Dan left this question in the comments section of a previous post:
I have been to quite a few conferences over the years and I always feel encouraged, rejuvenated, alive, etc. while AT those conferences… but then we go back to our churches – and over time, that zeal tends to be overshadowed, once again, by the mundane, the rut, the blahs, of real life/ministry. Any comments or suggestions on what we can all do to deal with that?
Are conferences beneficial? They can be. And if we’re going to invest time and money into them, they should be. God can use conferences to alter a person’s life and ministry. They can also be a colossal waste of time, energy, and money. For many of us they’re what Dan describes – a temporary shot in the arm which quickly fades amidst the challenges and responsibilities of everyday life.
It’s important to remember that conferences can never replace every day involvement in the local church. While I’m grateful for all I’ve learned and experienced at conferences over the years, I’m aware that Jesus came to build a Church, not conferences. My greatest and most lasting joys are found in walking out my faith with believers each day, being built together into a church where the transforming effects of the Gospel can be clearly seen and experienced.
That being said, I think there are three ways to benefit from a conference – before, during, and after.
Before the conference
Pray that God will use this conference for His purposes in your life. And ask questions. Do I respect those who are hosting the conference? Is this going to serve my local church? Do I have a good reason for going? Good reasons can include understanding a topic more biblically, receiving practical helps and ideas for ministry, interacting with people outside your church or denomination, be spiritually renewed, or build with your leadership team (if you go together). If there are people at the conference you want to meet, you might schedule a meal in advance.
Bad reasons to go to a conference include going because the advertising was cool, it’s a really HUGE conference and EVERYONE is going, you have some extra vacation time to use up, or because there will be a lot of famous people there. Not all well-known speakers, authors, or musicians are worth hearing. Not all conferences are worth attending.
During the conference
Conventional wisdom is to attend every meeting that’s offered. That’s good counsel. Obviously I go to benefit from what’s being taught. I want to take good notes, ask a lot of questions, and get enough rest. But I don’t assume I should attend every session that’s offered. I’m also there to interact with people, research new tools for ministry, and buy books or other resources. I can always get messages on CD, but I may miss opportunities to have edifying conversations with others.
Our pastoral team has attended many conferences together over the years. Much of the fruit from those trips has come from casual conversations with each other or other attendees over meals or while standing around. A new environment often produces new perspectives and fresh faith for tasks at home.
After the conference
Attending an event, hearing a lot of great teaching, and being emotionally moved is NOT the same thing as actually changing. And change is what God is after. He is making us into the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29).
Review your notes and listen to the best messages again. And again. Repetition helps move us from being affected by truth to actually applying it. If you were emotionally affected by the conference, seek to understand why. What were you thinking? What truth can you meditate on? What preceded your being affected?
My 19 year old daughter shared with me that during the Friday night meeting at the WorshipGod06 conference, she clearly saw God’s mercy to her through Christ and experienced real joy. I asked her what preceded that moment, and she wasn’t sure. Then we realized the corporate confession had made her aware of her need for forgiveness before God. When we then sang songs about Christ’s finished work, they had a significant impact on her. So, in the future, rather than simply pursue a “feeling” of God’s forgiveness, she can remind herself of her sinfulness and Christ’s full payment for her sin through the cross.
One final point. It’s good to immediately seek to apply a few specific points from the conference. Too often we promise that we’ll review the conference “eventually” and never do, or we try to apply everything at once. Neither approach is very effective.
Hope that’s helpful for future conferences you might attend. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you’ve conserved the fruit from conferences you’ve attended.