I’ve been to my fair share of church conferences in the past decade. Some have been helpful. Most have not.
The process is similar at just about every conference: thousands of dollars are put into marketing budgets, glossy fliers and paying large honorariums to the top Christian leaders in the country (recognized by their large congregation’s weekend attendance) to come and share how their church got to be so big, so innovative, so special, so efficient. The programming at these conferences is flawless, the presentations are perfect – but for those attendees, the drive home is crappy.
I’m a big fan of learning from wise women and men who have led their congregations well. But 94.3% of pastors who’ve attended these conferences (or somewhere around that number) walk away feeling guilty, insecure or feeling like utter failures. It leaves attendees feeling as though they can’t possibly relate to the speakers on the platform. It can breed insecurity and comparison. Or, maybe worse, we walk away thinking we’ve found the silver bullet, the key concept, the perfect model that we can rush home and implement immediately. We’ve been convinced that the key method/approach/model/style will unlock the reason why our church isn’t doubling in attendance every three and a half months like the guy we heard share on stage. Sometimes pastors’/church leaders’ conferences slowly and persuasively convince that I – we – are the head of our church. Last I checked, Jesus is the head of it.
But seriously, what if there was an EPIC FAIL Pastors’ Conference (with the tag line “Where leaders put their worst foot forward“)?
1. Hold a conference for 2-3 days.
2. Invite healthy, faithful, honest and deep pastors/leaders from around the country (most who pastor congregations under 250 people) to speak.
3. Invite the speakers to share about two things: (a) their failures (not their successes) in ministry and (b) how God’s grace was present despite the messes. Think of it: the stories of the messes, mistakes, gaffes, insecurities and sin of church leaders are shared openly, not as experts, but as fellow journeyers. Broken and contrite spirits with a posture saturated with the experience of grace shared with fellow ragamuffins by genuine fools for Christ. Some of it may evoke laughter or tears – or both. The purpose is not to puff themselves up, not to speak with a veiled sense of false humility, not a gripe session, not to have a woe-is-me attitude seeking pity from other leaders and definitely not a “let me one-up your worst ministry experience” time. It’s a space to be courageous and broken and authentic in the struggles of pastors who are attempting to live out the gospel faithfully and imperfectly even when we don’t want to – and even when we screw it up big time.
4. Pray together. A lot.
5. End the conference by participating in communion together: realizing the work of Jesus covers over any mess or mistake or sin we’ve committed, remembering the posture of brokenness and desperation and nothingness is the soil in which the gospel flourishes best.
I know this idea might sound ludicrous. But what if we led out of our weakness, not our strengths? Scripture is full of failures, screw-ups, ragamuffins and laughingstocks who God used in incredibly powerful ways (Moses, Abraham, David, Jacob, Jeremiah, Rahab, Peter – shall we go on?) If the saying is true that if you preach from your weaknesses, you’ll never run out of material, then imagine the great stuff that could come out of a few days together sharing our failures and how God showed up in the midst of them. It’s not a time to celebrate our weaknesses in a masochistic way, but as a way of saying despite all of this, God’s grace has been sufficient for me on the journey in ministry. God has worked mightily, despite my efforts. He’s working at times – even in spite of me.
If this were ever pulled off, I’m convinced people would NOT walk away from attending a conference and think…
“Wow, that speaker was amazing. I couldn’t possibly be that charismatic of a speaker…”
“That worship leader was incredible. Why can’t we have someone like him on our staff?”
“Man, that pastor preaches to 13,000 each weekend. I preach to 67 – and that includes the noisy children. I’m not very effective or influential…if I could just imitate his style we’d draw thousands.”
…but instead I’m convinced people would walk away and think, God’s grace is sufficient – yes, even for me. Isn’t that the point of this thing called ministry in the first place?
I’m convinced the Church needs something like this.
UPDATE: Great news! I’m excited to announce that the EPIC FAIL Pastor’s Conference will be held Friday April 15 – Saturday April 16, 2011 in the Greater Philadelphia Area (Lansdale, PA) at the Third and Walnut Bar and Grille. Stay tuned to the blog for more information or contact EPIC FAIL Pastors’ Conference Director Jason Sheffield at EpicFailPastorsConference@gmail.com or at 719.640.7201