A conference that has the tags of “Christless Christianity”, “False Gospel” and “Dream Destiny Thingy Doctrine” attached to it, Thrive Conference (henceforth known as Thrive when writing of it in general), headquartered mainly in Granite Bay, California at Bayside Church (pastored by Ray Johnston, a guy who wrote a book that I reviewed), seeks to “inspire and ignite” with its various conferences and resources. Does it inspire and ignite, or is it the “Christless Christianity” that one website claims? This article attempts to answer that question.
Thrive’s website itself does a poor job of giving its history (i.e., how long Thrive has been happening, who started this conference idea, etc.). However, one can grasp a good idea of its aims from the following page that tells briefly about Thrive:
There’s something powerful about being surrounded by people who are working towards the same goal as you. We created four different experiences to gather people just like you, to encourage and equip you to impact your community. Whether you’re a leader in business or ministry, a student, a woman who wants to be connected, or someone who wants to learn more about your faith, we have an experience expertly designed for you.
It is worth noting that Jesus Christ is nowhere to be found in that description. Instead, it is all about you, the attender. This description states nothing about glorifying Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World (Isaiah 43:11; John 1:29; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 1:15). It also has nothing about making disciples or preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His name (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:36-49). Those omissions are too glaring to go unnoticed.
Thrive has no less than five different types of conferences (as of October 21, 2017). This article gives a brief overview of each of the five.
SOMETHING TO NOTE
This article does not give detailed critiques on any speaker that has spoken or will be speaking at one of these conferences. This article examines each specific conference’s aim to see if it is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Future blogs help compare what some of these speakers (past, present and future) are saying in the name of God to the word of God. Noting a certain teacher or teachers may help give an idea on either what this conference has allowed in the past or what to expect from future conferences such as these.
Each conference has a general structure: the conferences have general sessions featuring their headlining speakers, they have breakout sessions covering various topics (community, ministry, etc.), and they have meal breaks featuring pretty good food. Aside from those, their differences include but are not limited to goal, type of speaker, guest worship artists, and subject matter.
Aiming to ignite your passion, recharge your leadership and refresh your soul, Thrive Leadership is a 3-day conference normally taking place in late April/early May every year (since at least 2013, per this). I attended this type of conference in 2015. I remembered Francis Chan spoke here. Also, in an appearance that was not announced until the conference’s commencing (at least to my knowledge), Mark Driscoll spoke (and according to Pastor Chris Rosebrough of Pirate Christian Radio, Driscoll played the victim at Thrive). This did not sit well with at least one person. Furthermore, it was this specific conference (Thrive Leadership, not necessarily the 2015 conference in particular) that got the aforementioned “Christless Christianity” label. This label is not without warrant given the fact that neither Jesus Christ nor the Great Commission appear anywhere on this page. Furthermore, I did not really learn too much about Jesus Christ here (not much I can remember, anyway).
Breakout topics for this conference include but are not limited to small groups, church planting, multi-campus, leadership, community outreach, encouragement, children’s ministry, youth ministry, worship & tech, church events and volunteers. This conference also has a late-night event that is usually comedic in nature (comedian Tim Hawkins headlined the one I attended in 2015). The conference also has really good meals (homemade mac-and-cheese, anyone?) and snacks throughout the entire conference (including a plethora of junk food during the late night event). While the conference certainly succeeds in bringing people together in community, the focus (at least verbatim) is on anything but Jesus Christ, thus making this conference rich in both entertainment (perhaps even scratching itching ears, which is not a good thing, per 2 Timothy 4:1-4) and false doctrine, especially when false teachers such as Andy Stanley, Chris Hodges (check the 1:00:36 mark here for a review of a “sermon” of his that shows him to be a preacher of a different gospel, as the reviewer notes), Margaret Feinberg, and Samuel Rodriguez (to name a few) have, on at least one occasion, either contributed material or spoken at this conference.
One final thing that is worth noting is what else took place at the 2015 conference I attended. I do not recall the full specifics of the moment. However, the church took an offering (might have been a love offering specifically; I am not sure) for a pizza delivery girl that was going to make a delivery to (if I am not mistaken) the church. It was a small order, costing $26.06. Johnston gave her forty dollars of the church’s money and told her to keep the rest of it (leaving a mighty generous $13.94 tip). However, he then presented her an “extra tip” just north of $3,400 (all coming from the offering that was taken). According to the video’s website, the church did this (with the help of the attenders, of course) because this pizza delivery girl was “caring for children and elderly people in her community.” This is obviously a great way to bless someone else monetarily. However, what if she is not a believer? If she is, fantastic. If she is not, did the church take a more important action by preaching Christ and Him crucified to her? It’s certainly a question worth asking since Jesus Christ is the only way by which mankind may be saved (Isaiah 43:11; John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
This is essentially the same as the Thrive Leadership Conference described above. However, instead of taking place at Bayside, it takes place at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, California.
Spanning two days, this conference is for students (although age is not specified). Its aim for students come from the following quotes:
It’s time to go beyond the feed.
It’s time to leave our pasts behind us and follow the One who has called each of us to a unique purpose.
Get ready for an epic two days, learning about Jesus, being with your friends, and seeing the top Christian artists and speakers.
We want to unleash God’s love in our schools, our communities, and our world.
Unleashed is two days where students from all over Northern California come together to worship, learn with each other, and find God’s unique calling on their lives.
We create space and time for youth workers to connect with each other, get refreshed, and encouragement for ministry.
