A Kind Word For Conferences
My friend Jeff (who pastors a local church) stopped by my store last week.
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?
Heritage is doing a good work and I’m glad Jeff and his team are able to go. Many blessings upon them.
Can anyone from the land of Skip go a d drop by Legoland for me?
” Yet we often see the celebration of our union with Christ replaced by the age-old attractions of power and affluence, or by monastic retreats into ritual, liturgy, and sacrament.”
(from the Gospel Coalition website — “About Us”)
What a short-sighted statement. Equating liturgy with “retreat” and with power and affluence is downright dumb.
I am reading the “Theological Vision for Ministry” from the Gospel Coalition website. Its interesting but I do have a question from what is written:?
“We are neither overly optimistic nor pessimistic about our cultural influence, for we know that, as we walk in the steps of the One who laid down his life for his opponents, we will receive persecution even while having social impact”.
Curious why do they use the term “One” and not the name of Jesus here? I have seen this before and can’t quite put my finger on it but something always seems strange when I see this. I can’t figure it out. It seems like there is a theological reason why they refer to Jesus as the “One” but to me if they said Jesus it would be less ambiguous. Jesus after all was 100% God and also 100% man but when they use the term “One”, I get the feeling that someone has a problem with the humanness of Jesus and this gives it a gnostic feel to it. I don’t know if my gut feelings have any merit but nevertheless it still kind of bothers me when I see this.
Piper’s plenary session at the Conf would allay those fears. It was about Christ as fully man and fully God and why it had to be that way. And that these are truths we can KNOW.
I get what you’re saying. It bothers me too, a bit. My guess is that it’s just a cooler way of saying “Jesus.” Just don’t tell TD Jakes and the other modalists out there. 🙂
Thank you Jeff and Michael.
I got the privilege of preaching to the Heritage fols while Jeff was at the conference. They are as Travis said, a great group of people. Jeff is a good leader
thank you jeff.