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This week, Together for the Gospel is being held in downtown Louisville. This time next year, The Gospel Coalition will be held in Indianapolis. Between now and then, dozens, if not hundreds of large, evangelical conferences will take place across the United States, and really throughout the world.
Conferences are often derided for any number of reasons, and some of the criticism is fair. No conference is perfect. Every conference, its speakers, and its accommodations have their flaws. They could be more racially diverse. They could be less celebratory of celebrity pastors. They could be so much better in so many ways. But they aren’t, and that’s OK.
Like so many things in life and ministry, Christian conferences can be mistaken as the end of ministry when they are no more than the means. We are wrong when we think so highly of conferences that we hope to be on stage one day or we wish our church was more like the conferences.
We are wrong to make idols of the stage or the people on it, and it can be easy to do so. But, that doesn’t mean the conference isn’t helpful or good, either.
So, the question one may ask is, “If conferences can be messed up and can lead me to idolatry, why should I even consider going?
Once a year or so, it’s nice to take a few days, step back from the daily grind and the monotonous routine of life to meet new people, hold encouraging conversations, and forge forever friendships. Whether you do that with your church or organization staff in a cabin in the woods, in a house by the beach, or over a few days at a conference, it’s nice to retreat to a place and be encouraged.
The conference isn’t about the speakers. It’s not about the travel. It’s not about the food. It’s not even about the free books. Everyone gets something else out of the conference, but ultimately, Christian conferences are most valuable when they’re used for friendship and encouragement.
It’s so cool to walk around the conference center or the book store or the coffee shop, strike up a conversation with a total stranger, and be encouraged. I have made a number of friends at conferences over the years, and have even squeezed a job opportunity or two out of them.
Conferences aren’t about celebrity worship. Is it cool to hear some of the best writers and speakers you know live? Of course it is, but for many, and definitely for me, that’s not really the point. The point is building relationships with people who are gathered with you in the same place for the same reason for a short period of time.
The local church is God’s Plan A for his work in the world, and there is no Plan B. The local church needs to be the primary place through which we minister and by whom we led in our walks with Christ. But, the Christian conference space, no matter which one(s) you like to attend, is a blessing.
If you’re at Together for the Gospel this week, remember to make a new friend and grab a cup of coffee with someone you’ve never met before. If you haven’t ever attended a Christian conference or haven’t in some time, make time in your schedule and space in your budget to stop by The Gospel Coalition next year, or another conference you’d like more than that one.
You’ll be encouraged. I always am.
What’s the point of Christian conferences? Well, it depends, but for me, the point is to build friendships through encouraging conversations with complete strangers.