Posted in discernment, Uncategorized

Are there too many conferences?

Christians today have many opportunities to attend any conference of one’s choosing. Might I say a plethora of choices?

There’s conferences for men.
T4G. Sing! MLK50. TGC West Coast. G3. Cutting It Straight. ShepCon. LigCon. Right Now.

There’s conferences for youth.
Passion. Urbana18. RiseUp. GraceLife Youth conference. Salt & Light. Momentum. Ignite. KingdomYouth.

There’s conferences for women (mostly false).
Living Proof Conference. Unwrap the Bible. IF:Gathering. The Word Alive. Women of Joy. Love Life by Joyce Meyer Ministries. Women of the Word. Women of Purpose. Extraordinary Women.

There’s conferences for (mostly) false teachers and (mostly) false Christians.
Bethel Conference. Catalyst Conference. Amplify. Charisma.

Of course there are many more. And many more on other continents. Conferences (and their simulcasts) are a thriving cottage industry in the global church. And of course each conference has its own claims of how good and necessary it is for you, the pastor/man/woman/youth/church planter/missionary/any demographic to attend.

  • The Outreach Summit is unlike any other church leader conference. Only at The Summit will you meet and hear from the pastors of the most innovative and fastest growing churches in America.
  • The Gateway Conference desires to share practical wisdom for cultivating real growth by …
  • MinCon quickly gained the reputation as a conference of excellence, offering an incredible hands-on experience at an affordable price for teams and churches all across the Pacific NW.
  • Catalyst West is a 2-day conference to help leaders like you build great churches, grow strong teams, and be a catalyst for change
  • We’ve gathered some of the nation’s best leaders to share their wisdom with you. (Small Town Pastor’s Conference has a list of leaders different from the other conference sharing wisdom with you…)
  • We’ve gathered some of the nation’s best leaders to share their wisdom with you. (Right Now Conference has different speakers than the other conference sharing wisdom with you…)
  • We hope that during your time with us, you will be able to relax, build new relationships, and leave more excited about this calling than ever before.
  • When you discover how to leverage your talents as an entrepreneur, leader, or pastor, you cultivate a more meaningful impact in your business or leadership endeavors. (This was a PASTOR’s conference…not a Google or Amazon business practice gathering, believe it or not)

Some of the ones I read sound like a business model more fitting for Google or AT&T than a church.

Is it too much of a good thing? Is it possible that there are too many conferences that, mixed with the good ones, the bad ones draw away congregants and introduce false notions? Can even the good ones be potentially problematic? I believe so. Though there are many good conferences, I believe the time has come to be more discriminating and skeptical of what today’s Christian conference is offering. Please bear with me as I share some thoughts on why many conferences can be dangerous to one’s spiritual health.

1. False confessions

A few years ago as I followed David Platt taking the reins of the International Mission Board as President in August 2014. Known for his dedication to missions, Platt was to speak at the annual Student Missions Conference at Urbana in St. Louis MO in December 2015 (as he usually does each year.) The conference is aimed at college students. Curious, I tuned in. The conference’s own language describes it as a “catalytic event” in a “sacred space”. A catalytic event means they want to use the speeches, emotional reactions from music, and teenage momentum to get attendees to DO something in missions. The conference is the catalyst for that. It’s their aim.

Though the conference is not aimed at non-Christians because it’s a mission oriented event and not an evangelistic conference, the organizers acknowledge that non-believers do attend. Therefore at the conclusion of the main event, speakers put out a Gospel call to make a decision for Christ. At Urbana 15, Mr Platt asked attendees who had decided for Christ to raise their glowsticks and wave them. It was later stated that 681 students did.

Is this how people come to the cross and enter the kingdom? By responding to a one-hour lecture and deciding, and waving a glowstick? Perhaps the Spirit did use the event to regenerate some, but in high-emotional and religious-pressured environments, at events where youths are separated from parents and other adults, is a concoction rife with potential for false conversions. I had a hard time believing that 681 people were converted at once, though @UrbanaMissions claimed 681 were by calling them new Christians. The same thing happens at the youth-aimed Passion conference. Photos, and more explanation about Urbana 15’s decisional regeneration and pronouncement of new believers, here.

2. False Doctrine

At far too many conferences lay the potential to propagate false doctrine. Churches are supposed to be tightly closed. There are membership standards, behavioral expectations, stringent qualifications for leaders, and biblical discipline. In the best of worlds, that is how it’s supposed to work. Because it used to be hard for satan to get into the pulpit, satan develops ways to get around that. The Sunday School curriculum, the Children’s Ministry leader, the book clubs for woman, the church library, parachurches. And now in modern times, with travel so easy – conferences. I don’t think I need to use many specifics here, you know what I’m talking about.

