Seven Reasons Why I Will Be Attending T4G in 2016 (Lord willing)
Last week, I was blessed with the privilege of being able to attend the biennial Together for the Gospel conference for pastors in Louisville, KY. After having attended my first Gospel Coalition conference last year and being so wonderfully blessed and refreshed from it, I jumped at the chance of attending T4G this year. I was in Louisville for 3 full days hearing the word of God being preached, singing songs in praise to the Lord, and fellowshipping with fellow believers from around the world.
So, what is Together for the Gospel (henceforth T4G)? Here’s what the T4G website says about its history:
Together for the Gospel began as a friendship between four pastors. These friends differed on issues such as baptism, polity and the charismatic gifts. But they were committed to standing together for the main thing—the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So a biennial conference began in 2006 to serve one main purpose: to encourage other pastors to stand together for the same gospel. In the years since, faces have changed, the culture has shifted, and churches have encountered new challenges. Yet the conference has grown, and more and more church leaders have discovered they share this same gospel-centered ambition.
T4G is convinced that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been misrepresented and marginalized in many churches and among those who proclaim the name of Christ. Therefore, the goal of these friendships and conferences is to reaffirm the central doctrine of the Christian faith and to encourage local churches to do the same.
I am deeply passionate about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. My one singular goal as a pastor and preacher is to help those under my care see how the finished work of Christ powerfully affects every area of our lives. The Gospel is the hope of all people because all are lost in sin and are in desperate need of a Savior who died to forgive that sin. It is also the continued refuge and hope for every believer from the moment of salvation to the moment of glorification. Thus, as one given the responsibility to strengthen the body of Christ, I will ever stand behind the sacred pulpit and proclaim the power of Jesus Christ and Him crucified as long as the Lord permits. All praise be to God that He has provided His people with such amazing gatherings as T4G where we are able to have our Gospel vision renewed, as well as our minds and bodies.
So, while my recent trip to Louisville is still fresh in my mind, following are seven reasons why I will be attending T4G again in 2016 (Lord willing):
One might look at the life of a pastor from the outside and think, “Man, he really does have the life! Works from home, comes and goes as he pleases – that’s the good life.” Don’t get me wrong, it is a great joy to be able to see my children grow up and have the pleasure of seeing my beautiful wife of (almost) 9 years throughout the day. But, there is something about the pastoral ministry that is unlike any “job” I have ever worked. For one, you can’t “leave your work at work” because the pastor’s whole life is his work. As a result, I have found in my three short years as a pastor that it is very easy to become weary of the work if one is not careful.
Understand, I don’t say this to discourage any of my church family from coming to me with their needs. I see myself as divinely privileged to be involved in the lives of so many precious people. I wouldn’t trade this for the world! And yet, if the pastor does not take the time to care for his own physical body and emotions, the “ministry” could drive him away before God wills. Case in point – when these kinds of conferences come up, I make every effort to attend because I know that every moment will be used by God to refresh a tired man. This year I made plans to drive and lodge alone, simply so I could use that time to think and pray. And I’m so glad I did! Just getting out of town would have been a blessing – but to be ministered to by men who have been doing this much longer than I was so incredibly refreshing for my spirit. I was also refreshed by the fellowship from my good friend Brian Ottinger, and a fellow brother and elder from his church, Brandon Gray. Brian is always such an encouragement whenever I am able to see him! The love of Christ bleeds through his humble spirit. I also enjoyed getting to know Brandon a little bit. They both made the trip better.
2. The Praise and Worship Times
Picture this: close to 8,000 (mostly) men singing as loudly and passionately as possible, “Before the throne of God above, I have a strong and perfect plea: a great High Priest whose name is Love, who ever lives and pleads for me!” I’m telling you, when you are surrounded by a great throng of believers singing praises to the Lamb seated on the throne, you cannot help but feel just a little closer to the heart of God. With hymn after hymn, led by Bob Kauflin (who, by the way, is one of the sweetest, gentlest brothers I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting – pictured right), those gathered sang beautiful, deeply biblical theology back to the ears of our glorious Father. And I’ll be honest, when the Spirit moves on a body of believers like this, I don’t care how tough you are, you weep – that’s right, weep! To think that God could love me as much as He does in putting forth Christ as a sacrifice for my sins (a message that was incorporated in EVERY hymn we sang) is a thought which cannot be truly pondered without every part of your person being moved to humble gratitude.
3. The Books
If you know me, you know I’m a book junkie. No – I can’t waste my time reading the run-of-the-mill mystery novel. Give me books written by men and women that wish to declare the greatness of God. I have a growing library in my study, and am always adding to it. In addition, I’ve got a small library at church filled with sound volumes available to anyone who desires to know Jesus better. So, you can imagine my surprise when I found out that the conference organizers would be giving away 13 FREE books to everyone in attendance! In addition, the conference featured an acre-size book store (sponsored by LifeWay) loaded with amazing titles at prices much cheaper than Amazon. Needless to say, I came home with a few extra books for my library. God bless my sweet wife for putting up with my book addiction!
4. The Sermons
Listening to the Word being preached is definitely one of the most memorable parts of the trip. Over the course of 3 days, I was able to hear sermons preached by some of the most biblically faithful men in the modern day. Among these were Thabiti Anyabwile, Matt Chandler, Mark Dever, John Piper, Ligon Duncan, John MacArthur, and others. There were a total of 9 sermons preached, each at about an hour long. I wish I could express in words how amazing and timely these messages were. The theme of this year’s conference was on evangelism, so every message spoke to this subject. As a man who does not consider himself an effective evangelist, I was anxious to attend the conference.
