Conferences! While the social contact that conferences provide is important, their spiritual value should be that which draws believers. Though a “shot in the arm” or “quick fix” may, in the short term, be beneficial, what is of lasting value is ministry, the impact of which is sustainable, being life changing.
The resources, both human and financial, devoted to convening conferences are significant. What is the result? Assemblies hold conferences, not out of custom, but with a genuine interest that the Word of God ministered will have a positive impact upon believers and therefore assemblies.
Excessive demands and unrealistic expectations, coupled with the ease of travel, put increased pressure upon gifted brethren to frequent many of the conferences. Both the routine of conferences, and familiarity with speaking can be dangerous if there is not a corresponding burden for timely ministry.
Ministry which reflects an understanding of life’s problems, will always be required. That’s really what characterized the children of Issachar. They “were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chron 12:32). The same is needed today.
Paul’s burden for the Corinthians is evident as he writes, not as an instructor, but with a father’s care for his spiritual children. In like manner, Nehemiah, learning of the devastation of Jerusalem, sets out, from a burdened heart, to seek the restoration and rebuilding of the walls (Neh 1 & 2). In each case, what was the motivation? It was concern for the welfare of God’s people, feeling a deep sense of the need. Such was the impact that it affected their ministry and service.
Shouldn’t ministry today emanate from the same type of a burdened heart because of the evident need? “Getting a message” for the conference is not the answer. One will only be immune from the spiritual needs of believers if they “isolate” or “insulate” themselves from them. Being “among the flock,” the needs become discernable.
Demographics amongst the assemblies demonstrate that a variety in ministry is necessary. Not every message applies equally to all. Differences in spiritual maturity and circumstances make this evident. Diversity is essential. Problems and difficulties abound! Failing marriages are on the rise, even among believers. Family, financial, physical, and emotional problems are increasing. No one message can meet the need of all. Because of this, it is essential that brethren ministering heed the exhortation: “consider one another” (Heb 10:24).
Today, young people are taught to question, not accepting as fact everything that is presented to them. Trudy Govier, in her book, “A Practical Study of Argument,” defines “critical thinking” as “carefully examining our beliefs and opinions and the evidence we have for them.” Questioning is not wrong! Moses understood that the upcoming generation would need answers to their questions. When asked “why,” the children of Israel were expected to have answers (Deut 6:20). Why is it then that sometimes we get defensive? Isn’t it because of our inability to provide scriptural answers? “Because we always have done it this way,” or “we have always believed this,” is not sufficient or satisfactory. Since how we behave is affected by what we believe, it is important that, in ministry, the doctrinal basis be established for the “why” when giving practical exhortations.
Isn’t that what happened in Ezra’s day? As the book of the law was read, the people were attentive. It was read distinctly or with an interpretation, the sense was given, with the result that the people could understand (Nehemiah 8:8). What was the outcome? It was ready obedience to the Word of God. Shouldn’t this be the norm from ministry?
While timely ministry is important, of equal importance is the timing of ministry. It is possible to have the right message for the conference but to give it at the wrong time. This results in diminished effectiveness of the message. Besides, it can detract from what preceded it. While not advocating thematic ministry, there are occasions when ministry builds upon what preceded. Spiritual discernment is essential to know not just what to speak but also when to speak.
In writing in “Believers Magazine” in 1929, 5. Turner stated that “open ministry, if it be understood as giving license to anyone who pleases to mount the platform, is a mistake.” That statement is still relevant. He also pointed out that an abuse of the platform can “kill” a meeting. While not endorsing a “closed platform,” there is a definite need for a “controlled platform.” Conference platforms should not be open to “anyone” and it is the responsibility of elders to ensure that this does not take place.
Many believers have the perception that because one is a “commended worker” he has entitlement to the platform. That is not the case. Ability differs! Not all can minister to profit at a conference. Also, character and weight to ministry is gained through experience, something that younger men lack. Younger or newly commended workers should be slow to speak, fitting in only if an opportunity presents itself. This would help them gain the confidence of believers.
Elders should encourage ministry by godly men in whom they have confidence because of their life, labors, and gift. This includes both “full time workers” and brethren who, though employed secularly, “labor in the Word and doctrine” (1 Tim 5:17). Favoritism for personal friends and or relations should be very carefully avoided.
While it is not pleasant, it may be necessary at times for elders to request one to refrain from ministering. This should always be done in a most gracious, kind, and courteous manner. If a case arises as described by S. Turner of “unscriptural vapourings,” then the elders must address it directly with the individual.
Self-evaluation of one’s ministry is difficult. To the Corinthians Paul said “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge” (1 Cor 14:29). Discernment as to the spiritual value of ministry is important. How is this communicated today, or is it? One may be able to judge his ministry by what is either said or not said to them by the elders. Feedback is important as it can prevent complacency and mediocrity.
Yes, conferences can still make a difference. Many believers look back to conference ministry that changed, challenged, and channeled their lives. In our day, we should expect no less, but it will take ministry from brethren who have both a burden for the welfare of the Lord’s people as well as being in touch with their spiritual needs.