I have regularly attended conferences on subjects relating to theology and ministry ever since I began my theological studies. I have usually attempted to get to one or two each year for most of the past thirty years. I look back on my experiences of these events with deep appreciation for the many people I have met (often leading to ongoing friendships and opportunities for collaboration and cooperation), the distinguished speakers I have heard, the ideas and arguments I have been exposed to, and the challenge to clarify my own thinking through listening, asking questions, and (sometimes) presenting papers. I would strongly encourage students and ministers to build conference attendance into their plans for each year.
I am grateful to have had opportunities to attend a wide range of conferences in various parts of the world over the years. Some, such as the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting in the USA, have been huge gatherings. But often smaller conferences have proved more rewarding and enjoyable, offering a real chance to engage meaningfully with speakers and fellow-participants. I want to mention two conferences, both of which I have attended numerous times over the years. Both of them are relatively small, relatively low cost, and take place in Scotland.
The first is the annual conference of the Scottish Evangelical Theology Society. I have attended this conference since my student days in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I particularly associate the conference with senior academic figures, such as Geoffrey W. Grogan, David F. Wright, I. Howard Marshall, who were, at the same time, gifted academics and committed churchmen. I am thankful for the opportunity to know and learn from these Christian brothers. But many participants are ministers, students, and interested ‘laypeople’. It was particularly valuable for me, as a member of the Free Church of Scotland, to meet Christian brothers and sisters from a variety of Christian traditions, to discuss issues with them, and to learn from them. The 2017 conference is taking place very soon (21-22 March, in Saint Silas Episcopal Church, Glasgow). The theme relates to the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting his ’95 Theses’, but it is also forward-looking to the future of the Church, and many of the speakers have a particular concern for global mission. I commend the conference warmly to anyone interested in serious thinking about the life of the Church. Bookings can be made here.
The second conference taking place later this year is the Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference (29-31 August 2017, in Palmerston Place Church, Edinburgh). As a teacher of New Testament, I have made a conscious decision to attend this conference regularly so that I relate my own academic discipline to wider theological discussion. This conference takes place, normally, every two years, and has consistently drawn together an excellent group of speakers from the UK, the USA, and continental Europe. Although the main focus is dogmatics, there is usually at least one biblical studies scholar (this year, Professor John Barclay [Durham] is one of the speakers), and often there is a speaker working in some form of non-academic ministry. Participants tend to come from both academia and pastoral ministry. While the pitch of papers at the Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference tends to be a bit higher than at SETS, it remains the case that the life of the Church is an important consideration. [Update, 5 May 2017: Registration for the 2017 is now open. Find the link to the registration page here.]
Consider attending one or both of these conferences this year (or one of the many other valuable events that will be available this year in the UK and further afield). I am confident that it will prove a positive experience, that will benefit, in one way or another, whatever role you have been called to fulfil.