Let’s face it: If you wanted to attend a conference, seminar, or other group gathering related to ministry every day of your life, you could. It seems like there is a never-ending supply and wealth of information out in the world. Whether it is an in-person event or online gathering, there is certainly no shortage of opportunities to learn about almost anything you can imagine. In fact, there is a culture of “professional conference-going” that seems to have popped up in our nation today. The same people attend all the same conferences. It becomes a competition to see who has the most events listed on an ever-growing resume.
But as church leaders, we have a job to do! We have a flock of people in our congregation who need us to be present to minister to them and to help them grow in their own relationships with the Creator. Our own personal development is important, but we need to give it the proper level of priority within our own daily schedules, ministry commitment, and personal areas of passion.
Given that we cannot attend every conference that piques our interest, how in the world are we supposed to choose from among all the excellent offerings for knowledge development that are out there?
- Is it within your area of passion and expertise? It is often rightly said, “Jack of all trades; master of none.” While we may be tempted to continually grow our level of expertise in a varied number of professions, specialties, and competencies, perhaps the best use of our time requires that we know our strengths and seek to grow ourselves in those areas. Although we may want to satisfy our curiosity or learn skills that would look good on a resume, the reality is we were created by God with certain gifts and abilities that should be used for him. Attending conferences and seminars that help to develop those God-given qualities can only help us to excel in the areas to which God has already called us and in which we can do the most good for His Kingdom.
- Will learning something new have professional or personal outcomes? We all like learning new things. However, attending conferences in a wide array of subject matters may or may not actually help us produce greater long-lasting outcomes for the Kingdom and in our personal lives. There are very few things in life that we cannot find someone else to help us with. As church leaders, it is our duty to empower the body of Christ around us to use their God-given gifts to serve him. We don’t have to do everything ourselves. So unless there will be specific outcomes that will produce benefits for the widest number of people, attending a conference to learn something completely new may not be the best stewarding of our time.
- Does it offer you a chance to build beneficial relationships? Sometimes the main benefit of attending a conference may not be the conference topic itself. Instead, taking a look at the list of conference speakers or attendees may produce opportunities to meet new people within your area of expertise who can help you in your ministry. Alternately, attending a conference may assist ministry leaders in expanding their sphere of influence in such a way that would bring valuable resources in the form of speakers, mentors, or experts back to the congregation as they all seek growth in their spiritual and personal development. Building relationships is always a good and valuable thing to do. Sometimes this can happen in big ways at conferences and seminars and make attending them worth the time and expense.
- Does it fit within your budget? Perhaps a seemingly simple question, but ministry dollars are definitely hard to come by these days, and we as leaders must make sure that we are stewarding every dollar with great care and making the most of what we’ve been given. Evaluate whether a big-name conference with big-name speakers in a faraway place with its accompanying airfare, hotel, and food expenses is actually better than a local conference with local speakers who are not as famous, but might have excellent things to say. Evaluate whether one person should go to a more costly conference or whether 2-3 people from your ministry staff could go to a local, less expensive seminar to expand the exposure to ministry growth. Every year during budget time, try to carefully determine a healthy yet realistic budget for conferences, seminars, and education and stick to that budget. If unexpected opportunities appear, rather than spending unbudgeted money, try to raise funds from other sources to allow participation in the unplanned event.
- Does it offer a chance for Sabbath? Sometimes, the biggest benefit church leaders get from attending a conference is the chance for a break. Church leaders have to fight diligently to get the Sabbath rest that they need. The demands of the pulpit rarely allow for a full day off or for a lengthy vacation. Therefore, sometimes it is worth the time expense of attending a conference just to achieve that change of pace that will refresh them and prepare them adequately for the next season of ministry. While not a replacement for a vacation, out of town seminars can be useful for leaders of all kinds who seek renewal even in the midst of every day.
Before you sign up to attend a conference, ask yourself the hard questions. Set goals and objectives for your time at the event, and then spend time afterward evaluating how you will apply all that you’ve learned to your own ministry scenario. Make the most of every opportunity and know that a little discernment can help make your conference-going experiences worth just a little bit more.