In 2009, I attended with some team members of our church plant that year's Gospel Coalition Conference. It was the first conference of any kind I'd attended since the Willow Creek Leadership Conference in 1996. So I didn't enter the fray as a conference junkie, but my experience at TGC definitely colored what I hope to get out of conferences. Since then, I have attended T4G in 2010 and TGC again in 2011. I try to make it to smaller regional events in my area as I can, but I prioritize the "big" conferences (T4G and TGC) each year, and my church helps me afford to go. So I am attending T4G next week. Here's why:
1. I get to see more people in real life than I do at smaller events.
Everyone goes to the big ones. That's an exaggeration, of course, but if I want to see as many of my pastor and ministry friends from around the country as possible, it is most likely they will be at the big conferences. And there have been great opportunities to further fraternity in coffee breaks and after-hours events. I will see more people I haven't seen for a long time at T4G than if I went to a smaller conference.
2. My wife enjoys it.
T4G and TGC are generally for generalists. They are focused supremely on the gospel. Therefore I can take my wife to these conferences, as I have since 2010, and not worry the subject matter will be specifically narrowed to this nut or that bolt of pastoral ministry. I know that the preaching will very often apply to her as easily as to me, so she doesn't have to feel like we are just there for me and she's simply hanging on. Also, as I don't have the availability or income to attend multiple conferences a year, usually when I am at a Christian event, I have some role to play. I am blessed my wife has been able to attend many of these speaking engagements with me, but when I'm there, I am largely focused on my responsibilities and she becomes my support and encourager. But she doesn't have my undivided attention. At T4G, I have the opportunity to just be, and to just be with my wife. So I intentionally limit the number of meal/coffee invitations I receive and keep things more loosey-goosey to better have time to rest and reflect with Becky.
3. Live preaching from men who have earned my trust.
I love the smaller venue vibes, especially the intensive and more relational way teaching in those events is carried out. I am speaking at more of those kinds of events each year and I benefit a lot from the content my colaborers present there. But since I really only get to one conference a year as a non-responsibility attendee, I know I can count on the quality preaching from men I admire and trust at T4G and TGC. I don't listen to podcasts during the week, because they don't quite meet the need I have to sit under the proclaimed word of God. And because I am preaching almost 52 weekends a year, and at other engagements in between, I crave this opportunity to sit under live preaching of the gospel and receive the word of God. If that is my desire, and if my options are limited, one could hardly blame me for choosing the conferences where John Piper, Matt Chandler, D.A. Carson, Tim Keller, Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, and the like are all preaching at the same time.
4. I am encouraged by the bigness.
Again, I enjoy the relational aspects of smaller venues, but my heart is also greatly encouraged when I see 4,000 people, mostly young men, in one room exalting God and exulting in the gospel. Cynics may scoff, but this is helpful to my heart. I pastor a relatively small church in a very small town in a very small state, the least religious state in the nation. Going to a huge conference that centers on the gospel of Jesus Christ and that is teeming with people talking about and enjoying Jesus is hugely refreshing.