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 McKinleyDan PhillipsCarl 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.

The crew from First Baptist Church, Grand Cayman

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?

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13 thoughts on “T4G Debrief: Overall Observations”

  1. JackDaddy says:

    I was standing in line to talk to you (Thabiti) as you took this picture. I feel like I was in it. Agree with your points, especially #4. The subdued-ness was disappointing at times, though worship should not be based on what is occurring around you

  2. Dave Jenkins says:

    Thabiti,

    It was nice to meet you shortly before you took the picture with your church. I enjoyed your reflections on T4G and look forward to your future observations on the conference. Here are my reflections on T4G 2012: http://servantsofgrace.org/2012/04/13/some-reflections-on-together-for-the-gospel-2012/

  3. Jared Oliphint says:

    I echo Dave. It was great to meet you, even if briefly, and the conference was an exceptional time. Thanks for your work and your words.

  4. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

    Jack, Dave and Jared,

    Thanks for stopping by the blog and for joining us at T4G. I pray you were as encouraged with the word of God and the gospel of our Lord as I was! Thanks for leaving the link Dave and to each of you for hanging around to connect personally. The Lord’s grace and peace to you,

    T-

  5. usama a. says:

    Brother Thabiti,

    Having not been to T4g ’10 I can’t compare, but I echo that it was very pastoral in the main sessions.

    Meeting C.J. with my pastor, who 4 years ago was deeply blessed by him at a separate event.

    Singing (our out of tone hearts out) with faithful men from my church.

    Convincing one of the men in our group to talk to Matt Chandler so his 7 yr old son could talk to him on the phone.

    The very gracious volunteers who helped answer questions.

    Great time indeed!!

    blessings

    usama

  6. The pull my finger bit made me laugh out loud.

    1. Robert Wille says:

      Ditto.

  7. Garrett Conner says:

    Thabiti,

    Our group certainly was helped by your talk.

    It was such a joy to see you again briefly at the conference. Thankful I got to tell you about how things are going in Southern Maryland.

    Again, thank you for that walk around the Hill a couple of years ago brother.
    -Garrett Conner

  8. Bo says:

    Hi Thabiti, I did not attend t4g, but I have been listening to the sermons online. I just finished listening to your sermon tonight, and it was a blessing to me personally. I’ve been a pastor now for about 2-1/2 years, and I could really associate w/ your comment about being discouraged after you preach & how you have to preach to yourself that it is God’s power & not your eloquence. I fight this temptation frequently, but it is encouraging to hear another brother vocalize it from the pulpit.

    Thank you for the reminder that it is the Word that does the work!

    God Bless You,

    Bo

  9. Freddy says:

    The Thursday night singing was especially powerful. I missed the majority of the conference because of my son’s birth that Tuesday. My wife encouraged me to attend the last half day. As we sang “In Christ Alone” Thursday evening I was struck by a line had not been particularly struck by before. It says, “From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.” I couldn’t help but think about my little boy who was less than a mile away. I pray he sings that line one day with faith in Christ who has commanded his destiny ever since his birth on April 10th.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      congratulations, brother!! You were certainly in the right place with your bride and baby boy! I’ll give a hearty “Amen!” and prayer to that last couple lines about your son singing that line one day with the full assurance of faith!

      The Lord bless you and keep you!
      T-

  10. Rod Phillips says:

    Thabiti…

    It is great to have you as part of the line-up. I appreciate your ministry in the Word and don’t view you as a celebrity pastor, but simply a brother in Christ, a fellow co-laborer in the ministry being God’s mouthpiece to encourage the brethren.

    It was a great conference and, in my opinion, a notch up from 2010. Some of that had to do with where I was in life and how God was at work in me in 2010 – without a pastorate and considering where He would move me next. This year I rejoiced over the way God revealed Himself and the ways He was at work in my life since the 2010 T4G conference. I along with 30+ people started a church last September in Castro Valley, CA. God is growing a Gospel Centered church and I get to be the teaching pastor. It is exciting, so CJ’s and Ligon’s messages were extremely provocative in looking back on ministry and God’s faithfulness. Also, I was able to bring two men with me who are integral to the ministry at Gateway Bible Church. I also brought my 18 year old son who took copious notes and enjoyed the whole experience.
    Thanks for your part in shaping my life and many others for the glory of God.

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Thabiti Anyabwile


Thabiti Anyabwile is assistant pastor for church planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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