It seems like it's church conference season. Our family lately has benefited from watching addresses from the MLK50 and the Together for the Gospel conferences. We're also looking forward to being at a couple church conferences this summer. Such conferences, whether large or small, tend to be great encouragements, opportunities for fellowship and theological training. We have seen God use such conferences time and again for conversion and extraordinary sanctification. Long live the church conference!
But. Let's be careful.
My fear is that such conferences, especially those featuring All-Star Preachers, can create a spiritual backlash in our relationship to our local congregation. Coupled with the wonderful availability of podcasted sermons, we are in danger of a serious case of dissatisfaction and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) whenever we attend the worship service in our local congregation. With worldly eyes, we are tempted to compare what we experience at a conference with what we're experiencing Sunday morning. We compare the preaching of our normal pastor with that of some of the best preachers in the world. We compare the singing, the fellowship, the excitement and we can easily drift into dissatisfaction with our own church family.
To fight the danger, let's hold onto this truth: If there was never another conference, retreat, podcast or seminar, God working through your faithful, local congregation would be everything you need to grow to spiritual maturity. Such events are much like special meals. Perhaps a few times in your life you'll have a meal you could never forget. Maybe it will be a special feast or a date night at a restaurant you really can't afford. Those meals are blessings to be enjoyed--but they aren't what sutains you. You are physically alive because of the normal, everyday meals you eat at home. Even if you don't remember what you made last Friday for dinner (or what was made for you), you were fed and nourished and sustained by that meal. Such it is with our church family.
Your pastor likely doesn't preach as powerfully as those other guys you listen to online. Probably, the singing in your church on Sunday mornings is nothing like hundreds or thousands of voices that gave you goosebumps at the conference. After spiritual "mountaintop" experiences, it can all seem so...ordinary. The people sitting around you don't seem as passionately excited as the attendees at the conference. And so on.
But to quote Sesame Street, "One of the these things is not like the other." One of these is a good idea and a great blessing when done right. But the other, by God's design, is indispensible and sufficient. God has ordained that the local church be the garden in which believers grow. There we receive faithful (if sometimes boring) preaching. There we receive the sacraments. There we are forced into real, uncomfortable relationships with people who will challenge us to love more like Jesus. It is the normal gathering and the regular ministries of the local church that are used by God as His light on a hill, as the pillar and buttress of the truth, as the now-and-future bride of Jesus Christ. As Eugene Peterson wrote, "There's nobody who doesn't have problems with the church because there's sin in the church. But there's no other place to be a Christian except the church."
By all means, attend conferences, enjoy seminars and make use of the spiritual blessings modern information technology can bring. But guard your heart from becoming dissatisfied with your local church. Pray for God to give you His view of your church family and to save you from a worldly view. Guard your heart from thinking you're missing something you need. Thank God often for the regular pastor you have and the normal or odd people in the pew in front of you. This is how the kingdom is coming on earth as it is in heaven.
Related to this post is an excellent, older article by Phil Johnson: Porn and Paper Pastors. (The article is not about pornography. Take and read!)