Ridiculously good speakers. Goose-bump-inducing singing. Droves of smiling people. Life-long friends. These are my conference memories.
Conferences have played an important role in the assembly movement and continue to be a rare unifying point among us. Even in Acts, it seems special “conferences” were organized to hear the Apostle Paul share during his visits (Acts 14:27; Acts 15:30; Acts 20:7-8, 17-37).
Conferences, whether they are large national gatherings or small regional events, provide unique ministry opportunities that encourage us in our walk with Christ. I would like to discuss three reasons why attending conferences is still valuable for assembly believers today.
1. Excellent teaching
Let’s face it, there is no way to fully cover the whole counsel of God as revealed in Scripture. There are always new depths to plumb and new things to discover. No matter how well organized an assembly’s teaching plan may be, there are still subjects left uncovered. Conferences provide an opportunity to teach on subjects that may require more time than a 40 minute Sunday morning sermon allows.
Furthermore, live, in person conferences give an opportunity for issues to be discussed that may be too sensitive for public broadcasting. The theme for this year’s CMML’s Annual Fall Conference in New Jersey was “Crisis in the Middle East.” Due to the sensitive nature of the subject, some of the information and videos shared were exclusive content that will never be found in print or online. Often, missionaries are willing to share special information with praying Christians in person but, for security reasons, would never allow the news to be published.
Most assemblies in North America are small. Many times there are very few people of the same age in a meeting. Conferences provide amazing opportunities for fellowship that could never happen in the local assembly.
Events such as 26 Below, Discipleship Weekend, Engedi, and Vessels of Honor help connect otherwise separated- and at times isolated- youth. At such conferences, young people have opportunities to meet other like-minded believers who can become life-long friends, mentors or even spouses! These kinds of relationships regularly develop at conferences and should be encouraged.
At larger national conferences such as Believer’s Bible Conference (formerly Rise Up), Iron Sharpens Iron, or the Workers & Elders Conference, assemblies gather from wide and diverse areas to attend the event. These gatherings provide a unique opportunity to learn from other groups. At the last Rise Up conference, young men from Japan attended! What a learning opportunity! Conferences open our eyes to how the Lord is working among our brethren in other areas. We can be an encouragement and help to each other.
Regional conferences similarly provide important meeting points for local leadership and believers. Missionary conferences have kept inter-assembly fellowship, interaction and communication flowing in regions such as New Jersey, Ontario, Florida and the California Bay Area. Regional elders meetings have provided impactful forums to discuss delicate and pressing issues among area assemblies. Special Bible conferences have helped assemblies from falling into false doctrine or legalism.
Looking for a new speaker for Vacation Bible School? Perhaps they will teach your kids at a CMML Regional Missions Conference. Looking for new staff for summer camp? Maybe they’ll sit next to you at the next North American Week of Prayer. Looking for a new ministry to support? Perhaps you’ll find it at the CMS Mission Con Tradeshow . Conferences provide networking opportunities among assemblies that cannot be found elsewhere.
Conferences also provide opportunities to connect with assembly organizations and resources. CMML and MSC Canada regularly have tables at conferences to share what God is doing around the world through foreign missions. Short-Term Missions groups like Team Workers Abroad and E-Teams provide special trips that can change the course of a believer’s ministry.
Perhaps visiting tables for Emmaus Bible College, The Ezekiel Project School of Evangelism or The Galilee Program may influence a college-bound young person to spend time learning the Scriptures before jumping head first into higher education. Assembly Care Ministries provides a wide array of resources for assemblies and full-time workers that many do not know about.
Check out their table at the next conference you attend! And of course no assembly conference would be complete without book tables! Resources I’ve picked up from Gospel Folio Press, Everyday Publications and ECS Ministries have been instrumental in my Christian growth.
Conferences have been used by the Lord to encourage and unite believers, correct error, call individuals to the mission field and to stimulate prayer. May we remember that conferences are a valuable part of our Christian and assembly life and make an effort to attend as many as we are able to in the coming year.