I have been in “the church” now for about 35 years of my life. In that time, I’ve been to over 150 conferences. Small ones, big ones, ones on worship, ones on something prophetic I don’t even remember. Big names, unknowns, and training and marketing… I’ve worked on their boards, assisted their leaders, and trained volunteers. I’ve perpetuated a machine I wish now I could go back and disassemble.
Not one conference deepened my walk with Christ. Not one conference was the turning point in my whole walk with God. In fact the opposite. Many of them cause more confusion in my walk than helped. Only weekly teaching and community in my local church, with my church “family” has given me the tools and relationships I’ve needed to walk with Jesus.
I’m seeing “Conference Christianity” grow people into “believers” that are a mile wide and an inch deep and are more attracted to events than relationships or deep spiritual teaching. I’m seeing participation replace discipleship, and the newest book tour and bible study replace the Word of God in many instances.
Conferences are a good tool to disseminate a good amount of information to a large number of people. They aren’t all entirely bad and I won’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, but I’ve seen a trend and I’m getting concerned.
When Jesus established His church, he did so in relationship with the one He handed it to (Peter). As we further read into the NT, we see that churches were established organically by going person to person (and they grew in number daily). Usually an apostle preached, taught and established doctrine and then leadership in a community, again in relationship. Sometimes they would immediately move on and repeat this process. Many times this took months or even years to do. It was not done in cookie cutter fashion. In fact if you read Paul’s writings, he specifically and intimately wrote to each church. He knew each leader, the church’s weaknesses and strengths and was personally invested in them. That’s how God is with us; it’s how God wants His leaders to be with their flocks, and how we are to be with each other in relationship.
There has been a prolific “prophetic speaker/book tour” movement that has seemed to take over our church. It’s growing yearly and I’m seeing more and more people say “if I can only write that book and get a tour”. Again, I’m not saying having a speaker in or having a book or tour is in itself a bad thing. I’m just concerned that we so often put our stamp of approval on something because it has nice packaging or a broad reach.
I believe ultimately that God is calling us back to the organic “local church” model. In fact, I don’t think it has ever been God’s intention that we ever abandon it! Jesus established the “local church” himself. Within that structure is where we find relationships, which are where we find healing, goading, pruning, sometimes fire, and often family. Without this intimate setting, the church is just another type of club where people sing and listen to a speaker. I’ll go to a concert and a TED talk if I merely want that.
Conference Christianity says that if I want to be a Christian, I just have to respond to an emotional plea (and have you been in a large crowd cheering for a team? Herd mentality says you will probably cheer along… if lots of people are doing something, you will tend to join in… it’s our nature)… but what now? What happens after the conference? You said yes to this Jesus guy… you feel odd. You don’t know what to do. You may have been given a booklet or a bible and patted on the back and filled out an information card. Someone may or may not contact you and talk to you after. But now what? Where is your community? What have you really said yes to? And do you fully understand the gospel or did you just get emotional because of what the speaker said?
My biggest heartache of some of the larger churches I’ve been involved with (many of them modeled on the conference mentality) individuals fall through the cracks. Someone fills out a card… only to never be heard from again or followed up on. Everyone thinks someone else is doing it, and real humans who filled out those cards are left to wonder what happened.
Again, I know real people get really saved in these things sometimes… God can use anything, but how many people last long term? Have we taken the time to find out? And what happens to the local church when these conferences or movements leave town? Do they follow the emotional rollercoaster and let down after the conference/event/revival leaves town?
I’ve seen some churches ride on wave after wave of conferences looking for the next “big name” or “move of God” to happen when God is moving hugely in the quiet times in the little churches down the road not spending thousands of dollars to buy billboards for a conference.
The more I really read the Word for myself I see this underlying theme of consistent, deliberate, steady plodding. A deep maturity that only comes through the daily in and out of life, and with the tribe of “family” that God has surrounded you with to exhort, admonish, and encourage you. Deep down I think this is what people are really looking. Unfortunately most places you will find that don’t have a billboard or a large conference scheduled.
Most people aren’t looking for a spectacle or a big movement. Most people are looking for authentic intimacy and acceptance. My church just put up a big vinyl sign over the doors into our sanctuary that says “authenticity acceptance action”… YES. That is what we all crave. We are more deeply moved by our neighbor getting intimately involved in our life than we are the latest book tour or prophetic-fire-wind-key-dropping-feather-blowing tour….
So what do we do? We stop perpetuating this cycle. We go to conferences only if they are going to truly train us to be the LOCAL BODY of Christ. We stop pouring our money into ministries that are perpetuating the same things they did 10 years ago that draws attention away from the local body that breathes life into the lives within it.
We pray that in our own churches and our own lives, we realize we don’t need the newest book, or the current spiritual fad/movement to bring us closer to God. We need Jesus, daily, and in community.
We need “local church, spiritual family, Christianity”.