Thinking About Conferences
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This week's Connected Kingdom podcast deals with conferences, their strengths and weaknesses, and the ways in which I benefit from them. You've got two options: You can read the transcript below or you can listen in by clicking on the audio player. If you listen in, you'll be able to hear the two of us interact a little bit.
I have had the privilege of attending an awful lot of conferences over the past few years. At first I went as a liveblogger, sitting through each session and tapping out a summary of what the speaker said. More recently I have gone as an attender or sometimes even as a speaker. I suppose this means that I’ve seen conferences from just about every angle.
I like conferences and I believe in their value. Of course, like every other good thing in life, they demand moderation. I have met genuine conference groupies, people who follow conferences like Deadheads follow the Grateful Dead. I have met pastors whose churches allow them to attend five major conferences each year. I can’t imagine how that can be healthy or financially-sustainable! But a conference or two a year can offer times of learning, refreshment and relationship that can benefit any Christian, whether a layperson or a pastor.
I believe there are several different ways you can benefit from a conference.
The most obvious benefit of a conference is in the teaching. In the Christian world in general, and in this segment of the Christian world in particular, we have no shortage of great conferences featuring wonderful speakers. There are the usual suspects: Ligonier, Shepherd’s, Desiring God, Together for the Gospel, Gospel Coalition, and many others. Each one of them draws well-known, highly-skilled teachers and many thousands of attendees. Then there are, literally, hundreds of smaller events. There is no doubt: We are well-served by conferences.
I believe in the teaching value of conferences, and particularly so when the event has a well-defined theme. Hearing several people teach on a common subject, moving from the beginning to end of a topic, can be powerful and effective. I don’t think I will ever forget the Desiring God conference that looked at Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. That teaching genuinely changed me. I definitely won’t ever forget R.C. Sproul’s message at the 2008 Together for the Gospel conference where he looked at the curse motif of the Old Testament. Thousands of people sat transfixed as he led us to the cross and to the curse that was laid upon Jesus. It was an intensely powerful moment. I am hearing similar stories from David Platt’s message at this year’s Together for the Gospel.
I believe in conferences for their value in teaching. If teaching is high on your list, consider Together for the Gospel or Gospel Coalition to sit under the teaching of some of today’s most popular preachers. If you prefer an event that sticks closely to a theme, consider Ligonier Ministries or Desiring God’s annual general conferences. And, of course, be sure to look for events that may come to your local area. Go and learn.
Conferences also have great people value and, in my experience, this may be the greatest and most lasting benefit. Teaching is wonderful, of course, but what I love about conferences is the way they bring people together. In the midst of a digital world, conferences provide one of the only sources of real connectivity that most of us experience. I have emailed with Brian Croft a hundred times, but at last week’s Together for the Gospel I was finally able to meet him, to put a face to the name, to share a meal with him. The Internet gives us the ability to form relationships with more people and often we form these relationships based on common interests. Conferences take people of common interest and give them a good reason to be together in a common space.
When I attend a conference I love to meet new people and form real-world relationships with them. I also love to meet up with people I’ve met before. There are actually plenty of people--friends even--that I’ve only ever been face-to-face with at a conference. These events offer a great opportunity to be with people. So when you go to a conference, be sure that you set aside some time to be with people even if this has to come at the expense of some of the teaching.
If the people value of an event is high on your list, be sure to consider Shepherd’s Conference or The Basics Conference; both of these events offer a relaxed schedule and plenty of opportunities to spend time with people, including the speakers.
Finally, conferences have a unique ability to get you excited, to get you pumped up about things that interest you. This can be either a great benefit or a great drawback; there are many people who go to a conference and come back pumped up about something that will soon fade away again. But for many more, a conference will renew and refresh. It will refresh them physically or mentally, allowing the teacher to receive some teaching or the busy mom to take a couple of days to get away from the normal routines. The excitement of a conference serves to stir up old feelings, to renew things long forgotten or neglected. It offers a different context or a different way of hearing things and this can be very powerful.
There you have three reasons to attend a conference this year—for teaching, for relationships and for the excitement of doing so. Each of these reasons is valid; each of them is good.
If you choose to listen to the audio recording, you will hear David and me interact a little bit.
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