The ridiculous conferences are easy enough to spot, and even the solid ones have a hard time maintaining the gate these days, as the issue with Grace To You/Grace Community Church & TGC West Coast recently showed us. Executive Director of GTY, Phil Johnson, said of the of GCC Elders’ decision to bow out of hosting TGC West Coast’s “Enduring Faithfulness” conference was ultimately that,

Some of the seminars featured points of view or speakers that stand in stark opposition to what we teach at Grace Church and Grace to You. Other seminars seemed merely to miss the point of “enduring faithfulness” entirely, and some were also arguably tangential to any core gospel truths. We felt the seminars collectively failed to convey what is most necessary for cultivating true, steadfast faith.

3. Too Many Speakers to Vet

In the past, conferences used to feature just a few well-known speakers. By “well-known” I don’t mean celebrity pastors, but faithful pastors who have endured long and have a proven track record as to their doctrine. Nowadays, some conferences feature up to 200 speakers. While you could look up the keynote speakers to check, though that in itself is time consuming as the roster of keynote speakers grows, it is impossible to “vet” all the speakers of breakout sessions. So when one of the members of your church attends a breakout session, it could be led by someone who is teaching an unbiblical doctrine, or one that your church does not hold. As a matter of fact, given the times we live in and the methods satan uses, this is likely. In fact, this was one of the reasons that Grace Community Church elders decided to bow out of hosting The Gospel Coalition West Coast Conference. Though they had trust in the keynote speakers, a number of other speakers were added afterwards. As Phil Johnson explains, this was problematic.

Some of the seminars featured points of view or speakers that stand in stark opposition to what we teach at Grace Church and Grace to You.

Below on the left, a screenshot of the recent MLK50 conference speaker lineup, on the right, The Gospel Coalition West Coast Conference this coming October 2018. How is a parent/husband/discerning person supposed to vet all of them? Can’t.

4. Many Conferences Feature Stretched Complementarian Boundaries

One of the most hotly contested areas of doctrine in church culture (and secular culture) today is the role of women. The correct biblical stance is that women are not to be teachers of men, leaders over men, or pastors in the local church. They are not to have authority over men. (1 Timothy 2:12). However, women can teach children, or other women, or in a home setting as Priscilla did with Aquila. This tiny bit of leeway has given satan an inch, and he has taken it by a mile. I’ve noticed over the recent years how many women are now speakers at mixed-gender conferences. Young women at that.

At Delivered By Grace, Josh Buice hits the nail on the head:

While women are permitted to discuss biblical theology in a mixed group setting such as a Sunday school class, women teaching children or other women (Titus 2), or in a private setting such as with Apollos’ instruction that was gleaned from meeting with Priscilla and Aquila—biblical teaching, when among the church as a whole or a mixed audience should be led by men. It seems clear that Paul was addressing an issue that was taking place in the life of the church and needed to be corrected.

When it comes to teaching men in our present day, we have the conference culture that often stretches these complementarian boundaries. This is a dangerous practice, since conferences are designed to strengthen the church and to in many ways model what the local church should be promoting in their local assemblies—ie., expository preaching, sound biblical theology, and other important, if not essential, practices. Therefore, to have women stand and open the Bible and teach a group of men in a conference setting is not beneficial to the Church represented in the conference from many different local churches. Such stretching of the boundaries is a common practice in our day and we should be cautious when we see women teachers invited to speak to a mixed audience.

5. We are being made merchandise of

2 Peter 2:3 says that the false teachers will exploit the believers and make merchandise of us. Barnes’ Notes says,

Make merchandise of you – Treat you not as rational beings but as a bale of goods, or any other article of traffic. That is, they would endeavor to make money out of them, and regard them only as fitted to promote that object.

There are conferences that have a goal to teach well, and to serve hard. Shepherds’ Conference is one that I know of. But too often the case is the opposite. There is a reason many conferences’ blurbs sound like an entrepreneurial business advertisement- because they are a business. The larger the conference gets the more the organizers have to recoup money from renting the venue, paying accommodations and travel expenses, or the like. The false teachers flock there to flog their book, sell their latest book. Tee shirts, trinkets and more is all for sale.

I attended one conference where the food vendors inside the arena were selling food at fantastical prices. Simple game day type food like pizza and hot dogs were for sale at high prices. Perhaps the organizer had nothing to do with this and could not prevent it, but the atmosphere left one feeling, well, exploited. We had just arrived after a long drive, had no time to go anywhere else for food, and the conference was about to start. We were trapped and had no alternative but to pay the demanded prices.

Just as the money changers at the Temple began as a good idea, soon filthy lucre made its way into the courtyard and what started as a service soon became exploitation. It is no different now.

I think conferences can be great. Pastors can gather with other pastors and be refreshed. The ebullience of youth can accomplish much when properly directed. Woman believers, many of whom are stay-at-home moms, can collect with other women and be edified.

However there are dangers to be considered. When believers are away from their home church, especially youths and women, satan can enter in more easily. Remember what happens to the limping gazelle in all the wildlife programs. Separated out from the herd, they are vulnerable. (1 Peter 5:8)

False doctrine spread by false teachers or unknown or unvetted teachers can be propagated in their lectures or their books. These seeds of evil can be brought home and planted in the home church. Boundaries can be stretched, poor models of lifestyle presented, discontent sown. Please consider carefully when desiring to attend a large conference. Many are good. But of late, they can more often be an entrepreneurial business opportunity for the organizers, and you their potential merchandise … or spiritual target.

