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ICOM 2014My dad played the violin–not the fiddle, the violin. He had polio when he was ten, and, fortunately, it didn’t leave him crippled, but he could never really run again, so he couldn’t play sports like the other boys. He chose to play in the orchestra–in the high school orchestra, which was the pride of Glasco, Kansas.

When I was eight and in the third grade, my school offered free violin lessons, so, of course, I started getting out of class one or two days a week and taking violin lessons. I used my dad’s violin.

By the time I was in the fifth grade, I was the only one who was playing at my level at the Bonnie Brae Elementary School, so my weekly lessons were private lessons–and still free. Because I was pretty good for my age–maybe–my teacher would take me to other schools and we would play short programs together in their assembly, probably trying to get younger children to enroll in the free strings programs at their schools.

In the All-City Elementary school orchestra, I sat on the first row with four or five other kids, so I guess I was decent, but the perk I really liked was that because I was in the violin program, each year I was taken out of school one day with the other kids in strings to attend a special concert by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra at the Will Rogers Auditorium. I knew nothing about what they played or who the composers were, but I loved the music–the huge blend of all of those different instruments: violins, violas, cellos, bass violins, oboes, bassoons–even the triangle and tympani.

How could all of those different people–maybe 40-50 players–with so many different gifts and playing so many different instruments at the same time produce a result that was so beautiful?

The word symphony comes to English from two Greek words: sun, which means “together,” and phone, which means “sound.” The word is usually translated harmony, harmonious, or harmoniously, when talking about music, but is also commonly used to mean to agree, to be of one mind, or to connect the most literal meaning with the vernacular: to be in unison.

Matthew used a derivative of symphony in chapter 18, verse 19, quoting Jesus he writes, “Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth are in agreement (symphōnēsōsin) about anything whatever you may ask, it will be done for you by my Father who is in heaven.”

About five years ago, we started attending the National Missionary Convention of the Independent Christian Church/Church of Christ. Having been involved with foreign missions our whole life together, Sherrylee and I have been to many, many missions conferences and mission workshops in our branch of the Restoration Movement–and because of our direct involvement we know lots and lots of the people involved.

But just across the aisle at the NMC the first time, our most common feeling was: we don’t know anybody here!

That was five or six years ago. Last week we attended the International Conference on Missions (ICOM), which is the new name of the NMC. Over 10,000 people attended the 2-3 day event, held in the Convention Center in Columbus, OH–one of the largest single venues I’ve ever been in. One huge section of the convention center was set aside for “exhibitors,” which at most conventions means businesses which are trying to sell you something, either immediately or after you get home.

At ICOM it was different. Picture an area the size of your nearest Super Wal-Mart or Super Target–not just your neighborhood sized–and then fill that whole area with small booths, each one representing a mission effort of some kind.

There were individual missionaries, like Pino Neglia, missionary to Lecce, Italy and to Albania. We met him three years ago at his booth and in 2014, LST sent him a team to be a part of his efforts. Eric Estrada (not the movie star), missionary to Murcia, Spain, was there. We sent him three teams in 2014.

There were also plenty of mission organizations like us: Pioneer Bible Translators, Open Door Libraries, Holy Land Christian Foundation–and other businesses and organizations that support missions: transportation, security, training ministries, even fund raising ministries.

It was a symphony! So much diversity of talent and interest. Long-term, short-term, house church, mega-church, men and women, social justice and evangelism, academic and common, all these different instruments but all playing their part in the same symphony: the Missio Dei — the Mission of God!

I came home wondering why we in Churches of Christ have so much trouble playing together? Many have already spoken to this question, but one part of the answer is that we are rapidly losing our sense of together. We know the music, we know the director, but too many of us do “what is right in our own eyes,” a phrase from Judges 21:25 that introduces some of the darkest days for God’s chosen people Israel.

Our papers first created a sense of together, but we are down to one, the Christian Chronicle, and it struggles to survive. Then our lectureships held us together–but they are a shadow of what they used to be–perhaps with the exception of Pepperdine Bible Lectures. Even our song books used to keep us together, but we don’t all sing the same songs anymore!

Our symphony is not in harmony. We try to have a Global Missions Conference every three years–and we hope to have 1000 people attend. The World Missions Workshop for college students is barely hanging on to life. There are lots of small, independent gatherings for missions, nice little quartets, but where is the symphonic chorus?

After the fifth grade, I changed schools. I started attending Fort Worth Christian School, which offered no free violin lessons–so I quit playing the violin. Two years later, when FWC started a band program, I took up the trombone and played through college. My brother Gary was three years behind me in school, but that was not a big gap at FWC in those years. He and I were the whole trombone section of the band for 4-5 years. We didn’t march–we were too few; we did well just to have enough of the required instruments to play at all.

We as a fellowship have been satisfied too long with being a small non-marching band.

Jesus said he wanted a symphony.

We dare not forget how to play in harmony together.

 

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