I don’t know about you but most of the time when I go to pastors conferences, I walk away discouraged. Not because the people who spoke didn’t do a good job or don’t have good things to say. But many times I wonder if the speakers have any idea what it is like to be an average pastor of an average church. To be fair, no one would come to a conference if the keynote speaker is a guy like me who no one has ever heard of. The only way to get people to come is to have speakers who are nationally known. And those are usually the people who have very large churches. But when they share strategies they have learned in those large churches, I feel even more alienated. Skills in big churches do not translate well to skills in small churches. That’s the reality. And as long as conferences continue to ignore the 82% of us that pastor average size churches I will continue to be skeptical with their conferences.
This is how I felt going into the YoungPastors conference held in Texas two weeks ago. I was bracing myself as I saw the list of who’s who on the bill. What I experienced was surprisingly refreshing. From the very moment it started it was different. It wasn’t hype. It wasn’t presentation. It was all about spiritual formation for the called. It was local. It was affordable. It was encouraging. I came way with ideas. I came away with free books. It was a conference that actually helped. Here is my brief recap with some of the most meaningful things for me:
Shane and Shane: They opened with a couple songs of worship. Just two guys and a guitar. We sang and praised God as people who rarely get to just focus on worship. They made it simple. I felt at home.
Alicia Chole: Noted speaker and author Alicia Brit Chole shared from her book Anonymous. A topic many of us average pastors identify with. Many speakers talk about the successes, she focused on how to handle obscurity. She talked about the hidden years and how to embrace them. It made me feel good about being anonymous.
Leonard Sweet: Distinguished professor and author Leonard Sweet spoke on practical communication of the word of God that all of us could apply as we preach. He discussed the importance of story in communicating the gospel. He also threw in a couple ideas parenthetically that I took away. Including a commentary on how the church is “franchising” instead of being “zip code focused”.
There were several practical panel discussions of Innovation and Pastoral health. Rob Ketterling spoke about changing before you have to. Choco DeJesus gave encouragement to go further with more anointing. Scott Wilson brought us to our knees in looking for the idols of success we have made. Every session was encouraging and never made me feel out of place as a pastor of a small church. Every session was for me.
Two particularly helpful sessions I took away from the conference were these:
Dr. Sam Chand: Sam Chand, the coaching guru to the largest of churches had two talks that helped me. One was “Take care of your wife, take care of you kids, take care of your money”. Such a simple admonition from a guy that coaches the worlds largest churches. Yet all pastors, no matter the size, all struggle with those three areas. The second was his talk with lead pastors on helping your staff know you. He shared that Pastors always assume their church and staff knows them. But he recommends that a pastor give his staff a user manual. In it outline “This is how I communicate” “this is how you should give me ideas” “this is how to disagree with me” and several others. That was gold to a pastor like me that doesn’t get to sit down with my staff very often.
Rob Hoskins of ONEHOPE shared about missional strategy. Most churches have a mission. But does your missions program match your mission as a church? I realized that our church supports missions because we know the missionary or like the place where they are serving. But this generation is not loyal to denominational brand or people. They want outcomes or they wont give. They want to see their missions giving match the vision of the church. He encouraged us to have a missions strategy that looks for missionaries and projects based on missional criteria and that evaluates the effectiveness of each dollar. We are now working on a strategy in my church for how and why we do missions that will be a better reflection of what God has called us to do.
In this day when the divide between large churches and small churches continue to grow, I found this conference refreshing. I didn’t feel like an small church pastor. I felt like a person called to serve God’s church. And I felt like every speaker, no matter how famous, felt that way about me too. It was a conference for average pastors. I am glad I went.