 

Posted in discernment, Uncategorized

Ladies, do you want to fulfill your potential? (Think hard before you say yes)

Someone on Twitter asked if we could recommend any good women’s conferences centering on faithful Biblical exposition and an unrelenting love for the church. This was my reply:

Good conferences centering on faithful Biblical exposition &an unrelenting love for the church are any from MacArthur, G3, TMU’s Truth & Life conference, etc. I’m not an advocate of separate women’s conferences. Women need theology, so, “Conference”, not “Women’s conference” IMO.

Below is why I prefer men’s conferences, exactly this, as a reader alerted me to a few days after the Twitter inquiry-

caine

The Dallas Seminary’s Women’s Leadership conference concluded a few days ago. Christine Caine as the keynote speaker makes me so sad, because she teaches things unworthy of Christ. Through this invitation, the Dallas Seminary gives Caine credibility. Think of how many women are negatively influenced and exposed to her, or even when they see the line-up of speakers on the website.

I looked up the Bios of the other women who were on the schedule at the Leadership conference. A pattern emerged.

Have you noticed this phrase very often? It’s become a constant to many women’s ministry bios and purpose statements.

Her mission in life is to equip and inspire women to reach their full potential in Christ.

It sounds good. “Full potential.” Who wouldn’t want to reach their full potential, especially “in Christ”? It sounds great. Here are some more Ministry purpose statements I found along those lines.

[This ministry] exists to serve the local church, leaders, organizations, and individuals by inspiring and helping them connect with their God-given potential and purpose.

[This ministry] believes in the passion, purpose, and potential of every woman everywhere.

[This Teacher] has committed her life to equipping women of all ages, regardless of marital status, with practical, biblical truth to help them live more genuine lives.

I share this dream with some amazing friends… to gather and equip and unleash a generation of women.

According to these teachers in their ministry purpose statements, I can be genuine, reach my full potential, be ‘unleashed’ (because I’m shackled now, right?), find my purpose, and more. Sounds good.

Except it’s wrong. Ministry isn’t about me. It isn’t about my potential. It isn’t about my life. It isn’t about my purpose. We do ministry for an entirely different reason. A reason that has its focus not on ourselves, looking laterally. We look up.

My potential is this: as a sinner I have the utter and constant potential to sin. (Genesis 6:5). Sinners gossip, steal, covet, murder, lust, and more. That is what sinners do. It is what we have the “potential” for. As a believer, my potential is in Christ, and will be fully realized in Christ when He comes. When we are glorified our potential will be full, but not until then. As it is now, as long as we’re not raptured or dead and dwelling in heaven until the Day, we have the total potential to sin. More than potential, actually.

We have the Holy Spirit as a help and an aid to resist our sin-nature. The more we grow, the more we can resist sin through the Holy Spirit’s help. But we do sin. Paul remarked about that, and if there was any believer who had a shot at reaching his “full potential”, as Christine Caine puts it, it was him. Yet he still struggled with doing what he didn’t want to do, and didn’t do what he wanted.

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (Romans 7:15-20).

The kind of ministry purpose statements I read and quoted some above sound more like a fortune cookie than deeply committed evangelical purpose. It’s like that funny blog essay Challies did, ‘Joel Osteen or Fortune Cookie?’  Joel Osteen was selected as the unwitting target because he is well-known for issuing nebulous platitudes instead of firmly proclaiming the Word. We can play the same game. “Ministry Purpose Statement or Confucian saying?” Confucius was a Chinese philosopher who lived in around 500 BC. Here is an example:

The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.

It’s a Confucian saying, but if we add “in Christ” to the end it might well match any of the liberal Christian ministry purpose statements we find of the type I’m talking about.

I wish these ministries would have in their purpose statements and their leader bios, something like this:

“Helping women learn who Christ is through the study of His word.”

Or,

“Helping women to learn theology so we bring honor to Christ in our lives and deeds.”

Or,

“Women together studying the person, life, work, and ministry of Jesus Christ.”

Or,

“Studying His word so as to transform our minds and become more Christ-like.”

Or,

“Encouraging women to study God’s revelation to us through His written word.”

If you’re checking out a ministry online and see something like the me-statements mentioned above, promising full potential or unleashing or finding your purpose, beware. Alternately, just because a ministry puts up a solid-seeming purpose statement, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily solid. There’s this purpose statement for a famous ministry, which sounds fantastic:

[This ministry] is dedicated to encourage people to come to know and love Jesus Christ through the study of Scripture.

Sadly, the about statement of purpose is Beth Moore’s at Living Proof. Rather, her purpose statement should read:

This ministry is dedicated to encourage people to come to know and love Beth Moore through the study of my direct revelations, personal dreams, pop psychology, and funny anecdotes.”

So, just be aware of the language ministries use. If they claim to want to help you attain your full potential, it might be wise to say to yourself,

“No thanks, I want to study Christ while on earth, resist my potential, and wait for Him to fulfill it when I’m glorified.”