Why the “Conference Culture” Must Die
Committed Christians go to conferences. Or so the narrative goes. Christian conferences are everywhere, all the time. They are at hotels, convention centers and churches. They also come in all shapes and sizes. You can go to a big conference or a little conference. You can go to a regional conference or a national conference. You can go to a three-day conference of a week-long conference.
As American Christians, we love our conferences. And yet I think if we closely examine this cherished possession, we will find things that are concerning. Below are three very strong reservations that I have about conference culture.
1. It creates immature believers. This point is, doubtless, the epitome of a contrarian position but let me explain. It creates immature believers by making them continually dependent on the teaching of someone else. In Hebrews 5:12-14 we hear:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
The writer makes an interesting point in verse 12. He equates the ability to teach with spiritual maturity. He tells the entire audience to whom he is writing that by now, “you ought to be teachers.” This doesn’t mean that someone preaches sermons every Sunday. What it does mean is that someone can digest the word of God for themselves and teach that to someone else. The desperate thirst for more “solid teaching,” is more indicative of spiritual weakness then anything else. Also notice in verse 14 that solid food is for the mature, “who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice.” The power of discernment is gained through walking with and enjoying Christ in daily practice. The power of discernment is not fomented through hearing more messages.
2. It creates Christians who are more into personalities than Scripture. It needs to be stated and agreed upon that whenever there is a discussion about God or Christ, that scripture should be the primary thing flowing from our lips. One of the inevitabilities of conference culture is that it creates superstar pastors who people begin to quote rather then the Bible. I have caught myself many times (much to my own disappointment) counseling someone with, “You know, I remember when pastor John said [fill in the blank] during a sermon.” Or whenever there is a discussion about a biblical issue we will quote our favorite pastor to support our position. This is something with the grace of Christ that we need to seek repentance from. We have a choice in the Christian life. We can either be people dominated by the Word of God or by something else. A superstar pastor’s book or conference talk is a stealthy substitute for the Word.
3. It discourages practical obedience. The conference culture plays to the part of the human heart that is obsessed with hearing the Word of God. However, we know that Jesus is not looking for people who only like to hear but for those who like obey the Word. We walk away from a conference with many books to read and recordings of all the talks that we heard. This fills our time with more knowledge consumption. All the while, precious time is being lost for loving sacrificial relationships in the Body of Christ and sharing the Gospel with those who need to hear. These things should be our urgency and priority. And no, it’s not a “both/and.” I am arguing for a heart posture that is committed to one or the other. The human heart cannot be split between two desires.
It is for these three reasons above that I hope that conference culture disappears from the evangelical landscape never to return. We would be better off without this idolatrous pillar of the Christian life. I sincerely believe that one of the devil’s best kept secrets is the way in which conferences incapacitate believers for personal ministry and life giving time in the Word of God.
To this end I say, “Die conference culture! Die!”