I attended the Together for the Gospel conference this past week in Louisville, KY. Although I attended The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, I have never had the opportunity to attend the conference until this past week. I found many things extremely helpful and a few things very concerning. I would like to speak to one sentence that was stated in the conference that caught my attention and I believe it is worth addressing in this post.
The Good of T4G:
As many people have already written and recorded, this year’s conference was tremendous. Each of the 9 plenary sessions were led by extremely skilled preachers of God’s Word – and they all did an amazing job. I was greatly encouraged by each of the messages and I believe that much fruit should come into sight in the lives of the pastors and church members who attended the conference.
C.J. Mahney preached on the subject – “When a Pastor Loses Heart.” He preached from 2 Corinthians 4. In his message, he said, “This ministry is a calling to proclaim Christ….This calling is an ongoing confrontation with the god of this world.”
Albert Mohler preached on the subject “The Power of the Articulated Gospel.” In his message he pointed out the frailty of the phrase which says, “Preach the gospel, use words if necessary.” He said, “Whatever you are doing when you are not using words, you are not preaching the gospel.”
Mark Dever preached on “False Conversions: The Suicide of the Church.” As we well know, many people are members in a local church but have no membership in God’s church. What a sad reality it is that many false converts are members in local churches around the world. Dever said, “He who thinks lightly of sin will think lightly of the Savior.” He went on to say, “False converts hire false teachers.”
Thabiti Anyabwile’s came in the form of a question, “Will Your Gospel Transform a Terrorist?” Thabiti defined the lost condition in the following way, “A convinced blindness and a misdirected love that results in eternal damnation.”
Kevin DeYoung preached on the subject, “Spirit-Powered, Gospel-Driven, Faith-Fueled Effort.” His point was that as a Christian we are to continue to fight and live out the faith that God has given us. At one point he said, “If you have an anger or bitterness problem, you have a gratitude problem.”
David Platt preached on, “Divine Sovereignty: The Fuel of Death-Defying Global Missions.” Tim Brister said that the message by David Platt at T4G was “perhaps the greatest missions message ever preached.” I think that David preached an amazing sermon and one that has truly impacted my life, but with the many awesome men of history such as Adoniram Judson, Charles Spurgeon, and William Carey – I find it hard to believe that his sermon was far superior than those men who labored to reach the unreached with the gospel. Furthermore, how do you properly evaluate what sermon is better? In any case, the sermon was amazing and you should take time to hear what David said. One of the most earth shaking statements he made in his message was his opening line, “A high view of God’s sovereignty fuels death-defying devotion to global missions.” He went on to say, “Our sovereign God holds the destiny of the world in the palm of His hand.”
Ligon Duncan preached on “The Underestimated God: God’s ruthless, compassionate grace in the pursuit of his own glory and his ministers’ joy.” He made the statement, “In every discouragement we are tempted to doubt that God is God, and God is good.” Ligon gave a great warning. He made the point that any voice that tells you that you always deserve what makes you happy should be heard with a hiss.
Matt Chandler preached on “The Fulfillment of the Gospel” from Revelation 21. Matt made two statements that stick out to me. He said, “Jesus came, died my death and rose from the dead to show that my bill is paid.” He went on to say, “The promise of a new earth isn’t an excuse for escapism; it’s a motivation to be faithful to God’s calling now.”
John Piper preached on “Glory, Majesty, Dominion, and Authority Keep Us Safe for Everlasting Joy.” John Piper always does an excellent job preaching the text of Scripture, but in this message he gave some illustrations from his personal life and journal that illustrated what he was preaching from Jude. He read a journal entry from 25 years ago when he was facing difficult decisions about the future of his ministry at Bethlehem. He was asking himself if his ministry was over there and if God had other plans for his life. He then made the point that he is amazed at the “keeping” power of God. He asked, “What does it take to keep you a Christian? It takes glory majesty, dominion, power, authority.”
The Not-So-Good at T4G:
It has already been said well at the conference, but the celebrity culture that follows some of these events is just flat scary! On a couple of occasions, people rushed by us running to the front to get a chance to meet these men and receive autographs. I must admit, I was trying to get an autograph while at the conference as well, but it was really a joke. We were trying to get John Piper to sign a copy of 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper. It was totally a joke. But the sad reality is that many men in their 50’s and others much younger were running toward the front to get autographs in the front of their Bible and on books written by these preachers. While it may not be an outright sin at the surface, the celebrity culture may reveal a hidden sin deep in the heart of many of these conference attendees. For good things to consider regarding these dangers, listen to Tim Challies and David Murray talk on their Connected Kingdom podcast as they reflect on the good and bad of conferences – “Thinking About Conferences.”
As we plan the G3 Conference here on our campus for this coming January, we must think critically about the people who will be attending. Will they rush the speakers when the sessions are over? Just in case we have some of the celebrity pastor followers attending the G3 Conference in January, I would like to sound a huge warning to the one who rushes Paul Washer and requests him to sign a Bible. It may make Carl Trueman look rather tame! While the celebrity culture is not going away, we must be more open about these dangers. Those who are speaking from the platform should sound the alarm regarding the problems with the “celebrity” culture. When divider boundaries are needed to keep people from swarming preachers before and after sessions at a Christian conference – it’s evident that a serious problem exists.
A Very Important Reminder
As the conference was coming to a close, Dr. Albert Mohler reminded us that the pulpit of T4G was not more important than the pulpit of the local church. The T4G conference is designed to feed and encourage pastors, but that pulpit is only active for a few days every two years. The pulpit of the local church is active each week as the Word of God is opened and proclaimed. We must resist the dangerous tendency of elevating conference pulpits above the pulpit of the local church where pastors shepherd God’s flock entrusted to their care on a weekly basis.
While I enjoy attending one or two conferences each year, I enjoy the ministry of the local church in far greater ways! Jesus Christ died for the church (Ephesians 5:25) and we must always place a higher emphasis upon the church than any single conference or Christian event. As we plan our G3 Conference, we must design it in such a way that it benefits the local church but never seeks to overshadow it. May God be pleased to use conferences to make the pulpit in the local church strong once again as pastors stand with God’s Word opened and proclaim it with power!
Philip Ryken writes,
The reason the church tries so many other things besides preaching Christ is because it suspects the kingdom can be established some other way. But there is no other way. People will not come into the kingdom because they like the minister, support the children’s program, or enjoy the music. They may come into a church that way, but not into the kingdom. The only way people ever come into God’s kingdom is by hearing His heralds proclaim a crucified King.1
To God be the glory – forever – Amen!
Pastor Josh Buice
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1. When You Pray, Crossway, 2000, p. 83.