In my decade and a half in education, I attended many conferences and conventions, with the vast majority being music and band focused (logical, as I was serving as a band director at the time). I am fairly certain that most of my friends still in that field would agree that there is value in conferences, but also you have to filter through and make decisions about what to attend and what not to attend. Indeed, if offered a conference that pushed an educational or music agenda known to be seriously flawed or even harmful to our students, a discerning educator would avoid that conference.
In the realm of church work, conferences have become a multi-million dollar business. One can find “Christian” conferences on every angle and aspect of church work, methods, growth, and theology. These conferences are put on by denominational entities, publishers, ministry-related businesses, and many other groups. And just like in every other field, there are solid, biblical conferences, as well as those that push and stretch the definition of “Christian” to extremes. I have attended a few, and have a few ministry friends who love attending conferences. Yet a troubling trend is developing that begs for a whole lot more discernment from Christian leaders, especially those who take groups of youth (or adults) to many of these conferences. Discernment that begins, not with snazzy titles or catch phrases. Discernment that goes beyond glossy, high-energy promotional materials. We need a healthy dose of discernment regarding the reality of what is being taught or even promoted by said conferences.
Might I suggest beginning with a sincere look at who the promoters and organizers of said event are. Do they follow a biblically sound statement of faith and purpose? Is the event a profit-driven production? What is the core message (not the advertising catch phrase)?
As a pastor, I am constantly bombarded with advertising through every medium for conferences that cover every corner of ministry, and from many doctrinal and theological perspective. Sadly, many have underlying them, some troubling foundations. First, who are the speakers? An extremely popular conference going on this weekend that several friends are attending called the Passion Conference.0, proudly features a Charismatic self-described woman preacher who espouses Word of Faith, name-it-claim-it theology (Christine Caine). Other popular conferences of late have featured similar slates of speakers from experiential, charismatic speakers with similar questionable doctrines mixed in with other, more reliable speakers. Many of our Christian leaders gladly take group ® young believers to these conferences, where they sometimes are taught that experience trumps genuine faith and obedience. Where consumerist church is demonstrated, and pragmatic/experience-based revelation is often more valuable than the Word of God, rightly proclaimed.
Don’t get me wrong, we could learn a few things from some ministries that may be somewhat different than our own. Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer published a book a few years ago titled Transformational Church. In that book, the authors did research-based investigation of somnolence fastest growing congregations in the nation, examining the useful parts of what those groups were doing to impact their communities. They did not deal with denominational or doctrinal issues, but instead sought the functional things these congregations and leaders were doing that really made a difference. This book has a great deal of useful information, without a heavy promotion of the various theologies espoused by those studied.
But when one attends a conference, the speakers are under no constraints. How many churches our own association would invite a Charismatic, oneness Pentecostal, Word-Of-Faith preacher to be a guest preacher or to lead revival services? Yet would we will load up a bus and take impressionable young believers to be influenced by the same teaching?
At best, we present a form of stumbling block of confusion to our brethren. Much worse, we may actually be endorsing theologies and doctrines that fly in the face of Biblical Christianity.
Discernment…not just another big word in the a bible, but a command to believers, and particularly to Christisn leaders in the church, for the sake of the faith and our brethren.