Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Death of the Bible Conference

This week, I'm at Ridgehaven, my church denomination's conference center in the North Carolina mountains. When I was a child, Ridgehaven didn't exist yet as a camp, but I grew up going to Bible conferences every summer. Did you?
It was the thing to do in Christian circles. I didn't know it, but I grew up in a time of revival in the American church. My parents and many of my friends' parents attended family Bible conferences each summer. It was our vacation! It was grand fun, solid Bible teaching, and a time to bind all us Presbyterians together in close ties of friendship.
First, we went to Camp Westminster. It was run by one big church in Atlanta. The camp was located in rural Georgia. Oh, and did we have fun!! We went for camp. We went to be counselors. We went to Family Bible Conference. I am shamelessly sharing photos I lifted from facebook. Anita and Mark, if you read this post, you can ask me to take them down ... but I really want people to see how we grew up!
My daddy and I at Camp Westminster. I was about three or four?
One of the camp signs. They didn't beat around the bush regarding the Christian's life duties.
When I was 19 I returned as a counselor, as did my brother Mark. He was 24.
We both longed to enjoy again all the fun of Camp Westminster.
Anita and Mark, good camp buddies. This was when Mark was still a teen.
A whole group of them had such good times, they came back year after year.
Anita and Mark, in their 20s -- just to show that even after college,
these young people longed to relive the wonders that camp life had provided all of us.
Alright, now that I have mercilessly picked on Anita and Mark -- in bathing suits no less!! -- I hope I've made my point that our parents went to a great deal of trouble and expense to give us a priceless gift:  Bible conferences.

Bible Conferences! Yep. I also attended the PEF Conference at Montreat College for a number of years. This particular conference is still going on, believe it or not! I remember when the college kicked the PEF conference off its grounds because the college's denomination was turning liberal, and PEF's message of Biblical truth did not set well with them. My dad worked for PEF for four years, and we were deeply committed to this organization.
Beautiful Montreat
Later, when I was in middle and high school, the great theological family conference to attend was the Pensecola Theological Institute, hosted yearly by McIlwain Presbyterian Church in Pensecola, Florida.
The church is still going strong, but the summer institute is no longer held, sadly. And from their website, it does not look like Westminster PCA church has a family Bible conference now either. That breaks my heart!

I'm hoping that the yearly Bible conference is not dying. I'm worried. Ridgehaven does offer a great family Bible conference each summer. And I'm sure other conference centers do also.

My parents' generation was devoted to seeking out this Biblical teaching. They craved it. In the early '70s, conservative, Bible-believing churches were newly evicted from their old mainline denominations, and some were small, fragmented, or in disarray. Theological conferences held by large churches or other orthodox organizations (like PEF) were some people's only opportunity to hear truly excellent teaching from renowned scholars. I grew up regularly hearing teaching from professors and famous preachers that most people could only hope to hear if they attended seminary. My parents' zeal translated into years of solid grounding for me in the Scriptures. It was time-consuming and difficult. We stayed 7 to a room in the old, smelly dorms at Camp Westminster. We drove 7 in a sedan to Pensecola, year after year. We gave up other vacations; we didn't do Disney or rent a beach house for ourselves. We did Bible conferences.

So, this week at Ridgehaven, I look around. This is a "Keenagers" conference, for people 50 years and older. And whom do I see? I see folks my parents age! Yep, that generation is still eager for Biblical teaching. This conference used to be better attended -- two weeks of Keenagers, and each one packed with people. They used to fill all the registration slots for Keenagers on the final night of the year before! And there was a "Spring-Timers" conference just like it in the spring.

Now? There's only one week of Keenagers, and it's only half-full. Why? Has this generation finally tired of hearing great theological teaching? Of course not! They're simply dying off. And the generation after them is not as committed, not as zealous for excellent, exciting Bible teaching in a setting dedicated to a intense feeding on the Word, with like-minded friends. Imagine -- two deep, thorough teaching sessions each day, with daily outings and great food. Where's the participation? What a shame!

When's the last time your church had a week-long missions conference? How about a week-long revival with nightly services? Was it full of deep teaching from God's Word, real exposition? Why are we flagging in our commitment to intensive, deep theological teaching?

You see, I think my generation is dropping the ball. We were raised to cherish these weeks together, to seek them out, to make sacrifices to attend them with our children. But we're slack. We're too busy. We have other uses for our money. It's not worth it to us.

I sincerely ask you, Christian friend, to consider the value of taking your family -- even if it's just you and your spouse -- to a Bible conferences this year. Use your vacation. Find a conference with an excellent speaker in a beautiful location where you can spend lots of time in prayer and meditation with God. Go for a week, not just a day or two.

And you friends out there who grew up, as I did, at these conferences -- yeah, you know who you are! -- I admonish you to attend Keenagers next year. I don't want my generation to drop the ball. We need excellent Biblical teaching now as much as ever. When Adam and I are here next year, I want to see my own friends here, and not just their parents! Our kids are mostly out of the house. Our lives are taking on a semblance of order. It's time to come away with the husband or wife and spend a week in the mountains, praising our God and digging into His Word. That's my personal sales pitch for today!


  1. Very well said Mary Kathryn! What a wonderful week we have been having. And the Bible teaching we are getting from Dr. Krabbendam has just been remarkable!! Oh it is a shame what so many are missing! Thanks for challenging your generation. I hope we will see you, Adam, and family next year. This is about our 15th year. My favorite conference at Ridge Haven!

  2. Yes, I do remember Bible camp and conferences. One of my earliest memories, at 5 years of age, is going with Mom to see Billy Graham in 1956 in Richmond, VA. Church camp holds fond memories although I haven't a clue where those photos are now. I hope and pray never to outgrow my love of Jesus and learning about Him.

  3. You were truly blessed! I only went to a Christian camp three summers, at the influence of a church friend. I'm glad that at least my father was willing to pay for it and drive me up into the mountains. It was very important in keeping me going through years when I didn't have many Christian friends during the months between summers.

  4. In fact it is all needed now more than ever...your zeal is refreshing...thanks for sharing.


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