We are approaching the Fall Season and, with it, conferences. It is such a busy season with school starting and Fall activities, and thinking about fitting a conference in can be a challenge. We have to weigh the potential benefit versus the sacrifice of participating. I remember reading a lament from a Christian leader about the shortcomings of conferences.
“I’m done with Christian conferences. I’ve really tried. But something just isn’t working anymore…At this point, I’m not sure if it’s just me or the whole system of Christian Conferences. I’m guessing it’s probably a bit of both…I mean, maybe if I had a How to Fall In Love With Jesus book to sell or a charity to promote or a cause to rally around–then maybe Conferences would make more sense for me. You know, in a network-y, business-y kind of way.”
Christian conferences can be both challenging to get to and, at the same time, leave us unfulfilled in our everyday walk. We have all probably experienced the post-conference crash. We return to real everyday life with the people God calls us to walk with, and the conference anointing seems to fade. During conferences, we are whipped into a Spiritual and emotional frenzy: “GOD IS REALLY HERE, and HOLY SPIRIT IS REALLY MOVING, can’t you feel Him?” The downside of conferences is that they can have little connection with real life.
God’s Design for Conference-Type Gatherings Among His People
Is there any greater Biblical basis for conferences? Do they have a bearing on our everyday life in God? Are they that important to make all that investment of time and money to attend?
Some non-Biblical motivations for conferences. Don’t go if…
- They have super worship teams and technology that we don’t have in our local church. That etching of the cross with fire on the screen while we sing Jesus is my boyfriend really takes me places in God that I can’t get to back home, ugh!!!
- I get to hear gifted anointed messages from celebrity speakers, unlike the leaders at my local church.
- The connections and “fellowship” are so amazing with people who don’t really have any of the idiosyncrasies or problems like the people back home.
- The food at the afterglow and the coffee bar are so amazing. We don’t even get regular coffee at my church.
- There is something like a Holy Ghost conference anointing/culture that really charges my Spiritual batteries.
- I get to meet some influential leaders who may open doors for my ministry.
While some of these reasons can have some merit, by and large, they are not a Biblical motivation for attending conferences, especially among families of God’s people we are in a relationship with. I am not trying to be negative about conferences. After all, Jesus went to conferences. By the time Jesus came on the scene, God’s people had three annual festivals that people were required to attend. It meant that many people had to travel at great effort and costs to get there (think of the story about Jesus at 12 years of age getting separated from His family while traveling back home from a conference). Luke 2:41 Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover and on the way home they noticed Jesus missing.
The three annual feasts/conferences were (Ex 23:14-17, 34:18-23, Deut 16:1, 9-10, 13, 16-17, 26:16):
- Passover – Feast of Unleavened Bread
- Pentecost – Feast of Weeks, Feast of Firstfruits
- Tabernacles – Feast of Ingathering
In addition to these, there were also periodic and annual observances:
- The blowing of trumpets
- Day of Atonement
- Seventh-Year Sabbath
- Sabbath Year of Jubilee
What was the Biblical basis for these annual festivals? One main reason was to help reinforce their identity as a greater family/nation. Every conference reminded them of aspects of their history as the family of God. It helped remind them of their calling and that they were part of a bigger family and purpose. I like how the Easton Bible Dictionary expresses the important place of the annual conferences.
These festivals, besides their religious purpose, had an important bearing on the maintenance among the people of the feeling of a national unity. It was about national identity, they belonged to something bigger than their tribe.
When God’s people lost sight of their identity as part of a greater family, bad things tended to happen. J. Sidlow Baxter wrote about this in his introduction to the Book of Judges, He expressed the experience and danger among God’s people of becoming isolated from God’s greater family.
Each tribe of Israel had become mostly isolated from the other tribes. Therefore, without leadership, they repeatedly fell into idolatry, foreign political domination, intermarriage with pagans, and other major sins. They were in a general state of spiritual confusion. A key verse, says: “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judg.17v6)… They were surrounded by hostile nations who wanted the land which the Israelites had taken, the land which God had promised to them as an inheritance. They had lost their sense of national unity under God, and they were an easy prey for enemy invasion.
We can belong to a network, denomination, and even a family of churches but still be isolated. A phrase that embodies God’s design for His people is that we are to both “BELIEVE and BELONG.” We want God’s design for the reality of being part of a greater family to be reinforced among us. We are GOD’S FAMILY TOGETHER ON GOD’S MISSION. And yes, some of those “conference-y” types of things will also happen.
Eph 2:18-22 MSG Through Jesus we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father. That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles….You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building.