The Three-Day Conference-Based Pastorate
The three-day conference is a study in contrasts. It’s perhaps the best and worst thing to happen to pastoral education over the last 20 years. You know what I’m talking about. A mega-church docket of names who will speak in a rented civic center in a major city. A big stage, lots of loudspeakers, lights and video screens, and plenty of hair product in the long golden locks of the worship band.
Church growth, worship and teaching conferences can be compelling, inspiring and engaging. They can also be damaging to the pastor and to the church if not approached in the proper context. There is a tremendous temptation when attending a compelling conference to forget the tremendous forethought and preparation that goes into the entire event. There’s so much “eye candy” that the attendee can hardly take it all in. And, in fact, the danger is that the look, the themes, the whole “package” of what is seen becomes the goal, the great “wish list” of the pastor who wants his preaching, worship services and production value to be just like—well, what’s he watching, of course.
This leads to “conference-based pastors”. All look, with plenty of cool videos to show and on top of the latest musical trends, but whose preaching has the depth of a birdbath and is worth just about as much. I’ve been to many great conferences over the years, and I’m always encouraged by the next generation of upcoming leaders and how God is using them to teach and train others. But I’m also wary of them to some degree when I see church leaders attending, their eyes glazed over as they scoop up ever hip-looking brochure and booklet to take home and try to reproduce, pound for pound from their own pulpits. Here’s how to avoid the conference pitfalls:
Know why you are attending a conference. I’m always disappointed in church staff meetings if I hear a leader meticulously talking through what they saw at a conference, in hopes of duplicating it somehow. Rather, I’m more compelled to hear about what someone learned. A conference exists to help a church leader learn new avenues and techniques for ministry, examine what they are currently doing, encourage them in their ministry and challenge them to improve where possible. If you’re going as a sponge intending to mind-photocopy the conference contents, give it up. You’ll only frustrate your team and yourself trying to duplicate what you saw at “that super incredible conference” that nobody else around you went to or cares about.
Put conference experiences in the context of God’s Word. The majority of conferences I’ve attended have been God-honoring and incredible experiences. However, I can honestly look at a few that I believe pushed leaders in the wrong direction, or just weren’t biblically accurate. Listen carefully to the conference contents and constantly be comparing what you hear to God’s Word. Also put a conference into context of your education and experiences. Many a pastor has spent literally years in seminary and higher educational study to lead the church, only to hit a three-day conference and toss out that hard-fought knowledge in favor of fads and fancy fittings. A conference is at best an educated opinion, a thoughtful example, and nothing more. The very best conference is no substitute for a thorough knowledge of God’s Word and the desire to apply it daily.
Adapt versus adopt. Finally, let’s face it, few of us have the resources to do what a first-class conference can do from a logistical standpoint. When taking ideas from a conference, look to adapt the underlying biblical elements to your church, rather than to adapt or lift the conference elements that most impressed you and try to copy them at your own church. Your congregation is unique—copying other leaders’ work seldom results in anything praiseworthy. Instead, look to take those elements most applicable to your congregation, and communicate them in a way that will connect with them and use your own church’s strengths.
Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.