If there’s one thing that doesn’t seem to be in short supply these days, it’s Christian conferences. There are conferences to scratch every itch that you or your church might have. You could probably attend a different conference every week and still feel like you were missing out.
With so many options, it can feel impossible to choose which conference is right for you and your church—or to know if you should even care. To paraphrase the Teacher in Ecclesiastes 12:12, Of the making of conferences there is no end, and much attending wearies the body. Perhaps it would be a better use of our time and resources to ignore the conference scene altogether.
Initially I wondered if The Justice Conference was any different, but I took a chance and signed up. I went to The Justice Conference as a skeptic, but came back a believer. I don’t mean that in a weird way—simply that I now believe The Justice Conference stands out from the crowd because it truly strives to practice what it preaches. Humility. Collaboration. Prayerfully seeking God’s heart. Bravely going where God calls us, with faith and in community. And I think these things and many more happen at the conference, with other people, in a way that simply wouldn’t be possible with a podcast or a magazine article.
Ken Wytsma, the founder of The Justice Conference and author of Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things (Thomas Nelson), defines justice as being in right relationship with God and with each other, and it is those two key relationships that the conference lasers in on. Justice isn’t some fad; it’s thoroughly biblical. Justice is rooted in the character of God and flows from the heart of God, something we can see in nearly every chapter of the Bible.
Rather than finding The Justice Conference to be a collection of sermons or teachings that I could just as easily watch on my computer at home, I discovered something powerful about physically gathering together. At the conference I meet fellow pilgrims, people who are seeking to live in ways that increase the amount of peace and righteousness in the world, from their own families and churches all the way to distant countries. That collaboration inspires me, and it gives me energy and support throughout the year.
There’s another reason I go to The Justice Conference besides the inspiring community, however, and it’s this: I need to discover where my blind spots are. In 2002, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld uttered these cryptic words in a press conference: “…there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” While some view this as nonsensical, I believe it actually contains a profound truth about what it means to pursue a life of biblical justice. If we know we don’t know something, we can seek out the answer. But what happens if we aren’t even aware of our ignorance? The answer is that we will continue to harm ourselves and others without even realizing what we’re doing. What I discovered at The Justice Conference was that I was being taught what I needed, not what I expected. God understood where my blind spots were, even if I didn’t, and He wasn’t shy about using the conference to point them out to me.
Part of pursuing justice is doing justly, certainly, but I already hear a lot about what I should and shouldn’t be doing. Frankly, the result is often a guilt trip at best and, at worst, even less action because I feel overwhelmed and under-equipped. What I sensed for the first time at The Justice Conference is that the flip side to acting justly is learning to wait and listen with humility. We all participate in injustice without even knowing it, so unless we allow our eyes and hearts to be opened, we can’t hope to continue our discipleship.
We’re all busy. I get that. And our attention is constantly being divided and demanded. Is The Justice Conference simply one more option among many? In one sense, yes. You have an almost limitless number of conference choices, as well as the option to avoid conferences altogether!
In another sense, however, The Justice Conference is unique. The entire conference is run on volunteer power so that it can break even—profit isn’t a motive. It isn’t about growth for growth’s sake, either, or about artificially “firing up” its attendees to go “fix the world.” I’ve found that The Justice Conference is about something more organic and longer lasting than that. It’s about connecting people to each other and to the heart of God in the pursuit of biblical justice.
Some dismiss justice as merely a trend that’s going to fade away, but I believe the opposite. Justice is a necessary part of what it means to know God and to know God’s plan for His world. It takes a lifetime to pursue it, so we’d better start now—and invite our friends along for the journey. That’s why I hope to see you there—because I look forward to how you’ll inspire me, I hope that I’ll inspire you, and I know that both of us will return to our places of work and worship with a renewed desire to understand and live God’s call to biblical justice, no matter what it costs us.
David Jacobsen is a freelance writer who lives in central Oregon. He is the author of Rookie Dad: Thoughts on First-Time Fatherhood and can be reached at www.jacobsenwriting.com.