Conducting a Conference
Inasmuch as there has been considerable enquiry relative to Annual Conferences, their merits, their arrangement and in some cases their disbandment, this article is inserted in The Forum in order to stimulate serious thinking and godly exercise. The article first appeared in The Believer’s Treasurey, November, 1895.
There are several different ways in which Christian “Conferences” may be conducted. We do not write to suggest any method that has never been tried before. Our present object is rather to review the methods already in use, and to make a few practical reflections thereon.
There is, first, the open principle. That is the method of inviting saints over a wide area to come together in a particular hall to wait on the Lord for ministry as He may guide. Such a conference is at once “thrown open” and, if any brethren in the body of the hall have a desire to minister the Word, they are told that they are expected to speak from the platform. It is thus clear that any brother who feels his call to speak, is at liberty to stand forth and deliver his message. We do not doubt that Conferences, conducted on this principle, have often been found helpful; yea, have in many cases proved times of refreshing. Yet it is only fair to say that many brethren question how far it is right to take the “open” principle that rules at the Breaking of Bread in a local Assembly and apply it to the very much larger and more varied circle of a general Believer’s Conference. Such liberty in a Conference may easily be abused.
As a matter of fact, it has been abused. No one will deny that brethren without the fitness for ministering the Word on a Conference platform, have been only too ready to avail themselves of what they call “their liberty.” The result has been that godly souls who have travelled a long way to hear a message from God, have been grievously disappointed. Some may say that failure of that kind does not necessarily prove this method of conducting a Conference to be wrong. But may the failure not be traceable to this, that we apply the “open” principle to meetings to which Scripture does not intend that principle to be applied? If a Conference is thrown open, it becomes a delicate matter to silence a brother when once he has made a beginning, no matter how manifestly unequal he may be to the occasion. These difficulties have been perceived; and the result has been that a slightly different mode of conducting a Conference has become common. To avoid the risk of a brother rising and “wasting” the meeting, and also to let the saints know at whose mouth they are to hear the Word, invitations are sent out by a local Assembly to certain ministering brethren. On receiving their promise to be present, the local brethren issue a circular saying that these three or four brethren, with others, are expected to minister the Word. This kind of Conference is not “thrown open,” at least not until the brethren named on the circular have all delivered their message. This has the merit of letting you know what ministering servants you are going to hear, and that they will have the privilege of speaking first. By the time they have delivered their souls, the hour of closing is usually near at hand, and there is not likely to be further ministry. This method when wisely gone about, is generally successful. It at least gains its point in securing that the time is occupied, by well-known ministering brethren. When we say “wisely gone about,” we imply that the securing of the speakers may not be wisely gone about. We have known cases in which invitations were sent to several ministering brethren, each of whom came together without any idea of what other brethren were to be on the platform. The result was that brethren of “diverging schools of thought” found themselves on the same platform; and what one brother built up another pulled down, a danger to which the “open” Conference is no less exposed. If a ministering brother has no idea who is to be associated with him on a public platform, this may gender to bondage. Local brethren who are “wise” will observe these things; for it is certainly an important matter that those on the platform should, with one mouth and one voice, glorify God.
In the remaining method which we have now to consider, there is no pretence whatever of acting on the “open” principle. We refer to the method of three or four ministering brethren taking the initiative themselves, and calling a Conference of Believers. These three or four ministering brethren gravitate towards each other by the law of a common affinity; and, feeling the burden of a certain message needed for the times, they invite God’s people to come and hear that message. The advantages of this method of arranging a Conference (or “Meeting of Believers,” as it would more correctly be called) are apparent. The ministering brethren are of one mind, else they would not have gravitated towards each other of their own accord. This is a great matter. We need not doubt that the witnesses shall agree with each other. Assuming the three or four ministering brethren to be men of God, we may reasonably expect a message from God. The fact that they have been burdened as to the need of the saints, and have found each other out, is a better guarantee that they are sent, than those who are merely selected by some brethren in a local Assembly. It seems to us to be specially in keeping with the dignity of the Lord’s servants that they should act spontaneously, in obedience to the call of God, and not remain inactive until some local brethren make their selection and say, “We would like brothers So-and-so, and So-and-so, to address us.”
We may say that it is not uncommon for one ministering brother to say to a company of believers at a distance, “I have a message I should like to deliver on such a night.” They are glad, and arrange accordingly. Now, it is the same principle, only on an enlarged scale, when two, or three, or more ministering brethren call a believers meeting in a wider area to hear some special message.
We see this principle in operation in certain circles, and with manifest tokens for good. We humbly think that there might be among ourselves a wider recognition of the same principle.
When the Lord’s sent ones shall arise to a higher apprehension of their true calling, and go forth at the bidding of God with messages from the Throne, we do not think they shall find any lack of “recognition” of the principle to which we have been referring.
—Submitted by T.G.W.