Signs A Conference Is Worth Your Time

Invited to speak at an event? If you are a preacher, teacher, five-fold minister, minister, leader, or other public figure, the odds are good you’re going to be invited to speak at an event, conference, workshop, church service, or convention.

I’ve been on an active conference circuit since 2007. Prior to that, I took sporadic events and even planned a few small events on my own dating all the way back to 1999. In my years as both a conference host, speaker, and yes, even one where I attended events, I have seen conferences ranging from the good, to the bad, to the very, very unspeakably unimaginable. I have also been a part of non-church events that were, at times, often better planned and prepared than church events. I’ve seen people literally break into arguments and fights in the church sanctuary, threats and intimidations made at the altar, people being waited on hand-and-foot in the sanctuary under the guise of “altar service,” total disrespect to leaders, and numerous events where I walked away without an offering or with an insulting offering. There’s the infamous story where someone gave me $24 and a raw chicken to take home as my offering – and then wanted to know what “spirit” I saw over him – it was all-too-tempting to say, “I see the spirit of cheap!” There’s been the conferences where the hosts have put up all their speakers in cockroach-infested motels, left me at the airport for three hours in a strange city, or expected me to pay for my own accommodations when the conference budget didn’t “quite measure up to expectations.”

In the church, everyone wants to hear or be acknowledged as “doing their best.” We see conference hosts as doing a favor to their speakers – and therefore it’s considered extremely “ungrateful” for leaders to complain about unacceptable offerings, accommodations, or treatment. It is commonplace for conference hosts to expect their speakers to meet conference budget, make up for lack of funds, or put up with all sorts of unprofessional nonsense just to make the conference come to a reality. My general disgust with the way so-called leaders treat other leaders in today’s church has caused me to step back and think long and hard before accepting most invitations I receive. As a speaker, I do not make unreasonable demands or ask for unreasonably high sums of money. On the other hand, I do expect that those who seek me out for their events are doing so because they recognize the anointing and intend to do their very best to honor that anointing as they seek out it in their events. It is truly an offensive thing when people seek to cheapen God’s anointing for their own successes or gains. We forget that how we honor God also reflects in how we treat others, especially how we treat those who are called of God. While there is no question that many in the church today have a prima donna complex and think the world is their oyster of servanthood, leaders who are solid, mature, and seek to find balance and success for building the Kingdom of God lose their voice as they are accused, manipulated, or degraded for believing they should be treated better in an event than people see fit to treat them.

I don’t believe every conference leader deliberately seeks to misuse God’s people. At the same time, I think that becomes inevitable when an event is poorly planned or when one is relying too heavily on the event to take care of itself, which is often the case. Planning events is work. Being a conference host takes more than just an anointing. It also takes good planning. Worldly events sell out every day while church events are virtually empty. Why? Worldly events are better planned.

God clearly tells us He is a God of “decency and order” (1 Corinthians 14:33). This means God does not do things haphazardly. He used order and precision when creating the world, and that tells us there is an order to creating things. Visions don’t just happen; they are created. Here are some ways to determine whether or not a conference vision is created…or just “happening.”

A set conference date – Most ministry events change dates multiple times before they settle on one to have the event. It’s not uncommon for speakers to be told to reserve one set of dates, then told to reserve another, and then sometimes, yet another set…not to mention the multiple dates which may be advertised for the event. This causes confusion in those seeking to attend something, and it’s a major turnoff when an event is constantly rescheduled before it has even happened yet. It’s perfectly understandable if weather or extreme circumstances cause a postponement, but even then, an event should not be rescheduled multiple times. If a conference date or dates are not established, then the event isn’t worth making a commitment to attend. Leave the suggested dates open for a fixed, well-advertised event rather than an invisible one that may or may not materialize.

Advanced event notice – Sometimes people back out at the last minute and we are called in their place. That is completely understandable, and a circumstance to which I am not speaking of here. It takes time to put together a solid event that will both be a blessing and will come together as smoothly as possible. In planning an event, conference hosts must take special spiritual and practical care to match speakers with their event. Out of respect for their time, ministries, and anointing, speakers must be notified with as much advanced notice as possible. FYI: Two weeks is not enough advanced notice!

A reality event – We’d be amazed if we stepped back and thought about the vast number of conferences that are largely hypothetical. A hypothetical event is one with no name, no date, no content, no plans, and no structure – but someone wants to ask you about this hypothetical event to see if you’d be interested to speak for it. A hypothetical event is just that – it’s someone’s general idea for something they’d like to do but have taken no steps to bring that event into reality. Hypothetical events have this creepy way of becoming figments of people’s imagination – and tend, more often than not, to never materialize into a conference. If someone can’t give you the name of the event, some content about it, and a date for the event – even if the date is far in the future – politely decline or tell them to contact you again when they have more information about the event.

Keeping speakers informed – Conference hosts are a varied group. Some update speakers daily – to the point of informing about problems, personal issues, and things that are nobody’s business – to those who never tell anyone anything until the second they arrive. Speakers need to be informed about conference developments, when they are scheduled to speak, a daily itinerary of conference events, and anything else that may be relevant to their presence at the event. Too much information is not necessary; at the same time, too little information shows poor planning and lack of courtesy for speakers who are in a strange city and location.

