Let me tell you why. The letters of the New Testament, written to the churches in cities across Eurasia, served several purposes. Each letter is unique, but all have the same general functions. Paul wrote fellow believers in order to encourage, correct, teach and motivate them in their faith.
Paul’s letters were written to leaders in the new church, growing at rates that were unmanageable. Although Paul speaks for the importance of reaching unbelievers with Jesus’ message, his letters are reserved for the like-minded men and women who were laying down their lives for the cause of Christ. Brothers in arms, if you will. There is a sense that Paul is a pastor, friend, admirer and role model in his letters. The mutual affection is based on the common denominator in their lives; Jesus.
Christian conferences are similarly intended for the fellow believers who are living their lives for the glory of Jesus. Usually geared to those who serve in vocational ministry, conferences often serve as an oasis for dry and weary ministers. If you have ever attended a Christian conference, you would have experienced the pastoral/friendly/admiring/role model dynamic in the relationships among presenters and attenders.
Paul is largely seeking to encourage the church leaders who are dealing with unmanageable growth, persecution, and the blending of cultures. No doubt the pastors of these local churches were in overdrive trying to keep up. Paul emphasizes that it is about the work that God has done and is doing, not about the individual leaders ability or qualification.
As a 21st century leader, this is something that can quickly be overlooked. With big personality leaders, and churches that seem to explode overnight, it is important to keep our eyes on the Creator of the Church, and not our abilities, or lack thereof. This theme is the through-line of many conferences.
Because cultures were blending, the theology was developing, and people are people, Paul spent a good amount of time in his letters correcting the young leaders. Much of which was reminding them to keep their hearts right before God and men. If something wasn’t right, Paul would bring it up.
This is harder to do in a conference setting, where speakers may be addressing representatives from multiple churches. Correction can be made about things like leadership perspectives, programming strategies and stewardship of time and finances. The best example I have seen of this was Rob Bell’s talk at Catalyst this past fall, where he urged leaders to let go of their attendance aspirations and to be faithful to those whom God has called them to serve.
Paul addresses many theological stances in his letters. Especially in metropolitan areas where cultures and religions are meshed, strong theology is difficult to uphold and communicate.
Conference speakers are unique in that they usually speak/teach about a specific characteristic of God. Many times, several speakers will cover very different aspects of God, which helps to form and reaffirm a strong understanding of Scripture.
Paul constantly urges the church on through his letters. Although he encourages, teaches and corrects, Paul always left the readers with a strong motivation to carry on in their work.
At conferences, motivation may be one of the best things a speaker can provide. If a leader walks out of a conference with the truth that they can carry on, and that they are being greatly used by God, the conference has done it’s job. I would imagine the leaders in Phillipi, Corinth, Rome and beyond had that same feeling after reading a letter from their friend Paul.