Now, imagine this with me. I am a preacher. I preach perhaps 50 of 52 Sundays a year, as well as teach in various bible studies throughout the year. I am not there yet, but I’m just starting to “get” preaching. What I mean is, I am learning how to preach. Now, imagine sitting in a large conference, and hour after hour hearing faithful men preach messages that you yourself couldn’t preach in a hundred years. The biblical knowledge, the ability to engage the crowd, the Holy Spirit at work – wow! I cannot tell you how God used His Word last week to poke and prod at parts of me I didn’t know existed. He burned in my soul the vital urgency of sharing Christ with people.
Before each sermon was delivered, a video was shown containing interviews of men and women who met Jesus because someone shared the gospel with them. These words from each video are emblazoned in my heart: “Hi, my name is _____. Today I am a Christian because someone shared the Gospel with me. Be unashamed.” Listen brothers and sisters: the Word of God will not return to Him void (Isaiah 55:11). Last week, God accomplished some amazing things in me through His Word, and I hope to bring these things back to my church family in the coming months. I just need more time to process what I heard! If you want to be blessed as I was, here’s the link to listen to the sermons preached last week. Particularly memorable were Ligon Duncan’s message on the Gospel in the book of Numbers, and Matt Chandler’s message entitled “Christ is All,” but they were all memorable!
5. John Piper
Okay, so if John Piper is not in attendance in 2016, I will still be there. But, God blessed me so richly last week by allowing me to meet the man who I consider to be my spiritual father. John Piper is probably the one preacher that I have followed closely over the past several years. I first heard Pastor John preach live at a Passion Conference some years back. Ever since I first heard him, I have been drawn to his intense love for this amazing God we serve. I have listened to many of his sermons (all free at desiringgod.org), and am slowly reading through his extensive collection of authored books.
Well, you might think I am cheesy, but while walking to a “breakout panel” at T4G, I prayed some version of, “Lord, if you would find it in your grace, please allow me to meet Pastor John.” I arrived at my session early, found a seat near the front, and waited for it to start. After a few minutes of looking down at my phone, I looked up and saw Pastor John about 20 feet away from me (he was there to introduce the speaker). There were a few men like myself gathered around, and I thought, “Nah, I’m not going to be the average young guy walking up and asking for an autograph.” I sat. For like a minute. Then I got up, because I couldn’t lose the chance. After waiting for another fellow to finish talking with him, I went up to John Piper with my hand out and shook his hand. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I do remember thinking “Don’t talk about yourself like everyone else.” I think I said some version of, “Today is a great blessing for me, because I am privileged to meet my spiritual father face to face.” And, just as quietly and sweetly as can be, he thanked me and conceded for a picture with me.
As Christians, we don’t worship anyone but God, so there is a small degree of concern that being “star struck” by a fellow minister is some form of idolatry. And maybe it is. But all I know is, the Lord answered my prayer, no matter how silly it was, and He graciously blessed me that day with allowing me to meet the brother who has shaped my theology more than any other.
6. Meeting People
This is a huge bonus for attending these kinds of conferences. You gain the pleasure of meeting some incredible men and women who love Jesus like you do! I purchased the meal plan that was offered by T4G, so I was able to sit down in the same building at lunch and dinner each day and meet fellow pastors and their families. I was honored to meet such precious folks from around the world who are just trying to be faithful in their own calling.
Here’s something pretty cool, too. Last year when I attended the Gospel Coalition Conference, I was blessed to meet a great brother named Matt Capps. Matt is the brand manager for the Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources. Because of Matt, we have been able to bring the Gospel Project curriculum into our local church. For the past 8 months or so, we have been teaching our youth and kids the Gospel of Jesus Christ every week! Anyway, I ran into Matt again this year and we chatted for a bit. On the last day, I was heading up to the conference arena when Matt called out to me and tossed me his “reserved seating” pass. There was a section up near the stage reserved for the speakers’ family and friends. Well, I was stoked, and obviously, thankful!
After getting into the arena, I went down and put my stuff on a seat. Then I casually walked around before the first session began. In that time, I was able to meet brothers like Mark Dever, Matt Chandler, David Platt, and John MacArthur, as well as several guys serving with these men. Matt Chandler in particular spoke such wisdom to me in response to a question I asked him. John MacArthur was exactly like he is behind the pulpit – very direct and assertive, yet still very kind and didn’t mind taking a #selfie. So, thanks Matt! What a blessing that was!
7. Renewed Vision
This is what I most gleaned from the conference – a renewed vision for myself, my family and church. Have you ever been involved in some work or project, doing the same thing over and over again, and you forget why you are doing it in the first place? Pastoral ministry can become that way, and the vision God has given you for His church can be clouded by the busyness of ministry. Attending T4G was so helpful in just “clearing” my mind and bringing me to that needed place where God could remind me of what is most important. As I’ve already said, the Lord has reignited within me a passion for people – something which ironically can be lost in the ministry. If they aren’t careful, pastors and lay people can develop a “necessary duty” mentality concerning their calling, and they can forget that every calling is designed to bring glory to Christ. Getting away, whether to the woods or a conference, is a great way to rekindle the passion God has given us for His people.
I leave you with a picture of Louisville, taken from the hotel room window. It is a good reminder that there are untold millions who have yet to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and His atoning work for sinners. My prayer for you as you read this is that you too will be reignited with a passion to help all see how beautiful Jesus is. Apart from Him, we have nothing. So, be unashamed.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes…” Romans 1:16