Listen, people. These conferences are killing us. By “us,” I mean evangelicals. Revoice, MLK50, Together for the Gospel, The Gospel Coalition, the Passion Conference, Asuza, and so many more conferences inundate us, largely with things that are not good. Every week there is a new conference in which heretics share the stage with some otherwise sound brothers. Most recently, it was announced that our dear Alistair Begg would be speaking alongside Beth Moore (may God forbid).
The Doctrine of Godly Separation seems almost inapplicable to sharing pulpits for many evangelicals, which is the one primary place it should matter the most. The fact is, most evangelical leaders will accept any invitation to speak anywhere at any time they are lent the platform, even if it means lending their own credibility to others on the platform.
There are conferences that aren’t totally awful. Founder’s just had a conference which wasn’t bad, and it even had one of my favorite human beings preach, the wonderful Tom Nettles. It also had David Miller, who I think is totes legit. Sovereign Nations has put some good stuff together. They’re not all bad.
However, even G3 and Shepherd’s Conference this year, two conferences we usually highly admire, made the inexplicable (and indefensible) decision to invite upon the platform men who are pushing an ideological Social Justice agenda that the founders of both those conferences oppose. This leaves the rest of us saying, “What the heck?”
I realize that this is an awfully fundamentalist suggestion, but can we just chill with all the conferences for a while? Do we need them?
A few brief issues and/or questions:
1. Are evangelical and Reformed churches so absolutely starved for Bible teaching that we need conferences to feed our people? Do our members need to flock to these conferences to hear good preaching? If so, what are all our pastors doing with their time, if it’s not learning to preach well?
2. Are evangelicals so starved for fellowship that we must attend conferences to socialize with other believers? Have our churches become fast-food religion, a spiritual drive-through, in which we have become starved of all genuine fellowship?
3. Have conferences killed associations and denominations? One might argue, “It’s nice to fellowship with Christians outside our local church.” I agree. It used to be that’s what local church associations and denominational meetings were for. And unlike conferences, which allow fellowship on the most shallow of levels (we all like the same speakers), they provide fellowship based upon mutual partnership and cooperation on real, substantive issues (like mutual missions projects).
4. Do conferences unnecessarily promote celebrity-driven evangelicalism? I’m aware of small conferences that focus on topics or particular doctrines, but let’s be honest…most conferences are all about the celebrity speakers and celebrity musicians. Do we really think that’s healthy in the long term? Did not Christ gift to every church their own pastors and teachers? Does celebrity access diminish and even disregard reverence and listenability to local pastors? Furthermore, because virtually anyone has access to the sermons preached by our favorite celebrity preachers in virtually any form of media (video-streaming, podcasts, etc…), why is it necessary to see them in person if it’s not for the fanboyism of it?
5. Do conferences unnecessarily tempt good teachers to sinfully partner with bad teachers in order to maintain a position on the preaching roster? Are conferences a temptation to the “good guys” to sin by taking the stage with Beth Moore? If so, should we patronize them at all?
6. Are conferences replacing the local church? I know of religious tourists who travel to conferences instead of attending local churches. The music is better. The preaching is better. There’s zero personal accountability. And yes, there are just that many conferences (especially for those in urban areas) that they can attend a different one 52 weeks a year. A church cannot compete in ‘production value’ to a conference that takes a year to prepare in advance. A local church has 6 days to prepare for the next assembly. But if your diet is all-conferences, you’re a spiritual glutton who needs to be content with what’s on your plate at the local church.
7. In regards to women’s conferences, let’s be honest. They’re garbage. They are total, complete garbage. They are emotionalized, doctrinally-shallow, motivational seminars that – by and large – mature godly women don’t attend to begin with. These events are often designed to literally lead captive weak women (2 Timothy 3:6).
8. Conferences are the chief way that bad teaching is coming into the church. Face it; social justice is not coming from the pulpits. Social Justice is coming from the conference stage and then into the church. Many conference organizers let teachers preach from their conference stage who they would never let behind their pulpit. The doctrinal standard is lower at conferences, not higher. That seems to be going the wrong direction from godliness.
I recognize that if you’re a part of the evangelical culture in 2019, you might find it hard to believe it’s possible to exist without Christian conferences. Most of us make an attempt to attend at least 1 or 2 a year, and many of us attend at least once a month as a lifestyle.
In speaking with my closest pastor friends, we are almost in unanimous agreement that there are too many conferences with too many problems associated with them.
So, here’s my challenge. For the next year or two (or three) avoid all conferences that aren’t hosted by the local church for the local church. I’ve turned down a number of speaking invitations at conferences over the last year for this reason. I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with “conference culture.” While I plan on speaking and attending several conferences over the next year at local churches, hosted by local churches, for local churches, I’m choosing to abstain from those conferences that are “free-lance” meetings at large conference centers whose ambition it is to attract as many people as possible for what seems to be the goal of attracting as many people as possible.
If Jesus’ body is the church (and it is) it seems to me that it should be our focus. And given the amount of heretical doctrine floating around out there at conferences, for the time being, I think this is the wisest move altogether. Just avoid them.
Give it a try, and see if you can survive without Christian conferences. I think you’ll be surprised to find out evangelicalism would be the better for it.
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