Christian conferences

I started writing this last August and it has sat on my desk-top not writing itself ever since, so this is me finishing it by hand. Technology huh!
This cartoon appeared on the Asbo Jesus blog on the 4th of August.
Christian conference carbon footprint

Which generated quite a lot of discussion on the site, including this comment; “I am getting pretty sick of all these progressive/emerging conferences that say want to reflect the kingdom of God and yet you go to the gathering and it’s like a college reunion…”

Then a couple of weeks later in August, some USA friends in Bolivia wrote in their news update; “X went to Cochabamba last weekend to be part of a Christian Education Conference. He was scheduled to teach two seminars and we wondered if this was good stewardship to go that far and only speak twice…” Now to be honest, I have followed the progress of this family for the last fourteen years or so, and I have lots of respect for what they are doing in Bolivia, but the impression I had of their lifestyle is pretty much “corn-fed USA”, so it kind of surprised me, in a positive way, that they were thinking more widely (sorry if I have underestimated you, guys), and it also made me ask a few questions of my own.

Some time around then, the first advertising mailshots started arriving for our own Latin Link “Inspire” conference held in the UK. My attention was grabbed by the one that highlighted how many missionaries we are flying in from Latin America to contribute to the weekend. I had kind of thought that in times of increasing carbon awareness, it might be considered anachronistic to measure the importance of ones event according to the number of air-miles clocked up by the speakers; but apparently we haven’t yet got that far in our thinking.

Also around the same time I was reading an article on “vulnerable mission” on the Oscar website where the author was also publicising his forthcoming seminars on “vulnerable mission” to be held in three different countries. Which made me think that if we are prepared to spend thousands of dollars jetting around the globe in order to discuss how to make ourselves more vulnerable to the people we are working among, without even blinking at the irony inherent, surely surely we have lost the plot completely.

We receive monthly updates from the Oscar website, (which incidentally is a fine source of information and resources). The last section of the monthly update is a gazetteer of upcoming events. There are zillions of them. I could spend my entire life cruising from Christian event to Christian event. What are they all for? What do they achieve?

I imagine that at least some of it is about scratching backs and boosting egos, hence the “college reunion” quote above. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; heck we can all use a bit of ego boosting from time to time. But I suspect that there might not be entirely 100% correlation between “doing things that make me feel busy/useful/important” and “building the Kingdom of God”, and that it might be a good idea once in a while to stop and be honest about the real reasons why we are doing some things, and not doing others.

Christian events enable us to opt out of real life, which let’s face it, is difficult and tiring and we all need a break from it from time to time. And we are also able to pretend that “back there” somewhere else in our real lives, we are doing better than we are because Christian events don’t require us to prove that we are walking the talk outside of the cosy walls. The 3D people I work with are much more complicated than the 2D powerpoint presentation I put together about them. They also don’t applaud me in the same way as the audience of the powerpoint presentation. It is much easier to be loving to the people who speak my jargon over the coffee that someone else made, than to the kid whinging around my legs or the beggar at my door while I am trying to cook dinner and mop the floor. Take me out of my environment and I can do the image thing; look like I am getting it all right for two, three, even four days at a time. I can also fail to mention to my fellow conference goers that I too am unable to sustain this for more than two minutes in my real relationships back in my real life.

Here in Argentina there are a million self important little ministries who measure their own significance according to the number of international conferences the pastors / leaders attend. How childish, we say, how mickey mouse. Absolutely. Which is why it is hard to know how to respond when those very leaders say of our mission members “(Person) must spend their entire life on board a bus or a plane”. And of course our temptation here is just as high to fill our time with things that make us feel busy/useful/important, as we flit in and out of the meetings we have organised, and just in passing don’t quite have time to allow too many people into our lives in any real or sustained way. Is the observation true? Maybe or maybe not. Are all the miles travelled justifiable? Maybe or maybe not. Actually I don’t think those questions are too relevant. What I think is more relevant, is that this is the impression people have of us. This is the image we have created. This is the Christian life and ministry that our mission (and probably lots of others) has been modelling. So are we going to be OK about this, or do we need to start dealing with it?

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