A lot of benefit
For many years now I have been going to an annual Pastors'/Leaders' conference in London and each year I have come home refreshed, having heard the Lord speak to me, sometimes to encourage, sometimes to rebuke, always to bless.
I can remember in the first few years as a pastor wondering if someone had given the conference organisers a tip off about my last year, so relevant and encouraging were the talks to my situation. One older speaker was a particular blessing because he had worked so hard to walk a mile in the moccasins of us young ministers.
And today, Day 1, in line with the past, has been a real blessing.
The turning point
But eight years ago something happened which made me 'wake up'. I took with me an ordinary church pastor with no formal training, no prior university education - but a very very fine pastor and preacher. I thought he would benefit, as I had. But to my astonishment he gained very little from the whole three days. He liked the people, he was in no way being critical or judgemental of the brothers he met; he simply did not know what they were on about. Their use of language, their illustrations, their style, their logic all came from another world: the university world and it completely failed to touch him.
From that moment onwards I began to put myself each year in his shoes (which ironically are also my shoes) and sure enough over the last 8 years I can see where he is coming from. Why hadn't I spotted it before? (See the end for one possible answer...)
This conference and others like it are run by highly educated pastors who preach in large and influential churches around the world. The illustrations they use are from Universities, from Law and from Cricket. In the years I have attended (well over 20) no-one has ever illustrated a talk with the pain of coming off methadone abuse or the struggle of making ends meet, or what's happening in Eastenders.
And the golden rule is this: who is on the stage reflects who comes to the conference. If it's all middle class blokes on the stage eventually it'll be all middle class in the congregation. The problem of class has seemingly got worse over the years. For example they used to have ordinary musical instruments in the band [you know, guitar, bass, drums] but now it's just grand piano and good but rather posh singers. This means that the conference is made up of leaders/pastors who reflect a tiny segment of the UK population. There seem to be few fishermen among the throngs.
This segment of the UK population - the educated middle and upper classes - need the Gospel to be sure, and their pastors need equipping, but now I am asking, where is there in the UK a conference for the bigger rank of ordinary pastors who have drug addicts and plumbers and mechanics and shop workers in their congregations? Whose sermons are not analytical Biblical expositions? Whose musicians include drummers and guitarists?
It's not that the conference I have been attending should come to an end. It's not that it should accommodate ordinary pastors - my guess is that the accommodation would be impossible (it ought to be possible, but I cannot see a fisherman being invited to speak, though an-almost fisherman made a guest appearance for one talk last year).
Time for change - or a new conference
It is time there was a conference for pastors who work in ordinary churches, who come from ordinary backgrounds, who serve ordinary folk, who like Wesley and Whitfield work hard at preaching to the man in the street, but unlike them, haven't got a posh education (but have been taught in the far higher and more prestigious school of Jesus Christ).
Is there such a conference already?
Would the existing conferences be willing to change (very significantly) to make their conferences attractive to ordinary pastors?
Why didn't I spot this 20 years ago?
Perhaps the problem is even more disturbing. Perhaps pastors, even though they feel the tension between what happens at Conference and what will happen next Sunday, are quite happy to go to a conference where Dr A and Dr B are speaking because it is their only link to some kind of "higher institution", "higher event", "academic institution", which gives them, in their minds, some kind of qdos in the church or world ("I'm going to a conference this week, so there, I am not just an ordinary despised pastor!")
Perhaps that's why I never realised all of this until 8 years ago, perhaps this is the reason I have been going all these years.....(ouch!)