Praise God for his blessing on The Gospel Coalition 2012 National Women's Conference! What a joy to see nearly 4,000 women who attended, to partner with more than 30,000 people from 67 countries joining via livestream, and to know of the many thousands who were praying diligently for God's blessing. Inevitably, the days following such an event give us opportunity to look back---not just to praise God but also to discern even more clearly just how he blessed. Every one of those blessings pushes us to look ahead, eager to see God's continuing work.
The greatest blessing, I believe, is that God allowed us truly to focus on the stated theme: "Here Is Our God! God's Revelation of Himself in Scripture." Consistently during the conference, it felt to me like God was center stage, and the more than 30 different speakers just kept pointing to him and saying, "Look!" Of course we all did that imperfectly. But that was the aim, and by God's grace it seemed that aim was clear.
In the plenaries, we glimpsed God's sweeping redemptive purposes through expositions starting in Exodus and ending up in Revelation. In passages where God showed himself to human beings, we found God showing himself to us. In the workshops, focus gatherings, and interviews, a remarkable array of gospel-centered people shared their focus on living out God's redemptive purposes in a whole variety of ways, by the Spirit according to the Word.
Not just the speakers, however, made the theme come alive. This conference "for women but not all about women" brought thousands of women excited about that theme, hungry to learn more of the Word, and eager to learn better to communicate that Word with others. From 47 states and 21 countries came women ready to dig deep. It was hugely encouraging (especially for those of us no longer in the category of "young" who have prayed for God to raise up a zealous next generation) to see a huge beautiful army of young women intent on gospel growth. Perhaps that's not a good metaphor for a women's conference. Then again, it's biblical. In any case, the younger generation showed up in numbers and with passion.
It was a seriously intent army---but an incredibly joyful one! We wanted this conference to be substantive. Interestingly, the most serious of purposes often brings along with it the best kind of laughter and joy. That combination characterized the conference. The photo booth, even more fun than we hoped, created such great memories! In the sessions, ready laughter accompanied the most challenging expositions. Of course, when Keith and Kristyn Getty appeared, joyful worship just kind of broke out, as they led us so beautifully and biblically at every turn.
Finally, in retrospect, the context for all that occurred at the conference emerges especially clearly and meaningfully. TGCW12 happened in the context of TGC, which is led by a group of pastors aiming to help the church center on the gospel, the "evangel" of evangelicalism. That aim has implications not only for ordained pastors but also for every member of the church. With a desire to minister even more effectively and intentionally to the whole church, TGC began its formal "women's initiatives" just a few years ago. TGC's Council has been encouraging, prayerful, and downright excited about what is happening through the women's initiatives. TGC's founders were not just there at the conference; they were enthusiastically there, participating and teaching, obviously moved and encouraged by what they saw.
I actually had no conversations with women at the conference about what we women cannot do, according to the Scriptures. We were there intent on seeing God more clearly, and on gaining more gospel-centered excellence where God has called us: perhaps to teach the Scriptures, perhaps to shine in the workplace, perhaps to love husbands and children---but for all of us certainly to understand and communicate well God's living and active Word. I believe the goodness of God's biblical design for men and women, with men's leadership in the church and in the home, shines forth not only in the direct teaching of it, but also when that design provides a strong and peaceable context within which fruitful ministry and growth can happen.
The conference itself creates some waves that keep flowing into the future. Video recordings of the plenaries, and audio recording of the workshops, focus gatherings, and interviews will be made available for free through TGC's website in the next several weeks.
And then there's next year's TGC 2013 National Conference, also in Orlando, April 8-10. Women are warmly invited to attend this conference, titled "His Mission: Jesus in the Gospel of Luke."
Will there be another TGC women's conference in 2014? We certainly hope so. It will be our job in the next weeks to evaluate carefully what happened at TGCW12 and to project the most fruitful paths of resulting ministry. We'll be gathering feedback from all the speakers, and compiling a list of resources mentioned in all their workshops. In the meantime, vibrant TGC ministry continues, through a variety of regional conferences as well as through TGC's online presence. The international outreach is launched. We encourage you to take full advantage of the resources available---and to share them with friends.
Praise God for his blessings always flowing---in the past and into the future.