Cairn University Church Leader’s Conference.

Overview

Cairn University held its second annual Church Leaders’ Conference today and I attended along with two parishioners – John Broglin and Kiki Mackey (my sister-in-law). We left together from CCC at 8:45 am and arrived a few minutes later at Cairn. The conference was being held in Chatlos Chapel, a few Biblical Learning Center classrooms, and the lobby outside of the chapel. I attended the conference last year as well and you can see my thoughts on that conference here.

Synopsis

Morning

Once again the process of registration was speedy – taking only a few seconds. We picked up lanyard name tags, a Cairn bag with a few items (pen, program, index card, and a brochure for Cairn’s MAR, MDIV, and THM degree offerings). Then it was off to a second table where we were offered our choice of Cairn coffee or travel mug and a book (Does Grace Grow Best in Winter? by Ligon Duncan with J. Nicholas Reid).

Then it was over to the continental breakfast – which again included donuts, mixed fruits, danishes, and so on along with a number of hot/cold beverages. I’m a pretty simple guy and enjoy a good continental breakfast – and this satisfied me fully. They also opened Chatlos Chapel for us so we could sit down while eating (which was a step up from last year I  appreciated).

By 9 am everyone had filed into Chatlos Chapel and Benjamin Harding along with a string quartet[1] (consisting of Cairn students) led us in musical worship. We stood together and sang Bless the Lord (Matt Redman) followed by a hymn (the title of which I cannot recall) and then Bob Kauflin’s O Great God.

J. Ligon Duncan III, Chancellor & CEO, John E. Richards Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary.

J. Ligon Duncan III, Chancellor & CEO, John E. Richards Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary.

Jonathan Master briefly introduced our speaker, Dr. J. Ligon Duncan, a well-known pastor, professor, and author. I wasn’t as familiar with him as last year’s speaker – R. Kent Hughes – but having been so pleased with the previous year’s conference, I decided to attend again (and am glad I did).

Duncan gave an hour long sermon on Ministry in the Midst of Suffering utilizing a number of passages throughout the Old and New Testaments (such as Nehemiah 9:27, Job 2:13, Ephesians 3:13, 2 Tim. 1:8-9, 2:3, 4:5; Hebrews 2:10; James 5:10,13; 1 Peter 2:19-21, 5:9-10).

We had a brief break from 10:30 am to 10:45 am and I scooted off to one of the lesser-known bathrooms at Cairn to skip the lines. We now had the opportunity to choose between several different parallel sessions. The options were “Discipling Your Family Through Personal Suffering” (Pastor Rob Burns), “Bouncing Back from Burnout” (Pastor John Stange), “No Graven Image: Suffering and How We Think of God” (Curtis Hill)[2], or “Suffering as God’s Discipline” (Dr. Jonathan Master).

I chose to attend Stange’s Bouncing Back from Burnout, first b/c Stange is a local pastor and I don’t get the opportunity to hear others speak frequently – so I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. Secondly, b/c I’ve been through some suffering in my life which is conducive to burnout along with being the sort of personality that tends towards burnout.

Stange’s session was informative. Stange is a light-hearted speaker who manages to intertwine humor with the ‘serious stuff.’ He used ample illustrations from his own life and stories from Luke 9 and 10 to anchor his thesis – that burnout usually occurs when we become more invested in doing for Christ than delighting in Christ. My favorite quote from the session was, “You don’t have to attend every argument you are invited to…when you argue with a baby, both you and the baby look stupid.” While humorous, it also portrays some frequently forgotten truths…I’ll let you figure out what they are.

Kiki attended the session with Stange while John attended Rob Burns’ session – which he enjoyed and shared his notes with me – and I found them useful and encouraging as well.

Afternoon

Lunch was cold hoagies, fruit and vegetable salads, chips, pretzels, brownies, cookies, hot/cold beverages, and so on. A satisfying meal and a great opportunity to discuss with other attendees.

Dr. Todd Williams dropped in briefly to greet us and encourage us that Cairn deeply believes in its role as support to rather than replacement of the church and that it encourages all its students – whether pastoral or business (or education, social work, counseling, and so on) majors to be actively engaged with the church throughout their lifetimes.

Benjamin Harding again led us in musical worship – this time we sang Bancroft’s Before the Throne of God Above and Keith Getty and Stuart Townend’s In Christ Alone – two of my favorite songs.

