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Conference callings

High-profile Christian gatherings draw lots of people—and some scrutiny—but what happens when the crowd goes home?

Conference callings

A MLK50 street celebration (Stephanie Klein-Davis/The Roanoke Times via AP)

Writers at WORLD often receive invitations to attend conferences of all sorts. Sometimes we’ll go to meet interesting people and learn about important ideas, but we rarely cover the event itself.

Why not?

It isn’t because we dislike conferences. (Indeed, some of our writers speak at such gatherings.) But while large-scale conferences may highlight important truths, as journalists we’re looking to cover truth in action.

What happens after the conference? How do ordinary people accomplish good works for others based on Biblical principles? That’s the stuff of profiles and news stories that are hopefully helpful, encouraging, and inspiring to readers.

I’ve been thinking about this because of the raft of high-profile Christian events attended by thousands of evangelicals over the last week.

Four thousand people converged on Memphis, Tenn., for the MLK50 event hosted by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the Gospel Coalition. The conference marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, and it focused on issues of race and faith.

This week, some 12,000 people packed into the KFC Yum Center in Louisville, Ky., for the annual Together for the Gospel conference. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood held its own mini-conference before the larger event.

In the Christian Twittersphere, there’s been both enthusiasm for these events and debate over whether they always hit the right note or sent the right message in some cases. Debate is fine, and it shouldn’t be threatening to Christians when carried out with love and charity.

But beyond the conference halls, I’d submit the most important gathering for Christians is far more modest and far more meaningful over a longer period of time. It’s your Sunday worship gatherings.

But beyond the conference halls, I’d submit the most important gathering for Christians is far more modest and far more meaningful over a longer period of time. It’s your Sunday worship gatherings.

If your church follows a Biblical pattern, God will be exalted, sin will be confessed, the Word will be preached, and you’ll embrace Christ in the sacraments—all in the context of a local community you love and live with on a weekly, sometimes even daily basis.

These ordinary rhythms of Christian living are what the Spirit uses all year long to shape and mold disciples to carry out the great commandments to love God and love neighbor as self, including during times of cultural tension and heartbreak.

This doesn’t mean we don’t ask hard questions about whether we are doing this well, or where we can improve. But it also means we can thank God freely for the local churches and communities where he’s placed us, even as we go out to others in love.

Usually, that looks quite ordinary.

In his outstanding book Sensing Jesus, pastor and author Zack Eswine reminds us: “Human life was given for the love of God and the love of our neighbors in a local place for God’s glory and the common good.”

Eswine gives the glorious example of the story of Ruth unfolding during a time when God was sending mighty judges to rescue and restore (at least temporarily) the constantly wayward Israelites:

“While the judges publicly participated in substantial cultural change, a farmer named Boaz quietly walked the muddy fields, planted grain, fairly treated his workers, and sought the common good of his community with ordinary, daily, prayerful, and hard work. This farmer loved a Gentile woman and her family. They made an ordinary life of real love together. They loved God.”

He concludes: “Those who know the story will argue that this ordinary love and life proved equal to if not greater than the mighty deeds of the judges in that generation.”

That’s a welcome reminder when we’re tempted to feel like evangelicalism is happening somewhere other than where we live. The rhythm of Christian life and the growth of God’s kingdom don’t rise and fall on conferences (which I’m sure these particular conference organizers would agree).

And they don’t depend on which well-known pastors resign over which moral failings, or what some evangelical leaders might say—or not say—to President Donald Trump when they meet with him soon, or what a separate group of evangelicals will discuss when they meet without him.

Those things aren’t unimportant, and God does use believers in influential places to accomplish good ends, but he also often uses far more ordinary people to live out Biblical truths in their daily lives.

So if your head is swimming over all the evangelical news of late, here’s some advice: Plow your field. Love your family. Look after your neighbor. Help the vulnerable. Welcome strangers. Build up your church. Love God. Exalt Christ.

Rest in Him.


    Posted: Wed, 08/15/2018 08:36 am

    Good article, thanks.