In Old Testament times the children of Israel were commanded to stand before the Lord for times of holy convocation. What was God’s purpose in all of this? Was it not to remind the Israelites of their unique standing with God as a separate people and their responsibility to God? We have no, “Thus saith the Lord” for the practice of annual conferences in the New Testament, but we do have spiritual principles to guide us from the Old Testament. God wanted His people apart to minister to their spirits, not only in the feasts and their significance, but in the people’s fellowship one with the other.
Conferences, in some measure, fill this role today. As we gather together, our hearts should all have the question that King Zedekiah asked of Jeremiah, “Is there any word from the Lord?” But we should not have his response. Upon hearing the word of God and the will of God for his life, he would not be obedient to it. Sadly this is still true today. Conferences should serve as inspection time and a roll call. Not that we should be inspecting others, but ourselves, for our progress in the things of God. What about the men that are exercised to give ministry?
They need to ask themselves, “Do I really have a word from the Lord?” or am I just going to give the people of God some stale old sermon that has been cooking for the last 20 years in the oven at high temperature. A message like that is bound to be as dry as dust. If the audience at 3:30 PM is suffering from the 1000 yd stare or many appear to be praying, could I suggest that particular message may not be from the Lord? The key feature of messages from God is that they always got reactions. Remember the response of those who listened to Peter in Acts 2 -“What shall we do?” Hopefully, this will be our response, instead of the response to Stephen, “They gnashed on him with there teeth.”
The messages that come to us from God will come to us with freshness and power and will always produce within the exercised child of God a sense of contrition at the lack of spiritual progress and an earnest desire to serve the Lord more fully. Ministry that comes to us from God will always be challenging. As the late Mr. Fairfield of Venezuela used to say: “Beware of ministry that has no teeth and is not hard on the flesh.”
What about the social dimension at conferences? Is there a place for this? I believe there is. In our Lord’s attendance at the marriage in Cana, both principles are seen. His mother, the servants, and the disciples received the spiritual lesson, and the guests enjoyed the presence of Christ. The feasts of the Old Testament were always times of joy and fellowship, especially in times of revival. As a child, not saved, I eagerly anticipated conferences, although the 2:30 to 5:00 PM sessions in the afternoon at 100 F heat were quite bracing. However, much of what we learn is caught and not taught. I vividly recall dear saints as they communed with one another, obviously enjoying each others company and saying within myself, “These people are truly happy, and I would like to be with them and like them someday.”
I recognize that divine impressions were being made on me, distinct from ministry of any kind. How about our children? Have we succumbed to the thinking that insisting that our children go to conferences and sit in the meetings is cruel and unusual punishment that will stunt and retard their creative development? Let us do all we reasonably can to get our children to conferences in our areas. Yes, I know this is an expensive and very taxing task, especially for mothers, but it will pay dividends in the future. In the will of God as they become saved, relationships and acquaintances that have been made in early years will form the basis for those that will be considered as marriage partners in later years.
What about the assembly that hosts the conferences: all the labor, the expense, the work, the organizing, the food preparation, people you have never met in your home? Conferences demonstrate practical Christianity in a way that few other venues do in assembly life. Some might say, “Why this waste?” We say as believers, “What an opportunity to work with your brethren and sisters to serve. What an opportunity to show Christian grace to the sister or brother whose way of doing things, in a practical way is obviously so inferior to your own “more excellent way.” What an opportunity “to do good unto all men especially those who are of the household of faith.”
I trust these words have something in them to build up the people of God.