Jeff doesn’t normally go the church conferences – let alone write about them. Please note the ‘quotes’ below are not direct quotes, Jeff isn’t the greatest at taking word-for-word notes and doesn’t carry around an audio recorder. Also, this is the only paragraph where Jeff talks about himself in the third person.
If you’ve never been to a church conference, let me give you insight to what I have normally experienced: there’s a main speaker and then there are workshops.
I don’t remember the workshops I did as a youth, but I remember every year there was a workshop about ‘music’ where you would shout out the name of a secular musician and the workshop leader would find a similar artist in the Christian music category. I went to that workshop mainly because that’s where my friends went. Each year, I was disappointed – the workshop leader could never find an alternative to “Disney Theme Park Music”.
I’m sure there were a lot of good workshops as a youth, but I can’t recall any other ones at the moment – but as an adult, I am aware of the workshops for adult conferences. The workshops, in short, seem to be “how to do church better”. Workshop leaders explain the latest model or process to grow your church or communicate with each other better, or share success stories of programs “Church A” did and convince you to do it as well.
Church conferences never really interest me – I’m sure others can get a lot out of them, but I always found there was a ‘new model’ or ‘new idea’. I decided to go to one this year because some guy on the radio recently spoke at one and talked with a lot of single Christian women who were looking for Christian men, but were disappointed because a lot of Christian men didn’t show up to the conference.
Sidenote: I need to talk with this guy and see what conferences he’s going to. I’m not sure if it was the groups I were in, or the fact I was five minutes late to hearing the opening speaker, but I did not see any single Christian women around my age.
Two Workshops. Vastly Different.
Workshop One: The Best Worshop Ever*
*I think. Mainly because it was different and challenged me.
If you ever find yourself in a workshop at a church conference, I hope you find yourself with a retired pastor leading it and current clergy listening. I knew this ‘workshop’ was going to be like something I never experienced before because his opening line was something to the extent of: “I’m a retired pastor, no longer on the payroll, so the conference really can’t do anything to me. If anything I say goes out of this room, I will deny it all.”
I feel the need to point out that this – especially the last line – was told jokingly. This was not a confidential meeting, and everything he shared was mostly printed on paper to allow us to share with others.
He shared a brief overview of protestant history, how the Bible got in the hands of people for them to read and study for themselves. Then, he painted a picture of what church is – a body of believers, not a church building. This isn’t really revolutionary, but the next thing he said caught the clergy’s attention:
The idea for people to meet in homes, studying the Bible, building community, inviting neighbors and friends and it’s at this level where serving is done. The idea that when churches want to grow, their idea is to build a new building, becoming more internally-focused. He shared we have a lot of buildings, many of which a lot of money and resources go towards maintaining.
The comment that had clergy asking questions is when he mentioned: “I’m sure the clergy will not like this point, but the offering would be taken among the small groups and then the group would figure out how to use the money to serve the people in their community. The building will somehow still have to be paid for, maybe that means downsizing.” He explained how the church would be the place where all the small groups would get together to worship as one body of Christ, but beyond that I don’t recall much happening in the actual building.
He then gave an outline of what may happen at these house churches, but pretty much left it wide-open because every group is different. The end result would be more community as the components were reading the Bible, maybe sing a song, pray together and just be in community. You can switch up where you meet and who leads it, he gave some suggestions, which I think is good because as humans we need direction, or at least an idea of where to start.
I have never been in any workshop put on by any organization where they say “forget the buildings. forget programs. forget formulas.” I felt like this is what the guy was saying.
Workshop Two: Models, or a Model for your Model.
I don’t fault the leaders of workshops for church models – as humans, I think we love to be told what to do, and when we find something that works for us, the quickest response is to package it up and sell someone else on it because ‘it worked for me!’ (or, unfortunately sometimes…”it sounds like this would work!”)
I am amused by how many models and formulas churches are pitched, advertised in ‘saving time’ and drilling down to just the programs that matter. In the workshop I attended, we were given a questionaiire to ask potential staff members – and each program the church had would run through a series of questions according to the mission and vision of the church – if the program didn’t fit, it didn’t get implemented.
The testimonial that was used, when asked who was implementing the program, was a church was currently going through it and still figuring it out one year later – and they still have a while to go. Seriously, this was the example used – I looked around and everyone was nodding their head and taking notes about how to implement this strategy in their church.
What I found even more humurous is that if your church was already in the middle of another action plan model, don’t worry – you were assured this would fit in with any existing model.
(Insert Cool Heading Name)
I’m not here to sell you on any model or ‘way to do church’. I think from the last workshop I attended, that’s the last thing any church/church member/Christian/follower of Jesus/Disciple/human needs. I just wanted to share some interesting observations, and if you’re trying to figure out this whole ‘church’ thing, offer encouragement — and also, don’t feel guilty for not going to Church conferences.
The church is a body of believers, so find a friend, talk about Jesus, ask questions, go and serve, and if you can’t find the answers go and find another group of Christians. This isn’t a model, this is just life. There are no forms to fill out, no programs involved, no building required. It does take time – because it’s all centered on relationship – relationships with each other, with your neighbors, and relationship with God.
Please note: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with going to a church building for fellowship – if you somehow read that. I attend one every Sunday. In church buildings I’ve met many people I don’t think I would have met otherwise: former Mormons converted to Christianity, people who have helped me realize what being a Christian is all about, hearing stories from missionaries and how people in other countries celebrate and live life as a Christian.
If you’re trying to figure out how to live your faith out, a group of people come over to my place on Tuesday evenings and we would be honored if you joined us.
We have dinner, talk about life, and learn about God and what it means to be a Christian. Some of our discussions may be guided through question on a piece of paper, or if someone else has a question about something, we’ll talk about that as well. If we don’t know an answer to a question – questions tend to come with any learning process – someone may know the answer, or we’ll send the question off to another Christian. Sound interesting? Feel free to contact/message me!
… or there’s nothing stopping you from getting a Bible, invite some neighbors/friends to your house/coffee place/cafe/any building you have access to and discuss the Bible and life.