Cairn University held its first annual Church Leaders’ Conference today and I attended along with three parishioners – John Broglin, Kevin Miller, and Augusto Fiallo. We left together from CCC at 8:30 am and arrived a few minutes later at Cairn University. The conference was being held in Chatlos Chapel, a few Biblical Learning Center classrooms, and the lobby outside of the chapel.
It took only a moment or two to register – picking up lanyards with name tags, a Cairn bag with a few items within, and our first book for the day. Then it was over to the continental breakfast spread – donuts, mixed fruits, danishes, banana bread, and so on along with a number of hot and cold beverage options.
I was very satisfied with the breakfast – though I wish we’d been invited into Chatlos Chapel while eating so that we could have sat at the tables they had setup and which we would eat at for lunch.
At 9 am everyone filed into Chatlos Chapel and Benjamin Harding (with accompaniment) led us in musical worship. It was encouraging to stand amongst eighty or so other pastors and lift our voices in union to the Lord.
Jonathan Master briefly introduced our speaker, R. Kent Hughes, a well-known pastor and author, and the main selling point for me in deciding to attend the conference. Hughes gave an hour long sermon focusing on 2 Corinthians and discussing the nature of suffering and its value for exemplifying Christ in the midst of suffering.
We took a brief break from 10:30 am – 10:45 am and then chose to attend one of several parallel sessions. The options were “Given Over to Death for Jesus’ Sake: Ministry in the Midst of Physical Suffering” by Pastor Matt Ristuccia, “Christ’s Model for Handling Destructive Criticism” by Pastor John Stange, and “The Necessity of Godly Sincerity” by Dr. Jonathan Master. I attended Ristuccia’s session and was blessed to discuss how we can continue to exemplify Christ even in the midst of significant health problems – seeing I have my fair share. John attended Master’s session and reported back positively, Kevin and Augusto attended Stange’s session and also had positive things to say. So, all three sessions seemed to be of high quality.
Now it was time for lunch. This lasted from 12 pm till 12:50 pm. It consisted primarily of sandwiches (tuna fish, chicken), I think some salad (I didn’t have any), maybe some mixed fruits (I think I ate some…), and some dessert pieces (brownies, chocolate chip, peanut butter, and oatmeal cookies). Once again, a satisfying meal and a good time for us to catch up with one another on how the sessions had progressed.
At 1 pm Hughes began the section half of his message which lasted until 2:30 pm and focused on his personal spiritual biography and some of the lessons he had learned in the midst of it. For some reason, throughout the day I was feeling particularly fatigued, so I may have missed some points, but here are a few highlights from Hughes’ second half that I found either insightful or humorous.
- “She may be wrong but she is never in doubt.” (speaking of his wife, who had played a significant role in encouraging him to continue in the ministry at a difficult time, and with the assurance to us that his wife was “okay” with him saying this)
- “God is a servant.” (urging us to contemplate how God’s decision to be a servant affects the way we think, live, and minister)
- “Success is serving with a foot-washing heart.” (no commentary needed)
- “I don’t know what the heart of a bad man is like, but I know what the heart of a good man is like and its terrible.” (quoting, I think, Ivan Turgenev)
- “You can do more after you pray, but you cannot do anything until you pray.” (quoting John Bunyan)
- “At this moment God…loses all reality… Satan does not fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God.” (quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
- “There is no success apart from holiness.” (emphasizing that numbers and other achievements in a ministerial context are worthless apart from personal holiness)
- “This is not the overstated professionalism of the three-piece suit and the power offices of the upper floors, but the understated professionalism of torn blue jeans and the savvy inner ring. This professionalism is not learned in pursuing an MBA, but by being in the know about the ever-changing entertainment and media world. This is the professionalization of ambience, and tone, and idiom, and timing, and banter. It is more intuitive and less taught. More style and less technique. More feel and less force.” (quoting John Piper, explaining that the churches of the past with their CEO style and marketing techniques are bygone, but that the new / emerging church has its own professionalism to beware of…to not mistake for authenticity and truth and holiness)
- Hughes suggested that this new type of church might be described as a mixture of “Bonhoeffer, Bono, and Mother Teresa.” Both of these statements were very thought provoking for me.
- “Success is weakness.” (as we rely on Christ, as we live in Christ, we succeed – faithfulness is our call, not to determine the results)
I enjoyed the second session (above) better than the first session, and probably the highlight was at the end when Hughes opened it up for QA.
At 3 pm the conference was over and we headed out. I was well-satisfied. It had cost me $25, but I’d received two good meals, heard several hours of encouraging teaching, been amongst ministry peers, and received a nifty number of items to boot, the most important being Preach the Word (edited by Leland Ryken and Todd Wilson), Preaching the Word: 2 Corinthians Power in Weakness by R. Kent Hughes (a commentary), and Kent and Barbara Hughes’ Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome. All look like fascinating reads and probably are worth more than the cost of the conference. Smaller items included the Cairn bag and a Cairn coffee mug.
This was a good conference, especially for a first conference. I plan on returning next year and applaud Cairn’s endeavors to reach out to pastors. I also appreciated the gentle way in which Cairn promoted itself. Literature was available on the table, information about the graduate degree program (including auditing free courses) was included in the goody bag, and Todd Williams made a very brief appearance to discuss the University and its desire to interact with pastors. This was all good – it felt like Cairn genuinely was interested in us as pastors and not simply in using us to garner additional students.
Recommendations for Improvement
Still, everything can get better, so I will make a few small suggestions regarding what I’d personally like to see regarding future instances of the conference:
- While the title of the conference was “Church Leaders’ Conference” I felt a bit like it was really a “Pastor’s Conference.” I think anyone could benefit from the material and the presentations, but that it was focused particularly on pastors. That is fine, but I’d encourage more specific naming if that is the direction Cairn is heading, or more diversified material if it wants to attract other church leaders (e.g. elders and various other volunteer leaders).
- I’d also like to see a much larger representation from the female gender if it remains a “Church Leaders’ Conference” – I believe only two women were in attendance. This is another area where clarification of the desired constituency of the conference would be desirable – for example, if it is a “church leaders” conference I’d want to bring my nursery directory, children’s ministry director, secretarial volunteers, and so on – all of which are staffed by women.
- I’d like to see breakfast moved into Chatlos Chapel just like lunch was, giving us the opportunity to sit while eating.
- I’d love to see some vendors there and have some time to walk through displays, etc. from various vendors that have products and services that would help the church – whether this be a bookseller, custom printer, counseling outsourcing, church management software, or so on. Of course, most likely, the biggest section would be books…and from my personal experience, most pastors LOVE books.
- I’d love to see some activities or other methods for encouraging the pastors to interact with one another more and to learn more about one another’s ministries. Understanding the challenges and successes of other ministers can be a great encouragement. Perhaps a “forum” of sorts in which individuals could share very briefly (5 mins.) their experiences to provide a very “quick-fire” approach to allowing a number of folks to share.
- The topics which are most common or which attract the most interest might make for good sessions for the next year’s conference.
- I’d recommend not having one speaker for 2.5 hours, but instead have another breakout session with various options – perhaps including a session by the main speaker. The main speaker could then close up the entire day with perhaps a 30 min. conclusion. I wouldn’t want to be speaking for 2.5 hrs!
I’m exceptionally excited about two of the books I received. First there is Preach the Word which contains essays by Paul House, Leland Ryken, Wayne Grudem, John MacArthur, Duane Litfin, J.I. Packer, D.A. Carson, and Philip Ryken – to name just those I am familiar with.
The second is Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome – something which I think is so important for every minister of the gospel and for the entire church congregation to understand and apply.