Advertising – In order for people to attend an event, people need to know about said event. It’s not uncommon for conference hosts to schedule an event and then only tell their immediate church or friends about the event. While I recognize conferences tend to have budgets, every conference can and should utilize any and all means available them to get the word out about an event. Flyers, free websites, Facebook, MySpace, blogs, emails, mailings, visiting local church events and talking about it, and getting as many people involved in the word-of-mouth promotion as possible let a large scale audience know about an event and indicate a much higher probability for a great turnout.

Use the word “blessing”…correctly – I recently spoke to a man who sought me out, invited me to come to his conference events in another state (and, in one case, in another country), and then announced to me I would receive no offering and would have to pay for my own travel. When I told him I would be unable to accept his invitation because this isn’t what I require to speak at an event, he turned around and told me that he pays for himself to go to things all the time because he’s going seeking “the blessing.” I won’t repeat what I said to him after that. As a friend of mine (who is also a pastor overseas) said to me – when we preach somewhere, we are God’s gift to them. They must honor God enough to respect that gift and be a blessing. It’s unreasonable – not to mention offensive – to ask someone to come and preach somewhere at their own cost so that the host minister can abuse and exploit the anointing of that individual. I believe in coming to be a blessing; but I believe blessing is a mutual process and experience that goes both ways. We’re not going to find a blessing somewhere if we spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to get somewhere and then someone gives us no offering or a low offering – and then wishes us well. Don’t tell me to come and be a blessing if you don’t expect to be one yourself!

Acknowledge your ministry – I’ve been contacted on Facebook on two different occasions now by people who have known of me and my ministry going back to 2007 and they have never once – at any point in time – spoken to me prior to now. It’s not that I never spoke to them – they just never responded to me, so I figured I either was irrelevant to them or they didn’t really know who I was. Imagine my surprise when they contacted me and started saying all these things to me to try and get me to participate in something or help them! My first response was, “So you DID know who I was.” Amazingly enough, neither one ever responded to this statement. The first one actually dumped me from her event because my skin is the wrong color and the second one acts now like she never said she was considering me as a speaker, desiring me instead to just attend the event as a guest at my own expense. If someone has known of you and your ministry for an extended period of time and they have never reached out or shown interest, odds are good that, consideration or not, you probably won’t be picked as a speaker for their events. Why is this? Because they’ve never even shown the courtesy to talk to you!

Disclaiming their offer – In one of the incidents I just mentioned, I was contacted by the individual in question to let me know she was considering me as a speaker for her 2011 event. They were “praying about it” and wanted a CD or something of me teaching. I provided this and she told me she would be in contact. I heard from her about two months later, telling me what a good teacher I was and letting me know that if I was not to speak, they still wanted me to come and be in “their midst.” I knew when I got that message they weren’t going to have me speak – I mean, come on, really. Talk about obvious and tacky. However, this woman never confirmed or denied me as a speaker for the event – she just kept telling me, over and over again, that they were still “praying about it.” For months following she failed to update or establish any information and just put off dates and honesty – and never confirmed or denied anything. Just this week she sent me the modified dates for the event and wants me to come and be “in their midst and fellowship.” To be quite upfront, she was dishonest about her presentation to me. She knew she didn’t want me to speak but wanted to keep me an option so I would still come to her event even if I didn’t. Speakers need to beware conferences where people don’t confirm or deny your place as an invited speaker – but they still want to keep the option open for you to attend even if they don’t want you to speak. Even the world doesn’t ask this of people. It would be like going for a job interview and not getting the job but they tell you instead, “We’re not going to really give you the job but we want you to come to the workplace everyday to be around us and hang out with us all!” If I’m not right to speak, why would I be right to just be in the midst of everyone and fellowship at my own expense? Ministers, there are plenty of places where we can go and fellowship and be in the spiritual midst of God right where we live and it doesn’t cost an outrageous amount of money. We do not need to be manipulated into being downgraded in events to be in God’s presence.

Offering – There can be a lot of ways offerings manifest. I am not going to say everything is necessarily monetarily based depending on the circumstances. I was recently invited to an event where I am going to speak in exchange for something else connected with the event; and that is fine given the circumstances and type of event it is going to be. If someone is asking you to attend an event and they are offering you nothing outright – not even something in exchange for your speaking – then it’s a bad event. Time to move on.

Honorarium – Whether or not we want to call it that, most ministers have some sort of honorarium. When I have to travel a long distance, I require the host cover my travel arrangements, my hotel accommodations, and provide a love offering. I don’t ask for a specific amount of the offering but I do expect those in question do their very best…and I do know when they don’t. If I am not travelling as far, I adjust what is needed to the specific circumstances. How responsive a host is to these not-so-unreasonable requests determines whether or not I even want to talk to the individual further. In today’s church, we expect everything to be done not just for free but at our own cost, all the time, and without any regard to the fact that ministry is supposed to be a mutual blessing. We don’t want to hear about money, talk about money, requests for money, or anything that has to do with money – we just want to pretend ministry gets here by angels’ wings and good wishes. It doesn’t. If you want to be honored as a speaker, it’s important to make sure the honorarium is practical without being excessively demanding and that those who consider you as a speaker do not try to evade what you ask for as a minister of God.

(C) 2011 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

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