Pastors and church leaders who are planning on attending the 2008 National Pastors Convention, which will be presented by Zondervan Publishing and InterVarsity Press this coming February, should think twice about going. After travel expenses, ticket, lodging and food, the cost for the event for one pastor could easily run over a thousand dollars. In light of the speakers who will be teaching, and other events being offered, this may prove to be an unfruitful way to spend so much money, and may even be spiritually detrimental.
Speakers at this year’s event include some of the most blatant proponents of contemplative spirituality and the emerging church, which in many cases also means having a propensity toward Catholic mysticism and interspirituality. Some of these speakers include: Ruth Haley Barton, Tony Jones, Erwin McManus, John Ortberg, J.P. Moreland, Calvin Miller, Scot McKnight, and Dan Kimball. Chuck Colson, co-author of the ecumenical Evangelicals & Catholics Together document will also be speaking. Emerging church favorite Phyllis Tickle (who once called Brian McLaren the next Luther) will be a speaker at the event as well. 1 A number of other speakers also fall into the contemplative/emerging camp.
Extra activities offered at the convention, in addition to seminars by the speakers, include “Christian Yoga” presented by Shelly Pagitt (wife of emerging church leader Doug Pagitt), New Age sympathizer Rob Bell’s Nooma films, opportunities to be instructed by “spiritual directors” (those who teach contemplative spirituality), and prayer Labyrinths.
Critical concern courses will offer “Practicing the Presence of Jesus: A Spiritual Retreat” by Mark Yaconelli, who once revealed to Lighthouse Trails that he taught mantra meditation in his classes. Popular teachers Henry Cloud and John Townsend (CCN) have found a teaching place at the convention too in a critical concerns course called “Revolutionizing Group Life in the Church.” Having these two mainstream speakers will give much credibility to the event in the eyes of many. Dan Kimball will teach a course named after his book They Like Jesus but not the Church (see review).
To help prepare pastors and leaders for the convention, an over-night, pre-event pastors retreat will take place at the Mission San Luis Rey retreat center. A description of the retreat explains:
This National Pastors Retreat provides leaders with a safe place to be honest about the challenges of spiritual leadership, to experience spiritual rhythms of solitude, prayer, and community, and to deepen their understanding of leadership that flows from one’s authentic self [not Jesus Christ]. Led by The Transforming Center leaders Ruth Haley Barton and Joe Sherman, this retreat offers a meaningful introduction to the community, spiritual rhythms, teaching themes, and guided experiences that will come to characterize National Pastors Retreat.
Ruth Haley Barton, who helped to create the spiritual formation curriculum (with John Ortberg) for Willow Creek church teaches the fundamentals of contemplative spirituality to thousands of pastors and leaders at her Transforming Center. Something that is vital to understand is that Barton was trained at the Shalem Prayer Institute. This center was founded by Tilden Edwards who boldly proclaimed that Christians who exclude eastern spiritual practices from their prayer life impoverish their spiriutal resources (Living in the Presence, p. 18-19).
Zondervan’s National Pastors Convention is wrongly titled. Its present name gives the impression that this is a Christian event. However, it is anything but that, and it will mislead many unsuspecting Christian pastors and leaders. Unfortunately, by the time they’ve each spent hundreds of dollars for the event and are packed and ready to go there, most of them will not have read this article and may become caught in the web of deception that is woven throughout the contemplative prayer movement and the emerging church and for which Zondervan and InterVarsity Press have become evangelists.