A Kind Word For Conferences
He told me that he was looking forward to attending the Gospel Coalition Conference in Florida this week.
I, as is my usual reaction, sneered.
However, by the time he was done explaining the benefits to both his staff and the local church, I wanted to go too.
I asked him to write up an article for us conference loathers and he was kind enough to do so.
Why I Am Going To The Gospel Coalition National Conference
Some people love them. Some people hate them. To some it’s simply a chance to show off the celebrity pastors. To others it’s an invaluable opportunity. Large conferences today are the “in” thing, and lots of people have lots of opinions about them, or maybe about individual people leading them. But here’s why I am enthusiastically going to the Gospel Coalition National Conference this week:
1. It’s in Florida. Have you seen the weather in Oregon lately?
Lets get the petty out of the way first. Hard to complain about four days in Florida instead of the schizophrenic weather we get in Oregon this time of year. Of course, the flesh doesn’t lead us. But my flesh could use a few sunny 85-degree days. Hard not to look forward to a conference that is Shamu-adjacent. Now lets get to the real reasons…
2. It’s a great opportunity for my pastoral staff to be fed, recharged, and grow together
For our church, we try to find a conference of some sort to attend as a pastoral team once per year as a matter of practice simply because we have found it to be good for our soul! In the last month, I’ve led a mission trip to Uganda, Palm Sunday/Good Friday/Easter services, and dealt with a myriad of pastoral counseling issues (Maybe it’s the Pac-Northwest weather, but late winter seems to bring it out in people) all while working on my Master’s degree through Western Seminary. There was a time when I would point to winter or fall as the “slower” time in ministry, but I’ve had to face the realization that at least for our church, there is no slower time. When you are purposefully keeping a growing church’s pastoral staff small, that mean’s your each going to be carrying significant loads. So as a team, we’ve found that getting away together where we can be poured into ourselves, celebrity pastors or not, and where we can share with one another and grow in our relationships together is an invaluable exercise for our church. Everyone needs a Sabbath, and these times together have been very refreshing for us as a team, allowing all of us to recharge and come back with a renewed focus and vigor. Having a team atmosphere where we as pastors are friends is important to me, and these conferences are a valuable means to that end.
3. We have benefitted greatly from the Gospel Coalition as a church
I am one of a few nondenominational churches that have no real system of support or accountability. Several churches in our tribe were ‘cut off’ long ago. The Gospel Coalition for us became a place were we could gain valuable support and guidance. During this conference, for example, I have a meeting arranged with one of the council members of TGC who has been incredibly generous with his time and offered to sit with me and discuss our church history, vision moving forward, and how he and his church personally can help us get there. This pastor’s church is 3300 miles away from me. Yet I can email or call him anytime and gain the kind of help and support I once had and have since lost (long story). In addition, the Coalition as a whole has supported some of the kingdom work our church has taken on. Just last month we took cases of ESV Study Bibles, specifically designed for overseas pastors, to Uganda, all of which were donated by the Gospel Coalition. Their mission branch generously gives tons of books and resources to affiliate churches in order to help support their missions work. As a ‘lone ranger’ church, this support is invaluable.
4. Western Seminary is giving me seminary credits
As a Masters candidate at Western Seminary, I am blessed this year to be earning seminary credits for my attendance, thanks to Dr. Gerry Breashers. Breshears has created a course on “Mission and Theology in Luke” to go along with the conference, in conjunction with Darrell Bock’s work, “A Theology of Luke and Acts.” It is a very mission/justice minded emphasis that has been a real blessing to me so far. This leads also to my last point…
5. The missional focus of the Gospel Coalition is something I support
The Gospel Coalition has its weaknesses and faults like any organization of people in a fallen world. But one thing they get right is their emphasis on mission and community. The entire pre-conference this year is on Missions, with speaking by John Piper, David Platt, and others. Though many of the speakers and members of the Gospel Coalition are known for being theologians and teachers, their theology is that a Gospel-Centered life will serve those in need. Their teachings clearly emphasize this, particularly at the conferences.
6. The Heart of the TGC Conference is to serve pastors and leaders
Having been before, I can say with certainty, their desire is to serve pastors and elders at these gatherings. The names of the teachers may grab the headlines, but those who attend can vouch for the fact that the Gospel Coalition desires to serve and minister to ministers. You cannot but go home with an armful of free resources, bibles, and books, all of which have been an enormous blessing to me over the years. This year in particular they have arranged drastically discounted e-books through Amazon to go with the conference (http://www.gospelebooks.net/tgc13/). Again, as a pastor who largely operates in a vacuum when it comes to support, accountability, and outside encouragement, I am thrilled that I have the opportunity to be cared for and encouraged by The Gospel Coalition next week.
7. Did I mention its in Florida?