It is interesting to me that some pastors avoid these conferences. I personally find them to be a blessing. Let me work through some thoughts:
- We get to sit under the preaching of God's Word! Not only that, but it isn't just generic preaching, but preaching to a congregation mostly comprised of pastors. The applications are tailored for us. If you can open your heart to the preaching of the Word, God will richly bless you at the conference.
- At these conferences you see people that you only get to see once or twice a year. You swap stories from your ministries. You inquire about their family and your mutual friends. You care for them. They care for you. You pray for each other. You have lunch together. You realize that you are not all by yourself - that there are other people who know what you are going through and who CARE.
- You meet with your peers - other pastors and missionaries. It is a great place to ask questions and get advice. This can be dangerous ground! It is possible for me to feel like there is a competition running - who has the biggest church, etc. But I find that I am blessed if I put my pride away and make the most of finding out what good ideas God has given to my brothers in Christ. This year in particular, as I anticipate moving from rural ministry to urban ministry, I need all the ideas and inputs I can get!
- The conference is sort of a mini ministry retreat. It is not a vacation - far from it. Leave the TV off. Be careful not to overeat. Use your time alone for prayer and reflection. Think of questions you need to ask and people you want to be sure to talk to. Apply the messages to your own life and ministry. Go to workshops that will stimulate your thinking about your own situation. Talk to people without pretense. Lick your wounds, accept people's encouragement. Encourage some others with the encouragement God has given you.
When I was younger and more insecure, I was nervous about conferences. Sometimes I felt irritated rather than blessed. Now I realize that it was all my own fault. My immaturity and pride were at the heart of it and they were robbing me of the blessings. It wasn't other people who were comparing themselves to me - it was me, comparing myself to them. It wasn't other people criticizing me - it was me being critical of others that left such a bitter taste in my mouth.
God has made us to need fellowship. Conferences like the OARBC conference are great for helping to satisfy that need. Praise God for His wonderful provision!