This afternoon Desiring God kicks off the 27th annual Conference for Pastors in Minneapolis.
Yes, in Minneapolis. In February. Early February. More than 1,500 brave souls from all over the States and numerous other nations will travel to the capital of the polar vortex. Why Minneapolis, you ask? We are lovingly serving attendees by removing distractions like warm theme parks and Pacific palms so they can give their full focus to “The Remarkable Reality of Union with Christ.”
I’m only half joking. A conference (I’m referring to a theological or ministry-equipping conference here) is intended to be a significant moment. It should be refreshing, but it should not be leisurely. A conference is not a vacation or a few throwaway days to kick back a little, eat a lot, and catch some stimulating speakers. It is designed to help us lay aside the focus-fragmenting daily demands so we can intensely reflect on a doctrinal or ministry theme. The outcome we want from a conference is the kind of reflection that leads to 1) growth in our understanding, 2) the deepening of our worship, and 3) the pursuit of our transformation — we want a conference to help us become more like Jesus.
So how can we make the most of a conference in order to realize these outcomes?
1. First, choose your conference well.
Pray and get some counsel. Your time and money is limited. What do you or your family or your church really need you to reflect on? A small church-based conference on a needed theme might be a better use of your time than the big event (obviously I have nothing against big events!). Last year my wife and I benefited from a local conference that had less than 100 attendees.
2. Prepare well.
In the weeks leading up to the conference read or listen to things that will help prime your reflection. For instance, I just read a biography of Hudson Taylor because John Piper is speaking on Taylor’s life at this year’s conference.
3. Listen well.
Engage fully in the sessions. Take notes, but focus on capturing what will trigger important points for your reflection later. And don’t fragment your attention with email and social media. Be very careful even tweeting choice conference quotes during the sessions. Make intense reflection your priority.
4. Pause well.
Don’t fill up all the space between sessions with activity. Take the rare free time to think, pray, and plan to apply. This is especially important if a session moves you. If you feel the need to pray, do it. Skip the social time. Skip the meal. Get with God and reflect. And during a pause, buy a book or two that will help you review well after the conference is over.
5. Review well.
Plan some time the week following the conference, after you’ve decompressed a little, to review notes and pray. Discuss poignant points with a wise friend or counselor. And start reading the books you purchased to further the conference’s benefit while the theme is still fresh.
Make the most of your conference. Invest in it. Use it to grow your understanding, fuel your worship, and become more like Christ.