Conferences are good for you
It has certainly felt like conference season here on our News page. But why bother with them at all? Andy Paterson answers that question as he reflects on his time at the recent gathering of The Gospel Coalition.
Conferences are good for you.
Or at least that’s my reflection upon the matter having just returned a few hours ago from the bi-annual conference of The Gospel Coalition (TGC) in Florida. The facts are hardly surprising: thousands attending; gospel-drenched speakers; excellent organisation; a wonderful theme – His Mission: Jesus in the Gospel of Luke; and sunshine!
Although all the above were true, it’s not for those reasons that I want to suggest that conferences are good for you. No, what forcibly struck me was that a good conference gives you an insight into heaven and God’s glorious grace in ways that you wouldn’t normally experience.
For one thing there is a fresh appreciation of the incredible diversity of God’s saving grace. The message remains the same, but the messengers can be very different. Monday’s ministry at TGC pictured just that. It began with John Piper, who until very recently was pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minnesota, preaching with flaming passion. Piper was followed by Colin Smith, known to many of us from his FIEC days in Enfield, preaching rich Bible doctrine in his distinct Scottish accent. The third preacher of the day was Crawford Loritts, pastor of a church in the American south, extolling us with his warm and deep tones. And the day concluded with Canadian Don Carson, with his academic precision, as sharp as any surgeon’s knife.
Each preacher blessed us richly. Each preacher opened up God’s word insightfully. Each preacher applied it with force and personality. Yet each was as different from the other as you could imagine. And the sum of the whole was greater than that of the individual parts for that very reason. It was a picture of the diversity of God’s calling and grace. It was a foretaste of heaven. It shattered the monochromatic view of ministry that so many of us fall into because of our own limited contexts. It helped us wonder at the kaleidoscopic breadth of God’s saving work throughout his world. It made us think and imagine bigger. And that’s one big reason why conferences can be good for you.
But secondly, good conferences pull together the heart and the head. They connect the intellect with the affections. They flow out of, and into, corporate worship.
At TGC, the times of praise, prayer and singing led by Keith and Kristyn Getty, along with their extraordinarily gifted band, gave us another little savour of heaven, as with full emotions and stretched intellects we responded to God’s revelation. None of the 6,000 present will forget how, without accompaniment, our voices were raised as one in singing together ‘Holy, holy, holy; Lord God Almighty’. All too often we can fall back into our individualistic, self-focussed attitudes, failing to grasp the corporate nature of the Church and failing to bring together the totality of who we are in the praise and service of our gracious God.
That’s why conferences are good for you. They’re not there to replace local church, but to remind us afresh of the bigger, wider, embracing truths of the gospel. So whether it’s New Word Alive at bracing Prestatyn, or The Gospel Coalition in humid Florida, or the FIEC Leaders’ Conference at our brand new location in Norfolk in November, go and join in and share with your brothers and sisters in Christ, and be blessed.
The article photos are taken from the sizeable album on The Gospel Coalition’s Facebook Page.