Excursus: Learning Parties (Soularize) and the Scary Other (In the Hallway)

Soularize Ten – or Soularize 2011 – will be held in San Diego next month. Ironically, my first venture into the hallway with those scary others took place in San Diego. If there were approved reading lists for those of us huddling in our (Southern) Baptist room along C.S. Lewis’ hallway, we also had acceptable conferences to attend. These Pastor’s Conferences were often sponsored by high profile Southern Baptist Pastors at very large churches who viewed the event as if they were Paul encouraging young Timothys. The only other acceptable conferences were of the pragmatic variety often associated with some angle on church growth.

A friend called and said, “How about going to the National Pastor’s Convention (2001) with me in San Diego?” He sent me the information, the link, and expressed his intent to go. Who would not consider San Diego in February? Warm weather. Golf. Old Town. The Piers. First ever stop to a Krispy Kreme.

LEADERSHIP, Zondervan ChurchSource, and Youth Specialties were among the major sponsors. We sat in the big hall for the General Sessions. I am guessing there were about 1500 or more of us. On the big screens pre-session were humorous vignettes and announcements. Never before had I been to an event where my tribe, Baptists, were the subject (butt) of the jokes. Immediately I wonder how others would have felt in our meetings where the jokes went, “There were three pastors. A Methodist, a Lutheran, and ¬†Presbyterian . . ..”

Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in the Country at the time, were in the minority at this event. Those references to Baptists on the big screen were the only time the subject came up. Instead the content of the event was to encourage pastors, challenge them, and create space for new friendships and learning experiences. Call it a retreat for Pastors on steroids. I heard from some of my new favorite authors including Phillip Yancey.

Yes, there were books purchased. We played a round or two of golf. We met some great folks. We heard some powerful keynotes/sermons. One of my favorites to this day was a sermon on “Living In the ‘To'” growing out of the text, “from strength to strength.” After the sermon, Ken Medema offered a musical rendition. What creativity! He sat just off stage and listened. Then in a very powerful way drove home key takeaways from the message. I had never experienced that kind of creativity in worship. The closest thing to that kind of creativity I knew anything about was when a minister of music would discover a new Gaither inspired cantata for the choir to do for the next Easter. Serendipitous, nah.

While I mark my own internal discontent with huddling and competition to a Baptist learning event a few years earlier combined  with the privilege to encounter the wider Baptist family serving on the General Council of the Baptist World Alliance, this was the first real venture into the hallway. And, it was quite refreshing. Encouraging. Thought-provoking. Life-changing. Life-giving.

My eagerness to continue learning pushed me to look for other venues, experiences, to learn from others – not necessarily from my own frame of reference. I still hear Dr. Soden encouraging me to earn my Master’s degree outside the south. I chose not to. Now these years later, I was in a sense getting my education outside the South in the context of these voluntary events – people who want to be there with other people regardless of their particular denominational affiliation. There are great people in the hallway – not scary people.

All of this brings me to back to Soularize Ten. As Part of a “Learning Journey” event in 2002, I attended Soularize in Minneapolis. That smallish gathering generated some lasting friendships, healthy and helpful friendships.

I continue to learn from many who were there. There is little doubt some of our differences were brought more sharply into focus as we interacted. But, a central eagerness to be faithful to Jesus transcended those divisions. Caricatures of the left and right only serve to obscure the value of other human beings attempting to be faithful to Jesus. Moving beyond the hype and the fear has really opened up spaces to learn.

I attended, and actually helped with, Soularize 2007 in Nassau. Once again I met and literally lived with a group for those seven-eight days – Mark, Jordon, Spencer, Adam, Jim, and Mike. One of the highlights was meeting and sharing a couple of meals with the former Bishop Tom, N.T. Wright for many. In the video a the 2:04 mark you will see me chatting with Bishop Tom during an evening at a local restaurant. What a treat!

If all works out well, I will take some vacation next month and join some old friends and make some new friends. Undoubtedly some differences will be sharply brought into focus. But, more than ten years after that first venture into the hallway, I am finding it a helpful place to hang out. There is always something to learn. My friend Spencer likes to say, “If I am not a little embarrassed by something I said yesterday, I have not learned anything today.” And, since disciple means learner, our lives ought to be given to learning faithfully the Way of Jesus “all our lives.”

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.