Dr. Duncan spoke from perhaps 1:15-1:20 till 2:15-2:30 pm. There was a ten minute period in which everyone was encouraged to pray with those at their table for one another and the sufferings we are/will encounter and strength to glorify God in the midst of them.

Then Dr. Master asked attendee submitted questions of Dr. Duncan from 2:30 to 3:00 pm. I had almost skipped out on this part – but am glad I didn’t. Duncan addressed quite thoroughly several important topics including pastoral responses to clinical depression and whether leaders should continue in leadership in the midst of struggles at home.

When it was all over we made our way back out and were greeted with another book (I got two, as I missed picking up the second around lunch time) – Thomas Watson’s  (17th century) All Things For Good which he wrote as a pastor during a significant period of suffering and Preaching the Cross, a compilation by Mark Dever, Duncan, R. Albert Mohler Jr.,  C.J. Mahaney, John MacArthur, John Piper, and R.C. Sproul.

The new Director of Advancement (whose name I have unfortunately already forgotten) grabbed me on the way out and offered me a Cairn t-shirt – which I gladly accepted and look forward to wearing proudly and frequently.

Overall

Once again, I was greatly satisfied with the conference. It cost $25 again this year – but $25 for at least four or five hours of solid teaching, two meals, and three books (plus Cairn memorabilia) – I say that is a pretty sweet deal.

I think this is a very intelligent move on Cairn’s part to reach out to church leaders. It brings scores of leaders onto the Cairn campus where they have the opportunity to interact with faculty and staff from the University. The light touch Cairn demonstrated again this year in self-promotion again reinforced the feel that Cairn was and is sincerely interested in being a resource for church leaders and not simply in using church leaders as a recruitment tool.

Recommendations for Improvement

Some of the small items that I thought could be improved last year where improved to my delight, but there is always the opportunity for further improvement, so here are my recommendations for next year’s conference:

  1. Last year I had commented on the feel I had that it was “Pastor’s Conference” as opposed to a “Church Leaders’ Conference” – despite the latter being the name. In one small way, this front took a step backward as some of the signage spoke of the “Pastor’s Forum” – which reinforces the idea that the conference is for pastors exclusively.[3]
    1. Overall, I felt the general session and breakout sessions (at least the one I attended) where more open to general audiences than last years had been, so this was a step forward.
    2. Another item I had mentioned on this front was the lack of female attendees – last year I saw two. This year there was a small leap forward to perhaps five or eight – but the conference continued to be male dominated. I think this is unfortunate and would love to see the diversity increase significantly.[4]
  2. I still think that adding some vendors and giving us some time to walk through displays, etc. would be a worthwhile endeavor. Not only could Cairn charge vendors for this privilege, but more importantly, it would provide church leaders’ the opportunity to interact with vendors – and even in an internet age, finding vendors for specific products/services (especially related to ministry) is not always the easiest task and there is something to be said for face-to-face interaction and hands-on product demonstration.
  3. Last year I had suggested more opportunity for individuals to interact with one another and share their experiences. I think a bit more of this occurred around the meals, in the breakout sessions, and so on – though I’m not sure that anything was altered. I’d still love to interact with others more, but also felt the conference was pretty packed and that it might not be feasible to jam another opportunity into the already full day.
  4. While last year I wasn’t too excited about the main speaker going on for 2.5 hrs. throughout the day, this year I felt the length much less. The length of the speaking could perhaps be reduced to 1.75 hrs. and then points 2 and/or 3 might be implemented during that time.

Conclusion

If you are in church ministry and anywhere near Cairn University, I highly recommend making the Cairn Church Leaders’ Conference part of your annual schedule. It is a relaxing, edifying, and educational experience at a price one can’t beat.

  1. [1]Excuse my music terminology, I’m not sure I am using the right term here.
  2. [2]I’m guessing a pastor as well, but I haven’t personally interacted with Mr. Hill and the program didn’t say.
  3. [3]I assume that Cairn is attempting to bring in a wide circle of ministry leaders, but if I’m incorrect and they desire to reach almost exclusively pastors with this conference, I’d suggest that a change of name to something like “Pastor’s Conference” would make sense.
  4. [4]Perhaps I was just more aware this year, but I did notice several ethnic minorities present – which I also see as a positive move towards diversity. I know Cairn has made great steps in diversifying the student body and I’d love to see the conference reflect that diversity as well.

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