Words cannot express how grateful I am that I could be a part of the Together for the Gospel 2008 Conference
(Listen to all the messages here
). It was truly a life-changing experience. And that's not because of some sort of spiritual high I felt, nor was it due to some commitment
I made or remade. No, it was because through T4G, God touched not only my heart, but especially my head. There are so many things I came to understand intellectually during the conference that it would be hard to write them all down, or even to understand their significance at this time. But what I want to do is highlight just a few things that I came to conclude during this conference and why these things are important and will continue to be so in my life and ministry. Bear in mind that these thoughts are in no particular order (I'm not sure that I could place any measure of priority on them even if I tried).
- Theology changes and shapes men's hearts. Reading and understanding theology has always brought me into a closer relationship with God, but I always felt as though I was unique in that way. Now, that's not to say that I believed I was the only one like this, but rather that there just weren't many of us. After worshipping with over 5,000 other believers and seeing the difference in the passions displayed in corporate musical expression before the messages of the speakers and then afterwards, it seems crystal clear that the idea that theological truth stirs the affections is much more universal that I had once thought. Thus, it leads me to conclude that the more deep theological truth is conveyed in the pulpit, the more likely our churches are going to have believers in them whose hearts are stirred, who minds are altered, and whose lives are changed.
- Worship should seek to connect the heart with what the mind has just encountered. This builds upon my first observation and acknowledges that when men and women properly understand God they naturally desire to express their appreciation to Him. After the proclamation of the Word of God at T4G, it was evident that those men and women gathered there were mentally affected and had a desire to express it. I think this is a highly neglected arena of worship. While I was a member of Pontchartrain Baptist Church in New Orleans we revamped the worship services and placed the preaching of the Word early on in the service. Then at the point of the invitation, the call was expanded to everyone to respond to the Word that had been preached. That doesn't sound all that groundbreaking (and in reality it wasn't), but it did have a profound effect on how I viewed the invitation time, and I think it allowed those in attendance to express themselves in worship in ways that couldn't have been done otherwise. After all, once the Word has been preached on most occasions (if we are honest), we simply start thinking about lunch, not more about God.
- Where the emphasis is on Christ, fellowship with believers is sweet, refreshing, and necessary. Being a shy individual and often an introvert, I was a bit intimidated going to T4G by myself. Sure, I had friends I would be meeting there, but that's an awful lot of people gathered in one place, especially when you consider that a great many of them are larger than life figures whom I greatly respect as men of God. That said, it was interesting to see how the emphasis wasn't on big personalities, but rather on our Big God. Conversations didn't center on how good the messages were, but rather on the importance of the doctrines presented to our churches. And I didn't leave being impressed by great men, but rather with the impression that I am a part of a great revival of theology and Biblical studies that threatens to renew our churches in a way that goes far beyond current fads that ebb and flow every few years. I feel refreshed knowing that so many others believe like me, preach like me, and have the same desire I do to teach their flock the deep things of God.
- Like other pastors, I need other pastors to minister to me. During panel discussions it was evident that those who spoke clearly ministered to those who organized the conference. This was never more clear than in the discussion after John Piper spoke. The panel, as usual, included Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler, and C.J. Mahaney - all pastors and leaders who bear ultimate responsibility over other individuals. Yet when Piper sat among them, it was clear that they saw him as their pastor at that moment. I needed to see that. I needed to remember that no matter what a pastor, teacher, theologian, or whoever accomplishes through the Holy Spirit, nor how intimate their relationship with Christ seems to be, they need others to minister to them. They, too, need to hear Biblical preaching. To that end, I plan to listen to no less than 2 sermons by other ministers each week.
So there you have it, my reflections on T4G 2008. I am sure that there are many more things I could say about what God taught me during the conference, but suffice to say that I cannot wait until T4G 2010.