Monday, July 18, 2011

Two conferences, many differences

I've been to two conferences this year.  I was very excited about going to both.  I deeply appreciate good preaching and teaching and neither of the conferences disappointed in that regard.  Yet, there were some drastic differences between the two events.  What follows is an observation of those differences.

The first one I attended was the Ligonier conference in Orlando.  It was hosted by First Baptist Church of Orlando, a massive complex with ample seating and extensive facilities for eating, a bookstore, plenty of parking and a state of the art multimedia system.  The sheer size and capability of the place was impressive.  The speakers preached on the topic of Light and Heat.  It was mostly a tribute of sorts to the ministry of John Piper (Desiring God) and R.C. Sproul (Ligonier).  It was really cool to be able to sit and listen to these men.  Their teaching has had a profound impact on me over the years.  When I left that conference I had a deeper sense of the Holiness of God.  His marvelous "otherness" left me feeling wholly unworthy of Him.  This, I think is very true and a good thing.  What I realize now as I look back on it is that I also felt very distant from our great and Holy God.  It was as though I felt like He could not be defiled by my sinful, fallen, human hands.  So, while I praised Him for His grace in electing and saving me I was still left with a sense of great distance between He and I.

The conference I was at over this past weekend was entirely different.  It was the Threshold 2011 Missional Organic Church conference.  It was held in a quaint little conference room in a Holiday Inn hotel.  The hosts had to cut off registration months ago because they had filled to capacity.  This was a good and a bad thing.  Good because it kept costs down (this conference was completely free to attend) but bad because there were many who were left out and unable to come because of space imitations.  The room where we gathered was less than a quarter the size of the bookstore at the former conference.  The Threshold conference was unlike any I had ever been to.  The focus of the conference was obviously to build relationships.  The speakers would share what the Lord had led them to prepare and then they gave out an assignment of sorts that we would then share with those at our table.  Yes, we sat at tables of no more than eight people rather than in stadiun style seating in rows.  This gave us an opportunity to get to know the others at our table and see what Christ has been doing in their life.  This time led right into a six hour break.  This time was spent having luch together and spending the afternoon sharing more stories and hanging out with folks who were strangers only a few hours ago and were quickly becoming much more like family.  In contrast, at the Ligonier conference the only conversations I had were about the weather, our travel to Orlando, or the speakers at the conference.  Nothing any deeper than that.

If the relational aspect of the conference were not enough, the teaching was phenominally different and in my opinion much better.  It seemed as though all these speakers intended to do was display the magnifiscence of Christ and lead us to embrace our unity with Him.  To yearn for Him, search for Him and feast on Him as never before.  This reconciliation between myself and Christ was much more than just sensing a closeness to Him.  I realized the powerful truth that Christ is IN me and I am IN Him.  Words cannot express.

Another major difference between the two conference was the accessablility of the speakers.  At the first event the speakers would emerge out of a back door from some inaccessable part of the building, stride onto the stage and give their presentation and then disappear into the back again.  At the latter gathering, the speakers sat at the tables with the other brothers and sisters until they stood up to speak and then after each session they stayed in the room for hours answering questions and encouraging those who wanted to speak with them.  Their accessability was reflective of the relationship we have with our Lord.  They were not distant and fleeting but they stayed near and were ready to listen and share themselves with us.

There is so much more I want to share about the conference.  I'm sure the impact it had on me will spill forth into my writing in the future.  For the meantime I thought I would share these few observations on the two conferences.


  1. It sounds like the Threshold conference was excellent, I enjoyed your tweets. The Ligonier conference sounds a lot like the Together for the Gospel conference: great speakers, great atmosphere, high production value, minimal fellowship. It is not that I don't see a value in that sort of high level teaching but at this stage of my life I see relationships with other believers as far more crucial to my maturity than listening to famous speakers given the same basic talks that I have heard dozens of times before.

  2. Great summary, Bobby. I was glad to meet you in person this weekend. Sorry we were only able to get together for lunch once.

  3. Arthur,

    yes, it was excellent. It exceeded my expectations. It was great to finally meet some of the twitter peeps we have been conversing with about Christ and church life. The best thing about the conference was coming away with a sense of oneness with Christ rather than a distance from Him. It was very edifying.

  4. Thanks, Bobby, for sharing here and on Twitter with the rest of us... those were two conferences I would have enjoyed very much- and, I imagine, in the same way you have described.

    Reminds of the story of six blind men who each found a different part of the elephant and came away with different descriptions of him

    The more we are able to interact, the more we learn about the elephant and each other.

  5. Mark,

    it was great to meet you and your wife. Carry no regrets bro, the limits of time are passing away. We will feast together for eternity.


    I've heard that story before and you're right, it is very applicable. Maybe someday this side of the Lord's day we will meet face to face. I'd like that very much.

  6. Wow... for the first time in several years, I want to go to a conference.


  7. Alan,

    maybe you should organize a conference in your area. I'd sure love to be a part of that. :)

  8. Bobby,

    Really enjoyed getting to meet you & your wife. Wish we could have spent more time with both of you, especially at our lunch that day at Wendy's. We'll have to plan a trip to Savannah soon if that sounds good to you your spirit brother. blessings.
    Harry & Jennie from Alamo

  9. Harry,

    it's too bad you reside all the way in Dublin. It would be great to continue to build the relationship that we have started over the weekend. Seeing the two of you again would bring me great joy. I look forward to hearing from you and making plans accordingly.

  10. Thanks for posting about it, Bobby! I'm disappointed that we couldn't go...wanted to, but couldn't work it out. I'll be looking forward to any more about it that you find the time and inspiration to write.

  11. Sounds like you had a great time, Bobby. I'd love to hear more of your experience. Thanks for the report!

  12. Bobby,
    Savannah isn't too far. I'll probably be in the historic district next week.

  13. Just saw this, Bobby. This is so encouraging, bro.

    Milt, Alan and I wanted to make this conference "different" and it appears clear that our goals and intentions were met. We had almost 300 in attendance this year. Next time we need a bigger space. Not a bad problem to have, but still a problem. :-)

    I'm so glad to hear what God did in your heart also as a result. He is nearer to us than the breath of our mouth.

    It was great meeting you and your wife. You are both a blessing.

    Christ is ALL!

    Frank Viola

    Psalm 115:1

  14. Ester,

    Maybe next year :) as for writing, I don't think I can contain myself

  15. Josh,

    we had a wonderful time. Love your blog. Thanks for the encouragement.

  16. Harry,

    let me know when you are coming into town. I'd love to see you again.

  17. Frank,

    I'm so glad I could reciprocate the encouragement. You have been a tremendous encouragement to me and many others.

    I look forward to meeting even more peeps next year and sharing life for the weekend. You know, Savannah has some pretty great venues ;)


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