through the ministry of Stiles, general secretary for the Fellowship of Christian UAE Students (FOCUS) in the United Arab Emirates. After a university ministry worker asked a group of students if they knew the gospel in their heads, but not hearts, Doe realized that fit her spiritual life. So, near the Damascus Road, where Paul saw a vision of Jesus, Doe repented and turned to Christ for salvation.
After her graduation, she plans to return to the middle east to work with the same people who helped lead her to Christ.
Conference speakers were Piper, DeYoung, Platt, Stiles, Matt Chandler, Anyabwile, Richard Chin, Conrad Mwebe, D.A. Carson and Michael Oh. In addition to Mohler, breakout speakers included Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Gloria Furman, Greg Gilbert and others.
Piper: “The Chief End of Missions”
John Piper began the conference with a challenge: “The Chief End of Missions: The Supremacy of God in the Joy of All Peoples.”
“Missions is a rescue movement to glorify God in the gladness of the peoples,” Piper said.
Piper, founder of Desiring God ministries, said that the motive of missions is two-fold: to glorify God so that Christians can enjoy him forever. These two aspects, he said, are inseparable.
“If you know what the glory of God is, and you know what it means to be rescued from sin, then you will know that you must have both motives because they are one,” he said in a prepared manuscript. “The glory of God in the gladness of the peoples, and the gladness of the peoples in the glory of God.”
He closed his message telling conference attendees never to choose between the two motives because they are one.
“Don’t ever choose between these two: praising God and pitying sinners, divine glory and human gladness. Embrace this one great end, and give your life to it — the supremacy of God in the joy of all peoples,” he said.
Anyabwile, who is pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands, followed Piper, preaching from Romans one. The purpose of God, he said, is to “send unashamed preachers to reach unreached peoples to display his unparalleled power and unearned righteousness in saving from an unrelenting wrath coming upon the world.”
In his sermon, “Beauty from Ashes: The Plight of Man and the Purposes of God,” Anyabwile pointed out three ways God’s plan is executed: Christians must carry it out in a certain way; it must be pursued with the proper method; and Christians need to pursue the plan of God with the correct aim.
DeYoung, who followed Anyabwile, argued Reformed soteriology should motivate Christians toward missions, contrary to the claims of its critics.
DeYoung, who is the senior pastor of University Reformed Church in Lansing, Mich., used three passages from the Gospel of John to support his thesis (3:1-8; 6:35-47, 60-65; 10:7-15, 27-30).
“This rich, deep, high, robust, glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ with all of its particularity and all of its angles and all of its doctrinal comprehensions, this message is worth dying for,” DeYoung said. “The peoples of the earth need it and those whom God has chosen and for those whom Christ died, will irresistibly believe it, receive it and live forever. And that’s why we send, and that’s why we go and that’s why when you get there, you can stay.”
Stiles, in his plenary session, preached from 2 Corinthians 5:10-21 about “The Call of Christ: Inspired, Informed, Confirmed.”
The text, according to Stiles, gives four motivations for missions: the righteous judgement of God coming to all men; the love of Christ that compels Christians; Jesus’ death is a sufficient payment for sins; and the potential for God to make the unredeemed into new creations.
D.A. Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill., led a plenary session from 1 John 4:7-16a about “The Church as the Means and the Goal of Missions.”
“The very love of God is fleshed out in our local churches,” he said.
Sin does four things to humans, according to Carson. It defies God, utterly corrupts individuals, corrodes all social relationships and it issues in death. But, he said, the gospel remedies sin in four ways: it reconciles men and women to God; it utterly transforms believers; it renews social relationships and it kills death in all of its dimensions.
“The transformed church of the living God is the goal of Christian mission,” he said. “To think in purely individualistic terms is too small a vision.”
Matt Chandler, lead teaching pastor at The Village Church in Dallas, Texas, led the seventh plenary session, calling students to lose their lives for the call of Christ. He preached from Philippians 1:21 about “The Life Worth Living for Christ is a Life Worth Losing.” Chandler challenged the students to value Christ above life.
“In 10,000 years you will not regret anything you didn’t have or do in this life,” he said.“Until Christ is our treasure, any other motivation we have to suffer for him is a fool’s errand.”
Richard Chin, national director of the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students at Wollongong University in Australia, preached from Mark 8, “Seeing Jesus Properly: The Lord to Gladly Obey Forever.” An implication of seeing Jesus properly is to deny oneself and follow him. “Denying yourself,” he said, “means to seek and savor Jesus as your greatest pleasure.”
Conrad Mwebe, lead pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia, Africa, spoke about “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ - The Good News of a Bloody Cross,” focused on Romans 3:21-26.
“The one word that can describe the misery throughout the human race is death,” he said. But, he said, “Our death died at the cross. It did not faint. It died.”
Michael Oh, CEO of Christ Bible Seminary in Japan, preached a session, “What Do Cross-Cultural Missionaries Cross Cultures For?” He challenged students to consider the suffering of people around the world. He closed his sermon calling students to be willing to endure suffering for the sake of others.
“How great an injustice it is to know about eternal suffering and do nothing,” he said.
Platt, lead pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., closed the Cross Conference, pleading with students to respond to the call to missions. He encouraged students to do three things: remember God’s salvation, remember it is God who sends and rest secure in the Great Commission. At the end of his session, he asked students to obey God’s call on their lives, whether that meant sending missionaries or going.
“If you can trust God to save you, you can trust God to lead you,” Platt said. “If you can trust God for eternity, you can trust God to satisfy you on earth.”
Platt called on those who sensed God’s leading toward missions work to stand. According to observers, about half of those attending Platt’s session committed to talk to their home church about overseas missions.
In addition to the plenary and breakout sessions, Cross held two panel discussions about missionary work and a testimony from Sitton.
Audio and view from the conference are available at crosscon.com/resources. The 2015 Cross Conference will take place again in December of that year.
*Name changed to protect identity for security concerns.