I love Together for the Gospel. I love Mark Dever’s vision behind it. I love the fellowship among the speakers. I love the bookstore. I love the singing. I thank God for good conferences like T4G.
But, as everyone on the stage this week will eagerly agree, Jesus made no promises to build good conferences. He did, however, promise to build the church (Matt. 16:18). Conferences are good in so far as they can strengthen what is essential.
Recently, Reformed Theological Seminary interviewed a few of the plenary speakers to talk about the vision behind T4G and how we should think about the wider conference phenomenon. The article will be in the next issue of RTS’s Ministry & Leadership magazine. Here’s my portion of the interview (some of which probably didn’t make the final cut).
How did the T4G partnership come about?
The Together for the Gospel conference is unique in that it was borne out of the friendship among Mark Dever, CJ Mahaney, Al Mohler, and Lig Duncan. I’ve been fortunate enough to be asked to participate as a speaker at the conference for several years now. Every January the plenary speakers get together for three days of sharing, prayer, and laughter. It’s a highlight of the year and continues to serve as a catalyst and the glue for the conference itself.
What was the purpose behind organizing the conferences — what audience were you looking to reach?
Mark Dever has always been adamant that this is a conference for pastors. While we are happy for others to attend–and indeed lots of students and leaders do–we are purposefully trying to equip and edifying pastors.
What has surprised you the most about the response to T4G and related conferences?
I really don’t think Mark or any of the other principals have any ego wrapped up in the conference. If ending the conference was the best thing for the church, they’d do it without any hesitation. But it seems like the conference continues to meet a need and continues to be used by God to help the local church. We are grateful.
What is conference attendance uniquely positioned to accomplish in people’s lives?
Conferences are far, far, far from the most important thing in a Christians life–like a thousand miles away. But they are one of the means God has seemed pleased to use in the past 100-150 years. It can be powerful to sing songs with so many people, and the fellowship and comradery across denominational lines in powerful. We always send our staff to one big conference a year (usually T4G or TGC). The time away together as a team is invaluable, as is the opportunity to buy good books and sit under a steady stream (torrent?) of good teaching.
Why else do you think people are being drawn to T4G and related conferences?
It’s amazing: I would have thought that interest in the conference might be waning by now, but clearly it’s not. I think people are hungry for a big picture of God. I think that want a warm orthodoxy with passion, with love, and with edges. I think they want to hear God’s word, sing God’s word, and be with people who love the same things.
What’s your vision for the future of T4G and related conferences, and with that in mind, what words of caution do you have concerning the “conference phenomenon”?
Of course, any time you have a big conference there will be dangers associated with pride, envy, man-pleasing, idolatry, and like. More subtly, we must make sure conferences come alongside the church, to encourage it, not to supersede it. A conference like T4G must never, ever be a substitute for the local church. The local pastor is a position instituted and ordained by God. Conference speaker is not. It is the work of the church to evangelize the lost, disciple the found, receive new members, exercise church discipline, build up the saints, carry out the Great Commission, administer the sacraments, and safeguard the truth of God’s word. At best, conferences like T4G encourage pastors in all these aims. Where a conference makes these things more difficult, it has outlived its usefulness. I’d like to think T4G is still something God can use to bless pastors and strengthen the local church.