Why Go to Conferences?

I’ve been known to attend a few conferences in my day. A couple of friends have a variety of nicknames for that – “conference junky”, “gathering groupie”, “event addict” and “brilliant mind” (no one remembers saying the last one but I’m pretty sure it was said or thought – whatever). Truth is, I do try to attend live events as time and responsibility allow. Some of these events are provided for by our church and a number of them, I pay out of my own pocket. Fortunately most lectures are free and now even more events are becoming free. Like the Transform East Coast Gathering that will be in DC May 1 and 2 or Lusanne’s 12 Conversations that will be in NYC this Thursday. (There are other dates and other cities, you should check them out).

I worked with someone who explained to me that attending conferences was “just part of the fake show of everything, even in the church ministry world.” He continued, “You go, tell everybody how big your church is, they tell you that their church is bigger, they say what exciting things God is doing and then you need to keep up so you exaggerate about how exciting your ministry is … I stopped going to these stupid things.” While we all know there is truth in that (regardless of vocation), I am so glad I did not heed the advice. It could be because I attend better events ;-)

I’ll admit that I get awestruck. Yes, I did tweet that I shared an elevator with Dallas Willard (and if I get my picture taken with NT Wright again, I’ll show that off too. He’s like the Derek Jeter of theology you know). People chase down actors, rock stars, and various celebrities, I get excited over Bible nerds – I’m comfortable with that. Truth is, most of these people are really down to earth. I have found pastors of mid-size churches (not ours, he’s awesome) to carry bigger egos than some of these men and women who speak to thousands and have best selling books. But that’s another story.

For me, I want to listen to speakers, pastors, writers, theologians, and various other personalties. Some of these minds are discussing some of the most important topics of the day. Some of them are engaged in some cutting edge ideas and contexts. Some of their words have been life-changing. I will never forget listening to Mike Yaconelli say, “You always get what you get when you do what you always do.” It’ not because he passed away three days after I heard him say that, I wrote that down the second after he said it. I’ll also never forget some of moments on our seminary retreats with Andy Crouch, Larry Walker and Brian McLaren. Then there are personal encounters that won’t be mentioned because of name-dropping is a sin in these parts ;-) But there is something incredible when someone you admire gives you advice regarding your ministry and you leave the conversation knowing there was a very real possibility that they really cared about you and what they told you.

Further, I want to gather with like-minded people and hear their stories, share mine, and leave encouraged, inspired, and maybe even encourage someone else (dare I say). Though I certainly know there can be a snobbiness and a consumer mentality at some of these gatherings, you also get to bump into some truly amazing people. It’s hard to keep in touch with people and build life-long relationships (although Facebook has made things easier), but for me, it’s so good to sit next to a fellow youth pastor who believes in the importance of communicating good theology to teenagers. It’s good to sit next to another pastor that understands that our self-absorption is in part, contributing to some terrible global crisis.

Anyway, conferences, lectures, and other gatherings have proven to be a very good thing for my soul, marriage and family, and ministry. I look forward to future gatherings and maybe even meeting you there. It’s not become a normal occurrence to say or be told, “Hey, I follow you on Twitter…”

Next for me is the NT Wright Conference in Wheaton and Q in Chicago. Aside from connecting in O’Hare, I’ve never been to the great land of Sufjan (Come on Feel the IlliNoise!).  This month, I’ll be there twice. Looking forward to it.

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