John Wesley considered some of the means of grace to be formally established by Jesus Christ in the gospels. One of those is the means of grace he called “Christian conference” at some points and “Christian fellowship” at others.
These terms take some explaining, because Wesley used them in technical ways that would not be apparent to us at first glance.
Conference does refer to the formal body of the annual conference for Wesley. But it is also the term that describes any activity where Christians “confer” in a self-conscious way about important matters of faith. So it has a broader meaning than we might ascribe to it in our own usage.
Fellowship, on the other hand, has a narrower use in Wesley’s view than it does with us. We use that term very loosely, but Wesley only uses it when he thinks something spiritually significant is going on amongst Christian believers who are gathered together in community—again, to confer with one another about their faith.
In recent years, the term holy conferencing has emerged as a contemporary term that describes the Wesleyan original. Emily Snell wrote about this topic in Interpreter Magazine just recently, in fact.
The video above was produced by the Arkansas Conference of the UMC recently as a teaching session on Christian conference. In it, I share the Wesleyan background on holy conferencing and offer some guidance about how it can be utilized in congregations and small groups today.
I hope this video can be useful as a resource for pastors and congregations—not just in the Arkansas Conference, but anywhere that groups of Christians have reason to gather in serious conversation and discernment about their faith and discipleship.