image of Soong-Chan Rah

Organizers for this year’s Big Tent celebration have lined up the guest preachers and leaders for the three-day gathering in Baltimore this summer. The Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah will be the featured speaker at the opening plenary on Thursday, Aug. 1.

“Conversations are taking place about the changes that are occurring in our society, especially in terms of our demographics. Churches are experiencing change, including decline and diversity,” said Rah. “I will touch on those, but I really want to touch base on what the appropriate response to these changes should be.”

Rah is the Milton B. Engebretson Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. The author of numerous books and articles is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary as well as Columbia, Duke and Harvard universities.

“I wrote a book called Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times and it focuses on how lament offers a narrative change because so much of our response to these changes has come from dysfunctional ecclesiology and theology,” he said. “Out of our dysfunction, we have generated many dysfunctional practices. Lament offers a chance to challenge a lot of that.”

Rah was the founding senior pastor of Cambridge Community Fellowship Church, a multi-ethnic church living out the values of racial reconciliation and social justice in the urban context. He has also served on the boards of Sojourners, World Vision and the Christian Community Development Association.

Rah says lament is multi-layered and requires individual confession and repentance, adding that it gives a realistic snapshot of what is happening in the world.

“It’s honesty and truth-telling and we can’t lament without having a grasp on truth and reality,” he said.  “We don’t just say words of lament and act sorry — we have to know the depth of our brokenness, and that is where God leads us.”

Rah adds that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has made progress at multiple levels, but more work needs to be done.

Having served as a pastor or teacher for 30 years, Rah is encouraged by what he is seeing in the new generation of church leaders.

“I believe more students are thinking about what church looks like for different generations and the social context and I’m encouraged by that. Students have different ways of thinking what church can be. When I was in seminary, I didn’t see that. We looked to build a church that was modeled by successful or mega churches,” he said. “The world has changed so much in the last 20–30 years and we can’t follow those models anymore. People are more aware of their reality. They grew up with diversity as the norm.”

The theme for this year’s Big Tent is “Called to a Movement Beyond Institution,” which is also the theme for the 224th General Assembly, with Romans 12:2 as Scripture reference. The Lord Baltimore and Radisson are the lead hotels for the downtown event. Click here for more information.

In addition to worship and plenaries, participants can choose from a variety of learning opportunities and engage in Baltimore mission experiences.