Church Conferences – Humble Wisdom or Expert Advice?

          I’ve attended many conferences over the years designed to help pastors succeed in their ministry. At first I went to learn from the experts the secrets to success in church planting and pastoral ministry.  Though I have always appreciated a carefully crafted message from the Bible, I soon became weary of experts who lived in ivory towers and had little experience in the world that I lived in. Usually, the credential required to speak at most conference was some semblance of measurable success (by human standards) in ministry.  It also helped to be friends with the host pastor.

          Rarely would there be someone who spoke from an open Bible and a broken heart. After a while, I found myself hanging out in the hallway, around a coffee pot, or sitting on a patio, places where I could meet others like me and talk about the real stuff of life and ministry. I learned more from those whose credentials resonated with me – who knew the shame of failure, the anxiety of living from paycheck to paycheck, the disappointment of betrayal, the loneliness of church planting, and the absence of the physical symbols of success.

          While attending church conferences, I have sat in some of the grandest church structures, ornate, extravagant, sprawling, lush, and very comfortable. Rather than be convicted about the extravagance in a world of poverty and world that needs the gospel, I enjoyed the comfort and the very visible symbols of success. Today, I lament.

         A friend of mine told me recently how his church had raised about 20 million on one Sunday to redo their downtown facility with all the bells and whistles that cater to the comforts American Christians demand. I lamented.  Surely, instead of a mega gathering place around a talking-head, numerous churches could be planted in that area that would extend the gospel more efficiently and effectively. Surely, at least one, if not many, church planters and missionaries, could be supported in exchange for giving up a hot tub or sauna. Surely, there must be some twinge of conscience as we worship in extravagance while others rummage through the garbage.

          We need church conferences that expose our hypocrisy not ones that foster our envy. I am not guiltless in my desire for comfort and wastefulness in my own life. Because of that, I do not need another conference that will promote all the Western symbols of church success. I need a conference that humbles me; that arouses my heart for the poor; that causes me to pursue the hard and unlovely places for ministry; that confronts my extravagance and my comfort; that demonstrates by example that sacrificing in order to be merciful to the needy is worthwhile; that living with less for the sake of the advance of the gospel is noble.  I need a conference that points me to kind of success that Jesus modeled – suffering, sacrifice, mission, ministry to broken people, enemies – rather than consumer Christianity that prevails in the West today.  Consumer Christianity comes natural to me. I need something supernatural.

          Are conferences a waste of time? Not necessarily if you have the time and resources to attend.  The irony is that many men who minister in lonely places and in humble circumstances are not present at the conferences.  Maybe some of them should be invited to speak. They can't identify with the experts and will never minister in affluent areas from where most of the experts seem to come. Do we need more conferences to cause us to aspire to success or conferences to aspire to sacrifice?  Either way, for those who attend the most profitable time might be in the hallways. See you there!


5 Responses to “Church Conferences – Humble Wisdom or Expert Advice?”

  1. I couldn't have said it better myself 🙂

  2. Spot on. Honestly, I quite going to conferences down here.  Nothing but self promotion and a false sense of what it means to be successful.  At the three conferences I have attended since I have been down here, I have left nothing but discouraged.
    I / we have decided to surround ourselves with men and churches that have the same bent towards the Gospel mission and it has been nothing but liberating and encouraging.  The best part about it…it only costs me a cup of coffee!

  3. Ross:

    Mini conferences over a cup of coffee with guys who are doing what you're doing in places like your place will provide more encourgement and connection than conferences from experts who have never been where you are or have never done what you are doing. I think I'll tweet that 🙂



  4. I ran across this conference the other day (in Lansdale in April):
    It's definitely more in the emergent strain, but part of its goal is to correct for the misplaces emphases you have mentioned here.

  5. […] my recent blog on the value of conferences a friend asked me about my anti-conference posting (although he agreed […]

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