the weblog of Alan Knox

Replay: The inadequacy of seminars and conferences

Posted by on Mar 23, 2013 in community, fellowship | 9 comments

Replay: The inadequacy of seminars and conferences

Four years ago, I worked with some brothers and sisters in Christ to put on a “conference” called “Developing a Biblical Ecclesiology.” I put “conference” in quotes because it was different than anything I’ve ever been part of. But, that’s a different story. In the week leading up to that conference, I met a man named Art on Twitter. Art ended up coming to the conference, and we’ve been friends ever since. In fact, we now work together. After the conference, Art wrote me an email response that I published in a post called “The inadequacy of seminars and conferences.” I think Art shares some thoughts that would be good for all of us to consider.

—————————

The inadequacy of seminars and conferences

We had a great time at the “Developing a Biblical Ecclesiology” seminar last weekend. However, seminars and conferences are inadequate for what the church needs. Why? Because spiritual teaching may include lecture and discussion, but it also must include example. Thus, we learn as much – if not more – from watching someone’s example as we learn from their words.

I “met” Art Mealer online during the week before the seminar. He attended our Saturday sessions and asked some very good questions. Then, he and I emailed back and forth Sunday. In one of his emails, he pointed out exactly why seminars and conferences alone are inadequate. (By the way, his email also explains why a Sunday sermon from someone that we don’t really know if also inadequate.)

I think you’ll enjoy Art’s email below.

—————————————————————

I think the time was well used. The first two segments laid biblical groundwork in a non-confrontational way. Personally, I was most touched by your balance and gentleness on these issues. As to the panel time, I doubt most people knew what questions to ask, and just having your panel share from the heart about experiencing community as a family together was a wonderful way of being the epistles we are meant to be for all of us there. A clear and compelling picture emerged.

But this means of shedding light on who we are as the church is a bit like the “evangelist” who wins someone to Christ and then leaves, at least for some of those attending (what was it, 16 assemblies represented?). Perhaps this is the most important thing I’d like someday to talk to you about. You may already be headed in the direction God has burdened my heart, or you may see something altogether different. So, forgive me for what follows if I am out of turn.

There is a formula for change that states C=D x M x P; Change= Dissatisfaction with the present x Model for the future way of being x Process for getting there. I know this isn’t a biblical thing, but observing the world around us carefully–the world designed by God to reflect His truths and principles–can (if not trusted as “gospel”) give us light (in the way we know gravity works from observing it, not from the bible directly). Let me pose the problem in these terms.

Many Christians experience Dissatisfaction with the isolation of “Church” attendance and those suffocating traditions that do void the commands of us being the church together. Yesterday, you folks presented a good chunk of Model, letting the saints get a glimpse of how things could be if we took a more careful, open look at scripture. While you hinted at Process in the language you used (framing the whole matter under “Developing,” learning, walking in some confusion as things are worked out in every day, messier-than-blackboards life). But “Process” for other assemblies regarding the major transition you present, do you think it adequate to produce change?

In your assembly, isn’t it in seeing the modeling day by day, the close interactions with one another, the personal experiences that forge and reinforce a more biblical way of being together that is the Process through which the Spirit works? It isn’t lecture alone that produces obedience and transformation; it isn’t even learning. It is being shown how to by example that births new behaviors and values. It is being held a mirror by the faithful wounds of brothers and sisters so we can see where we are off balance. It is being in a place where we are safe, accepted, for all of our flaws, that we can let go of defenses and face the fear of taking off masks. The place where we can admit sin and find help. Where we can take root in Him. Outside of being present at the birth of new life, nothing is more precious than seeing another man or woman as they learn to humble themselves under the Spirit in this moment and that, and be transformed bit by bit into an image of the Son, pure love beginning to work in and through them.

The panel spoke of this with tears. But most saints know nothing of this.

I think the patterns we see in scripture about how the church developed and grew and was brought back on track when it got tangled in errors presents a function in the church that was designed to provide an up close Model of how we interact/think of/love one another but especially for that Process element of change. How often when you present this material do you hear, “How do we get from here to there?” Sure, a New Testament, the Holy Spirit, and a yellow Highlighter should, in theory, be enough. But God has invited us (more, given us the unimaginable privilege to serve Him, our fellow saints, and our fellow doomed human family) to participate in His work. I think God not only provided for transformation of the saints within an assembly that is healthy, but also to have a sort of “white blood cell” team to provide a way to heal the body that has fallen sick. It seems to me the NT demonstrates that design in the work of itinerants like Paul, Timothy, Titus, etc. Church planters not only plant new churches. Church planters provide a servant leadership team that comes alongside troubled assemblies and quietly “sets in order the things that are wanting” and “ordains elders” (developing biblical leadership).

