After 35 years working in and around various types of ministry organizations, today I attended my first ever ministry trade show. After several years of getting snowed out in the winter months, Missionfest Toronto moved both its date and its location and today’s balmy weather in Canada’s largest city rivaled that of Southern California.
After one aisle, I turned to Mrs. W. and said, “We’ve only seen a fraction of this and already it’s overwhelming.” Basically, I suppose I always knew that a large number of ministry organizations like these existed — probably a fraction of what one might see at a similar event in the U.S. — but there was something else about having them all set up their booths in the same room.
Missionfest exhibitors consisted largely of:
- Actual mission organizations doing evangelism and church planting in the third world
- Local, urban mission organizations working in Canadian cities
- Relief and development agencies
- Christian liberal arts colleges and universities, Bible colleges and seminaries
- Christian residential summer camps and retreat and conference centres
- Christian radio and television stations and ministries
- The teaching ministries of various authors or pastors, many of which are also broadcasters included in (6) above
- Ministries focused on Bible and Christian literature distribution
- Commercial businesses which provide specialized services to churches and non-profits (i.e. insurance, printing, internet, etc.)
- Organizations with a specialized focus on ministry to children
- Organizations with a specialized focus on ministry to the Jewish community
- Umbrella organizations, Christian political organizations, denominational groups.
From my wife’s point of view however, there were only two types of exhibitors:
- Those who were giving away wrapped pieces of chocolate at their booth
- Those who were not giving away chocolate at their booth
To be fair, my wife and I probably had the longest and most productive conversation with someone she previously only knew through e-mail, concerning the ministry project with which she is engaged. He and she are probably getting together later in the spring to continue sharing ideas.
From the outset, we wondered what motivates the various organizations to drop their day-to-day ministry agenda to go through all the trouble of displaying their magazines, flyers, literature samples, etc. at an event like this. Some reasons might include:
- There’s no doubt that for missions professionals, trade shows like this provide the benefit of any professional trade show, which is social in nature, or what we Christ-followers call ‘fellowship’
- Mission organizations are always looking for donors. A few times someone came out in the aisle and told us, quite clearly, that they are looking for support. It also occurred to us that conversely, someone of a philanthropic bent might attend this seeking out a target organization for their giving. (We were actually keeping an eye out for something that would fit this particular criteria for someone we know who is in this position, but couldn’t attend; but nothing in particular jumped out at us.)
- Many organizations are looking for recruits; either as volunteers, missionaries requiring deputation, or perhaps even paid staff. The colleges and universities are looking for prospective students.
- Apart from considerations in (2) and (3) above, everyone is looking to raise the profile of who they are and what they do; to get their name known in the Christian community, or in this case, more accurately, the Evangelical community.
- I would like to think that in addition to people giving their time and talents, or their money, that these organizations are also seeking specific prayer support. I didn’t get that particular message today, though I’ve yet to sort through the large bag of literature we brought home.
The event also features a number of seminars dealing with various aspects of mission and ministry. Many of these were on Saturday which conflicted with another event my wife is involved in; and some were part of a ‘Master seminar’ track which wasn’t in our budget. (Some were simply capitalizing on who was available, such as Brian Doerksen’s songwriting workshop, prior to his concert tonight with Shane Claiborne; and no, I don’t think Shane is singing but I’ve actually heard him teach a song to about 2,000 people and he’s not bad.)
For me the “star” highlights were meeting Charles Price, pastor of Toronto’s Peoples Church, and also running into Shane Claiborne in the restroom. I went back to the Crawford Broadcasting booth hoping that Neil Boron was free. He hosts a four-hour afternoon talk show on WDCX-FM in Buffalo, which is the closest I get to coveting someone else’s ministry. What a fabulous opportunity he has each day. Unfortunately, he had left for lunch when I went back.
But the interactions with everyday people doing everyday mission and ministry were also valuable.
I walked into the exhibit floor someone cynical, reminding myself that missions — especially some of the 12 categories listed above — is very much run like a business, and that many of these people are in a very real sense competitors for items 2 to 5 in the second list.
I also know that some people are equally skeptical of the missions paradigm because — unlike (for example) a Christian bookstore which is theoretically self-supporting, or any model whereby the staff are ‘tentmaking’ at some other remunerative vocation — mission organizations merely have to “ask” to get money.
But my viewpoint was softened very quickly, as I was impressed by the earnest sincerity of the people we met.
If an event like this hits your community, I would encourage you to check it out; especially if you’re at a personal crossroads and wondering if God may have some avenue of service — either short term, long term, or life long — for you to consider.