Jul 162014

If I had read this blog title years ago, I probably would have looked for where to sign up. I’d have been all over a conference called “Rethink.” There are actually many, many conferences called Rethink. There’s one about rethinking education, one about rethinking advertising, and another about rethinking family living (I was scared to click on that one).  Pick a topic and someone has a “Rethink” conference about it.  But I’m not thinking about a conference where we rethink conferences, though I’m sure people would sign up. Instead, I’m rethinking the whole idea of conferences.  I’m rethinking that way of learning. And I’m thinking it doesn’t work so well.

I reached this conclusion just after attending Wild Goose in June. I went to Wild Goose 2014 expecting a life changing experience. That’s what the reviews had led me to expect. What I found was basically a conference, with speakers and questions and all the usual conference things. That bothered me. I was disappointed. Then I started wondering why that bothered me, and why I was disappointed. I mean, conferences are good, right? Right? As I looked back on the conferences I’ve been going to for the past fifteen years, I realized that they were good, and that was the problem. They were only good.  I wanted more out of Wild Goose. I wanted great, and I didn’t get it. As I thought about the conferences I had been to, I realized that the same was true of almost every conference I had been to. They were usually good, but none were great. And good is no longer good enough.

My first church conference was a Bill Easum conference in 1998. At that conference Bill painted a different vision of church, one in which lives are being transformed and the Kingdom of God comes to earth. Helping church be more like that was why I became a pastor, so I asked Bill how to do it. “I led a bible study on Acts,” he said. So I tried it. Didn’t work. I went to another of Bill’s conferences a few years later and asked the same thing. Bill told me that doing a bible study on Acts wasn’t enough. I had to disciple them. Once again, he couldn’t tell me how. “You just disciple them,” he said. Thanks, Bill.

Since Bill couldn’t tell me, I started going to other conferences. Maybe Bill and I just weren’t connecting. But no one else could tell me how to bring this vision about. No one. Name a church growth or leadership group, and I checked them out. No one could do it. I went to two dozen conference in all before I finally went to a conference by a group called 3DM.  Over fifteen years after I started looking, I found someone who could teach me how I could be part of God bringing transformation through the Kingdom of God. And here’s the kicker:

I didn’t learn how to do it at the 3DM conference. 

I’ve been to seven 3DM conferences, and they were all helpful, but the real learning from 3DM came in the small group mentoring that 3DM provided. And the more I’ve talked with other people who have had transformative experiences, I’ve discovered that this is almost always how it happens. 3DM was not exceptional. Most of the people I know do not have transformative experiences at conferences. They have transformative experiences through mentoring. That’s how transformation happens. That’s how the Kingdom of God comes.

Conferences are good, but if that’s what we’re after then we’re setting the bar too low. We should be after great. We should be after amazing. Good can be the enemy of great, and for years I settled for good. No more. I will probably still go to a few conferences. They occasionally have good information, and my friends go, so they’re almost always fun. But I won’t go to another conference expecting to learn much. If I want to learn, grow, and be transformed, I know where to look. I’ll look for a mentor. I’ll sit at their feet and let them teach me as Jesus taught his disciples. That’s how God speaks to me, how God changes me, and through them God can bring about the Kingdom better than any conference ever will.