With epic concerts, speakers, and a crazy amount of fun it will be the best weekend of the year!
We can no longer settle
For the world’s way of life. We refuse to be average. Instead, we will unleash compassion where there is suffering, unleash kindness where there is selfishness, unleash truth where there is darkness, & unleash God’s love where there is hate.
We are unleashed.
Breakout topics include community, purpose, music, growth, relationships and missions. Despite the important topics, there is still a focus on the self, especially with the emphasis on unleashing various things. Furthermore, it is a bit vague with words such as “pasts” and phrases such as “beyond the feed.” What does “beyond the feed” even mean?
Finally, why is there so much emphasis on unleashing when the word itself (unleash) is not even in the Bible sans the NASB version of Amos 1:8? We’re commanded to walk in the good works Christ has called us to do, not unleash things per se (Ephesians 2:10). Also, while on this subject of “unleashing”, why isn’t the Gospel of Christ being “unleashed”? What about repentance and the forgiveness of sins? Does the quote “unleash truth where there is darkness” imply that repentance and the forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed in His name? One would hope so. However, given the lack of clarity there, it is hard to see if that is indeed the case.
A conference focusing on “exploring the intersection of faith and culture”, this conference seemingly looks to be possibly worth the price of admission, assuming it even exists (clicking on “register now” as of October 16, 2017 leads to this). Here are some quotes taken from this particular conference:
The Thrive Apologetics Conference and Biola University team up to present this two day conference featuring world-class speakers and over 40 breakouts on topics that will help us explore the intersection of faith and culture. Together we will be tackling tough questions and be inspired to an intellectual faith.
At the Thrive Apologetics Conference we tackle some of today’s most commonly asked questions. Questions, like: In this scientific age, is it reasonable to believe God exists? How do I talk with my kids about faith? Hasn’t the Bible been changed over time? How do I have tough conversations about faith? Register today and dive deeper into these questions.
We will be covering topics such as: Christianity and World religions, how to deal with contradictions in the Gospels, how do we communicate with those we disagree with, and hot button cultural issues.
There is no mention of Jesus Christ verbatim on the website (nor are there breakout topics despite the fact breakout sessions are mentioned per se on the conference schedule). However, the conference’s speakers do talk about Him, as shown here. Furthermore, this conference cares enough to address some questions that would seemingly help equip someone to give a reason for the hope he/she has, yet with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). That is an awesome thing.
With a slogan of “connecting women of all ages to faith” (it is uncertain what is meant by “faith” here), the Womens conference is relatively inexpensive compared to the other conferences that Thrive offers. Its goal is as follows:
This dynamic 2-day conference is designed to equip, encourage and challenge you to thrive in all aspects of life!
You’ll experience inspiring worship, practical workshops, yummy treats, and a chance to connect with others. There’s something for women in all stages of life.
Breakout topics include soul care, communication, healthy leadership, purposeful parenting, healthy marriages, prayer, art & Scripture, and coping with stress. The fact “Scripture” is part of one of the topics is encouraging at the very least. Like the other conferences, this one succeeds in bringing women together with the worship, workshops and treats. However, like the Unleashed Conference, there is a lack of clarity in some of these quotes. After all, what kind of faith is being discussed with a slogan like “connecting women of all ages to faith”? Is it just mere head knowledge? If so, that would be equivalent to the knowledge the demons had of Jesus (James 2:19). Is it a trusting saving faith in Christ alone? If so, then that would be great (Acts 16:31; Romans 10:1-13).
While the conferences succeed in bringing people together, the price of admission combined with the likelihood of hearing some false doctrine makes both the Thrive Leadership conference and the Leadership Southwest conference something I certainly would not recommend, especially in light of the aforementioned false teachers that have spoken at Thrive Leadership. Furthermore, from personal experience, I did not learn too much about Jesus Christ at this conference. While I enjoyed the community and the food there, I would not go to another one of these unless it was for research purposes and my admission was paid (I admit I am very cheap).
Unleashed Conference and Womens’ Conference certainly do not show evidence that extremely false doctrine will be heard there. However, the lack of clarity in some of its aims is enough for me to not recommend these to young students or women (wit the exception being, of course, research purposes), especially given the fact these conferences come from the same hub (Bayside Church) that has little to no discernment with its promotion of the false teachers that have spoken at Thrive Leadership.
Apologetics Conference seems like one worth attending, especially with its aims. However, given the drawbacks of the other four conferences, I would not pay the money to attend a conference such as this. In 2011, I attended an Apologetics conference hosted by my local church for FREE. It featured the late Dr. Ron Carlson. The only money I paid was for the resources he sold. These included these excellent CD’s and this excellent book, and I find all those things useful to this day. As well-meaning and solid Apologetics Conference seems, I am not sure it is worth the price of admission, especially in light of what the FREE conference that I attended in 2011 delivered.
Earlier I asked if Thrive ignites and inspires or promotes a “Christless Christianity” that one source claims. I am not sure Thrive is entirely Christless (especially with the aims of Apologetics Conference). However, as Galatians 5:9 states, a little leaven leavens the whole lump. The leaven coming from Thrive Leadership and Leadership Southwest Conference combined with the vagueness of Unleashed Conference and Womens’ Conference is enough for me to not recommend Thrive as a whole unless it was for research purposes. Moreover, Thrive ignites and inspires anything but the Great Commission. If Thrive did place a clear emphasis on the Great Commission, only then would it truly thrive.