On any given night in Singapore there is a Christian seminar going on. Probably a few. I discovered this when I moved down here and ran a few seminars of my own. Invariably they would clash with other seminars held on the same evenings. These seminars can be roughly divided into a few types:
- Church run seminars which are part of the church’s Christian education programme.
- Seminars run at the denominational level.
- Seminars run by the many parachurch groups and Christian institutions in Singapore.
- Seminars run because some famous foreign speaker (usually American) is in town.
Each of the above seminars will be run by folks oblivious of what the other groups are doing. From the perspective of the regular believer however, he or she is exhorted, in very strong terms by key authority figures, to attend all these conferences. And so many Christians end up spending a lot of time attending seminars. I am sure many of these seminars are excellent. So why should we be worried? For a number of reasons.
First, many seminars tend to be instructional where the focus is on imparting information. Usually lecture based, the seminar participant enjoys the talk if the speaker is good but it is essentially a passive experience. In a large group, the participant is often anonymous. There is little or no opportunity to know how the things being taught impact the contours of the participant’s life. Such talks are not set up for meaningful dialogue. And there is no way to know if the participant actually puts into practice the things that he or she learns.
Indeed, there is the danger that when a participant has attended a particular seminar, or course, he or she thinks that they have now mastered the subject because they now have some mastery of the subject matter. In the parable of the two foundations (Matthew 7:24-27), Jesus makes it clear that the issue is not whether one knows the truth. The issue is whether one lives by the truth. A large edifice of head knowledge may hide a shallow foundation of minimal life change, something that will only be apparent when the storms of life hit.
And there is the whole matter of the stewardship of time. If one were to go to all the good seminars in town in a given year — how many hours will that add up to? Might be useful to total up the number of hours one spends at Christian seminars in a year. How else could some of that time be spent? How do we strike the right balance between learning and living? As James reminds us, sin is not just doing things that are wrong. It is also not doing the good we ought to do (James 4:17).
Other cities in Asia may not have the surfeit of Christian training resources available in Singapore. This means believers in Singapore, and other places in the world where there are many training opportunities available, must be very discerning as to what training opportunities they should pursue. They need to be very selective. They need to carve out adequate times of solitude when they can meditate on what they have learnt. Only then can they ensure that the truth that they hear shapes their heart and issues forth in life, and not just remain in their seminar folders and in their heads.
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. (James 1:22-25 NLT)
In addition to times set apart for reflection, there should also be times spent discussing what one has learnt in the context of community. As Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:16a, learning is a communal activity.
Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. (NLT)
Community helps us to clarify our understanding. Community also helps us to find the spiritual and emotional encouragement we need to live out our convictions.
Therefore, in a city like Singapore where we have so many Christian training opportunities, believers must be wise. We need to be wise as to which seminars if any we take. And for every seminar we take, we must give adequate time for reflection as an essential follow through. We also need to find good friends to talk through what we have learnt. In other words we need to be clear that no learning experience is complete till we have worked at allowing the truths that we have heard to shape our hearts.
Maybe the first step is to start a group to help those addicted to going to seminars. These folks need help because they just cannot resist all the beautiful seminar brochures they receive. Maybe we can call this group, “Seminarholics Anonymous.”