Some 2,000 Biola students—and even non-students—gathered at the university in La Mirada, CA for Biola University’s 86th annual Missions Conference, this year with the theme, "Greater: Compelled by the I AM to live missionally.” The three-day conference, which took place from March 11 to 13, offered seven keynote sessions and 18 different breakout sessions, all focused on missions: who mission work is for, and doing the work in freedom and with authority.
Keynote speakers included Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research and contributing editor of Christianity Today; Matt Brown, the lead pastor of Sandals Church in Riverside, CA; and Steve Haas, the “chief catalyst” for World Vision. All of these speakers guided students into a deeper understanding of what it means to be “compelled” by God, and the meaning of living missionally.
Ed Stetzer pointed the students to the mission of each Christian to be ambassadors for Christ, and to reconcile others to God, referencing 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. But he also reminded students that the foundation for this mission is verse 21, which says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Hence, Stetzer exhorted students into this ambassadorship for Christ by reminding them of what Christ had done first.
Similarly, Matt Brown first pointed the students to the gospel, reminding students that the gospel means that God accepts, forgives, cleanses, and loves people regardless of their sinfulness – and this allows the Christian to be free to live out the calling that God gives.
Steve Haas went more into the necessity to live missionally, and reminded students of the need in the world. He referenced various verses that show a command to love and serve those in need, including James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” He went on to remind students of the fact that God is inviting each Christian, according to his or her gifts, in addressing those needs for His glory.
“The Lord, the Creator of all that there is, Maker of heaven and earth, has invited the weird, the warped, and the wicked to join Him in nothing short of a plan that will transform the world – and He wants you to do it,” he told students.
The conference offered students opportunities in multiple ways to directly apply their convictions. The campus walkways were lined with booths set up by numerous missional organizations, including I Am Second, the Voice of Martyrs, World Vision, Youth with a Mission, SIM, and Samaritan’s Purse, offering direct opportunities for the students to be able to ask questions and become involved. The latter half of the last day of the conference included an “exploration” trip to Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles, giving students a direct opportunity to meet those in need—not overseas, but just a drive away.
Students also had access to a 24-hour prayer room and devotional booklets provided by the conference, to hear from God more deeply in a personal time and setting.
To prevent the phenomenon of simply receiving convictions or going on a “spiritual high” only during the conference itself, organizers have also invited a final keynote speaker to come in on March 26, two weeks after the conference.
“The reality is that two weeks after the conference, a lot of people have already forgotten about what was discussed,” Alex Middleton, a student studying biblical studies at Biola and the Missions Conference co-director, told Chimes, Biola’s student-run newspaper. “So we want to provide a reminder of what has happened and help students to process everything.”
“Ultimately, we want students to walk away loving Jesus more,” states the event website. “We want each and every student to experience the Great I AM and from that knowledge, be compelled to be a part of completing the Great Commission wherever they are at. This means understanding that missions is a lifestyle, not an event.”