Eight months into my first lead pastorate, I finished up a long yet fruitful Easter week and eagerly traveled south to Kentucky to attend my first pastoral conference, the final Together for the Gospel (T4G). I expected to hear great speakers, get to know a brother from my congregation better, and pick up a bevy of free books! But I received significantly more.
I did hear godly exposition of God’s Word, sing meaningful, biblical songs, and gather information from dozens of exhibitors. It was impressive to hear John Piper connect Jesus’s atonement and our holiness. I loved listening to Sinclair Ferguson and Alistair Begg tell stories about Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I marveled at Shai Linne’s sermon-turned-spoken-word, and I appreciated Kevin DeYoung’s intellectual rigor when unpacking the doctrine of justification.
These were all reasons to be encouraged. But none of the highlights came close to the encouragement I received through the presence of the brothers and sisters around me.
Army of Unknown Servants
For most of the sessions, I sat near the front of the convention center. This gave my friend and me an unobstructed view of the speakers, but we never got a great sense of the crowd. So, at one point, I turned around to look as we were singing. In that moment, I was overcome.
None of the highlights came close to the encouragement I received through the presence of the brothers and sisters around me.
Thousands of people were singing in unison, praising God in joyful worship. That alone was a joyous sight. But as I reflected, I realized most, if not all, of the people around me were colaborers in the gospel. Most will never be invited on a big stage to speak. Most won’t write an important book to edify the church. Most will labor in relative anonymity until God calls them home. Yet there were 12,000 soldiers in arms, nameless servants of God marching forward without fanfare or fame to shepherd God’s people. Some (like me) are just out of the starting blocks. Others are coming around the last turn toward the finish.
Glimpsing Hidden Bonds of Peace
I met up with a brother who pastors a Filipino church outside New York City, a pair of young church planters who shepherd a three-year-old flock in the Pacific Northwest, a man finishing his PhD, and an elder and his wife who drove 16 hours from southwest Nebraska. We came from far and wide, looking for post-Easter respite and answers to our congregants’ questions.
The subjects were only briefly mentioned from the stage, but many church leaders have been navigating divides over race relations, cultural wars, the Great Resignation, and the post-COVID church world. Yet as I looked around, I was overwhelmed by unity and hope for the church.
This was my great encouragement: though the speakers in front certainly provided help for my future ministry, it was the masses of brothers and sisters behind me who lifted my countenance. In that moment, they were waves bearing me toward shore. What a delightful, blessed unity!
It reminded me of these words from Charles Spurgeon:
The unity of the Church is not to be seen by you today—do not think it; the plan is not worked out yet. God is building over yonder, and you only see the foundation; in another part the topstone is all but ready, and you cannot comprehend it. Shall the Master show you his plan? Is the Divine Architect bound to take you into his studio, to show you all his secret motives and designs? Not so; wait a while and you will find that all these diversities and differences among spiritually-minded men, when the master-plan comes to be wrought out, are different parts of the grand whole, and you with the astonished world will then know that God has sent the Lord Jesus.
Spurgeon is right. It’s not always easy to see the unity of the church. We live in divided days. Pastoral ministry can tend toward isolation. The Western church tends toward independence. But God’s call for us to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called involves straining toward “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1–3).
In that moment, the masses of brothers and sisters were waves bearing me toward shore.
God used those used those who sang with their whole hearts behind me at T4G to restore my soul and encourage me that “all these diversities and differences among spiritually-minded men” are “different parts of the grand whole.”
As Paul goes on to say, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (vv. 4–6). Though it’s sometimes hidden from our sight now, God’s church is still on the move, and in Christ, we are together for the gospel.