Jesus Wouldn’t Make the Main Stage
I love Christian conferences and especially conferences for pastors. I know, it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure. In my time as a pastor I’ve experienced great times of refreshing and learning at conferences. In fact, it was a conference in 2010 in San Antonio that kept me from leaving the ministry. I was close. Really close to leaving. Then at a conference I had an encounter with Jesus that refreshed my soul and renewed my call to ministry. At this particular conference I learned some great new skills that enhanced my ability to pastor well. So I love conferences.
However, I also have some concerns about them. This last Sunday while preaching I used a phrase that I had not planned in my sermon prep, “Jesus wouldn’t get the Main Stage.” We were discussing failure, success and leadership and the phrase just popped out. Think about this a minute, how do speakers get to the main stage at Christian conferences today? Success, that’s how. They are usually large church pastors or people of great influence that have experienced high levels of success in life and ministry. They’ve written books. They’ve got podcasts with thousands of listeners. Now don’t get me wrong here, I think it’s great that we learn from and are inspired by people who’ve done great things and experienced those levels of success. I just get concerned when those are the only voices we’re learning from; when they’re the only voices of inspiration.
My concern really ramps up when I think about how this works and compare it with Jesus. In the context of Jesus’ earthly life, I don’t think he would have made the main stage. I’m not even sure He would have been given a break-out session. He might have gotten a small booth in the display area to feature his ministry, you know, tucked away in a corner where not many people would have to see it. Why wouldn’t Jesus get the main stage slot? Questionable parentage. No big building. Only twelve members on his core team, and one of them is appears to be rethinking his commitment. The religious elite don’t like or trust him and they even seem out to get him. The government authorities are concerned. He doesn’t even have a campus in Jerusalem. He’s more of a small town guy. And some people are saying that he thinks he’s God. No main stage for this guy.
If Jesus wouldn’t be welcome on the main stage at our Christian conferences then it’s time to rethink how we do our conferences. I have three suggestions that could make most Christian conferences better.
Less glitz and more authenticity.
Authenticity trumps everything else for me. Let me know you are real and have the same struggles and concerns that I have, and I’ll be engaged for the long term! If it looks like it’s just a show, yeah I’ll probably enjoy it, but I will not really be engaged or impacted by it. Be authentic!
Broader range of main stage speakers.
The large church pastors are great. They’re great speakers and are inspirational; we need them at our conferences. But they aren’t the only ones God is using to impact the world and build the Kingdom. Let’s hear from more rural folks and more from the small church experience. I’d like to hear speakers from outside the United States. And, while I’m at it, let’s hear from more women.
Control the cost.
So many of the pastors I know who would benefit the most from a conference can’t afford it. It’s getting a bit ridiculous. Find a a way to bring the cost down so more everyday pastors and lay leaders can attend.
There are my three initial suggestions. There is a lot more that could be done, but those three will make a great start. What about you, what do you think about our current Christian conference culture? What would you change to make it better?
I have a few suggestions for Christian conferences to attend. First, in the United Methodist world the Large Church Initiative is the best I’ve experienced (because of General Conference the next LCI will be in 2017); it blends well the practical help with an inspirational focus. Outside of the UMC world I’ve enjoyed and benefited from the Catalyst Conference (slight caution here, Catalyst is centered in the reformed/calvinist perspectives and you may need to filter that a bit.). And finally, the conference I’m most looking forward to attending for the first time is the New Room Conference, come check it our with me this coming fall!
Grace and Peace, Rich