T4G Debrief: Overall Observations
As you probably know, the every-other-year conference known as Together for the Gospel was held in Louisville, KY last week. I had the privilege of traveling there with my darling wife and 14 others from FBC Grand Cayman. I’m still processing the tons of good stuff I heard and received while there. ”Drinking from a fire hydrant” doesn’t quite capture the experience. I’m soaked and pray it’ll take a long time to dry out!
In order to process some of what I heard, I plan to offer some short reflections over the next several days. I welcome your interaction and thoughts. Before I give some overall observations, I want to point to a few others who have sifted some nuggets for reflection: Kevin DeYoung, Mike McKinley, Dan Phillips, Carl Trueman, and Trevin Wax. All these were worth reading, especially Trevin’s.
As for my own overall take, a few things stand out.
1. This was the most encouraging T4G of the four to date. I found the entire time filled with that peculiar and precious hope that comes from life with our Lord. All the plenary addresses were flavored with pastoral concern throughout. In previous meetings, at least some of the talks were either polemical or historical in nature. They were great, but I really enjoyed the pastoral tone of this meeting. More than that, I needed the injection of pastoral care.
2. This year’s conference made the theme far more prominent and compelling. If someone could leave under-estimating the gospel, then I don’t know what could raise their estimation! I was humbled from the opening three testimonies of conversion–a new feature to the conference that over and over again illustrated in real lives the power of the Good News to transform sinners from every walk of life. Honestly, when the first three shared their testimonies I felt as if my sermon had already been preached much more effectively and succinctly, leaving me little to say. Which, in God’s kindness, exposed once again my tendency to under-estimate the message of Jesus’ love, righteousness, death, and resurrection to redeem sinners. I loved the repeated hammering of the theme.
3. The panel discussions were usually too short but also engaging. We took some hits last time around for being too chummy after each person’s talk. Sorta, “You’re great. No, you’re great. Well, you’re great, too.” Whether or not that was a fair representation, clearly we needed to mix things up a bit more. Switching to topical panels of varying configurations helped the conference experience a great deal. Like everyone else, there were topics that interested me more than others. But I thought they all edified.
4. The singing was good but subdued–until the last night. Perhaps it was the larger facility or the piano positioned less prominently. I don’t know. It seemed to me (and this could’ve just been me) that compared to previous years there was less energy in the singing. The singing was still very good, but you could tell the difference between the first two days and the very last segment Thursday night. Thursday night was the singing I’ve come to really enjoy–energetic, rich, joyful.
5. I missed Sproul and MacArthur. I like these men. They’re heroes to me. In the past it’s been like being with your granddad or great uncle. Sproul has this lovable, playful “pull my finger” quality about him. And to be in a room with MacArthur is to be warmly and graciously noticed, regarded, loved. Their combined decades of ministry added ballast to the T4G boat. Please don’t misunderstand. This is no commentary on this year’s speakers. It’s simply a personal appreciation. I like and missed these men even as I enjoyed the sweet fellowship with this year’s speakers.
6. My greatest encouragement–apart from the strength that comes from the word of God–comes from traveling with the saints of FBC Grand Cayman. There’s nothing quite like the assurance that comes from looking out on the audience, spotting the sheep entrusted to my care, and recognizing that they’ve come for the benefit of their own souls but also to stand with me. It’s a great joy. It makes me deeply happy to see this growing aspect of our partnership in the gospel.
7. I’m grateful I’m not alone. Some people don’t like the large crowd. They prefer smaller conferences. I really enjoy small conferences, too. But I draw a different kind of encouragement from seeing a larger assembly of like-minded men and women. Seeing the crowd reminds me I’m not alone. That’s important when you live on an island! Perhaps I’m the only one who needs this encouragement, this reminder that I’m part of something much larger and wonderful. I don’t know. But getting this shot in the arm once every two years doesn’t seem like too much to ask and enjoy when I can.
Lord willing, I’ll say more about the sermons and panels in the days ahead.
For now, how about you? Any general reflections on T4G this year?