Leading by example
In response to the questions raised, here are a few thoughts to consider:
1. Often Christian leaders who attend conferences at expensive venues are financially supported in their work by poor people. Could these leaders fall into the same trap as the teachers of the law who ‘devour widows’ houses’ for their own benefit (see Mark 12:38–40)?
2. By having conferences at expensive venues, Christians run the risk of showing their love of money, which in the end is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Christian leaders can stumble into the same materialistic culture that they might preach against.
3. Many leaders rationalise organising events at expensive venues on the basis that there are no better places to stay in a city, especially for larger groups. Quite often that is not the case.
4. We create two classes of Christian leaders – those (mostly from the West) who can attend the conferences with their own funding and those (mostly from lower-income countries) who receive sponsorship from organisers to attend the events.
Should I have cancelled my participation in the conference in Latin America? At one point I thought of doing that! I settled for making a complaint to the conference organisers.
But should we organise our conferences at bucket-class venues? My recent experience made me think that is where Jesus would have organised his conferences so that poor people could attend too, without being sponsored by the rich.
Finding a middle ground
Perhaps, though, there is a middle ground to be found. After all, there is value in a moderate venue providing a space for rest and refreshment of the body as well as the mind after a long day at a conference.
Cost and value need to be considered in a wider context. Does an organiser have a long-term relationship with a venue that helps to sustain local employment? Are they thinking about the treatment and payment of staff, or other ethical values such as environmental concerns? For example, Tearfund would be more likely to support an event where we can have big water dispensers and refillable bottles than one where we had to use a lot more plastic water bottles.
So in my opinion, it’s better to save some of the outlay on costly rooms and lavish meals. After all, we are stewarding God's financial resources. If those savings are spent addressing some of the local and ethical concerns outlined above or on making the conference more accessible to a wider group of society, then that’s a step in the right direction.
Find out more about international gatherings organised by Tearfund.