What if, for example, it would not be out of character for the Spirit to call one or two or three of the families at Messiah (etc.) and make them available to spend two months or eight months (whatever time it turns out to be), living among another assembly as they help them make the transition from a faulty church attendance model to becoming the family of God together?


9 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 3-23-2013

    Hi Alan,

    I don’t think it’s an either/or proposition. Of course we need biblical example and we need to see this process played out for us. That being said, I certainly feel there is a need for conferences, panels, etc particularly for those of us new to ministry or leadership. Let’s face it, it can often be messy and hearing from people who have been there and can share some godly wisdom and advice on a given topic often serve as an awesome blessing! You could even have a similar argument that teaching the Bible is not sufficient (regardless of format) and I would agree. There is a difference between sufficiency and necessity, however.

  2. 3-24-2013

    Rob,

    I think for “those of us new to ministry or leadership,” conferences could be one of the worse things. Example and close relationships with more mature believers would be much, much more important.

    However, I agree that it’s not an either/or proposition. There may be reasons for a larger gathering of believers or for someone to teach/speak concerning a specific topic. This information would then need to be discussed and discerned among the smaller group. The focus must still be on the smaller group living by example with one another. However, if you read the advertisement and marketing for conferences and seminars, I think you’ll find that focus switched.

    -Alan

  3. 3-24-2013

    After studying Jacob’s life in Genesis and how God continually fundamentally transformed Jacob’s character through encountering God *personally*… relationally….

    I am thoroughly convinced that *relationship* is the only thing that God uses to transform & develop character at all.

    If INFORMATION through whatever form – Bible study, a conference transforms or changes people, it is ONLY because the INFORMATION was an encounter with the Lord. and since you can encounter God without the conference from the comfort of (name any place)… why have them??

    I truly had a major revelation with the Lord this week when I realized that the purpose of prayer was not INSIGHT or revelation….. but growth in the RELATIONSHIP with God. I KNEW that… but GOd helped me KNOW it.

    God changes us when we relate to Him. God changes us when we relate to His Body, the Church. God transforms us when He renews our mind because our relationship with Him has been deepened.

    We can fill ourselves with lots of other information – but it is useless outside of relationship (LOVE). We can continual to fill our heads with knowledge – we are definitely living in an information age where we could overdose easily on information into the brain — but only the LORD can move it from the head to the heart…… through.. RELATIONSHIP.

    God’s continual focus is on relationship – from the beginning when He, in 3 – created the earth —- through the end where His Church & He are united.

    He even narrowed it down SO SIMPLY for us.. there are 2 greatest commandments, my children. TWO commandments for you — to help you FOCUS. Both of them are telling you that it’s all about RELATIONSHIP. 1. Love me! Love me.. and 2. love each other.
    FOCUS ON RELATIONSHIPS.

    if we aren’t focused on relationships… if relationships don’t take priority over EVERY.THING.ELSE.

    what are we doing!??!!?!

    if there is no transformation…. it’s because relationships are not the priority! Relationship with JESUS first. Relationship with others through Jesus, 2nd.

  4. 3-24-2013

    ….and saying all that…. I can see that “conferences” – and really what I mean is – a gathering of a larger amount of people than one local church in a geographic area – is so important when there are no examples of Church around for that local church to learn from, watch, live with….

    as is the case with our local church. We have never seen it lived out… we have only read about it. So a conference/gathering with other churches who ARE living it out… would be so beneficial to us. To be able to talk with other Churches… and then come back together and process what we saw, learned, experienced with the others.

  5. 3-25-2013

    Randi,

    And, believe it or not, relationship is one of the ways that I think seminars and conferences can be helpful. We can get to know new people who live near us or new people who live in different parts of state/nation/world. But, of course, in many conferences/seminars there are not many opportunities to begin those relationships.

    -Alan

  6. 3-26-2013

    I can see that! I would love a gathering to meet others that are on similiar paths than us that we can learn from, be challenged/encouraged by…. or even discuss certain topics together. I even love a great seminar/conference on a specific topic like parenting – which we went to recently – and I was so so thankful for!

    I used to say that I wish *every* follower of Christ in our city could gather together for a ‘conference’ once a year – but we would never be able to organize it, agree on what to do, have everybody able to be present or willing…. so we will have to wait until heaven :)

  7. 3-28-2013

    Randi,

    Hopefully, I’ll be part of just such a gathering in a few weeks near Charlotte, NC.

    -Alan

  8. 3-28-2013

    that’s awesome! how did u hear about it?

  9. 3-28-2013

    Randi,

    You can learn more about it here: “An Unexpected Journey with the Church.”

    -Alan