One of the first things that is radically different from the last time I attended T4G ('08) is that there are so many more people. I do not know exactly how many people that are here, but I have heard between 7,000 to 8,500 men and women. That is a lot of people. But even with that many people, I was able to run into many dear friends in ministry. Truth be told, that is why a pastor comes to conferences like this. To be encouraged by other men they know in ministry. Friendship is so extremely important and helpful to my life.
As at most conferences, I enjoyed receiving many free books. Many of them I have already read, which means I will probably be giving some away when I get back home. Anyone want some good resources? Well, I also spent some time in the really large bookstore and bought a few other resources that were significantly discounted. I really love books. But onto the main part of the day . . . the teaching sessions. Each day features several preaching events as well as some panel discussions.
General Session 01 - When A Pastor Loses Heart by C. J. Mahaney
The first sermon really spoke to my heart. C. J. Mahaney spoke from Second Corinthians 4 on the reality of the pastor losing heart. He expressed that a pastor can have a fruitful ministry, but still not be joyful. It is a real temptation for all pastors. He pleaded with us, as only C. J. can do, to take advantage of the conference as a gift from God and not waste this opportunity to be encouraged.
The heart of his encouragement from that passage came when he said that the gospel message is what should keep the pastor going. It is God that will give sight to the blind. He emphasized that our calling is to proclaim Jesus and trust that God will remove their scales. But he also said that the context of any christian ministry is that it will be difficult. There will be suffering. There will be persecutions. Because we live in a fallen world, there will be depression and pastors will be struck down. He encouraged us that behind every faithful and fruitful church, there will be a dying pastor.
How can that be encouraging? Well, it is to me only when I maintain the eternal perspective that Paul talks about in vs. 16-18. There is no comparison between any momentary afflictions that might be in our life compared to the eternal glory that awaits us. I had to really ask myself, "Do I really believe that?"
General Session 02 - The Power of the Articulated Gospel by Albert Mohler
The second sermon was by Albert Mohler from Romans 10 on the importance and power of articulating the gospel of Jesus Christ. His main emphasis is that the only way anyone believes in Jesus and is saved is by preaching, speaking, articulating the gospel with words. Proximity is not enough. It is not enough just to do good deeds for others. It is not enough just to be around people and hoping the gospel will rub off from us. It must be spoken. How do we know who the elect are from Romans 9? They believe, confess, and are saved in Romans 10. Someone at some point spoke words of the gospel to them. He emphasized that God is a speaking God and since we are created in His image, we speak.
This was helpful to me in many ways. It reaffirmed to me my calling to preaching. It reaffirmed my calling to opening my mouth to share Jesus with others. He even said that it takes words to be rejected. I am starting an evangelism class on Sunday morning and I was encouraged once again at the importance of speaking words for people to accept or reject. Christian, are we willing to die for words? At the end, he asked the question: How did the gospel come to you? How was it that you came to believe? Some how or some way, someone spoke words or you read words on the glorious nature of Jesus and His salvation. We should do the same.
General Session 03 - False Conversions, The Suicide of the Local Church by Mark Dever
As a pastor, this was my favorite session. And the scariest session. He began the sermon by asking a couple of questions: "Could it be that many of our hearers every Sunday are not saved?" "Could it be that many of our members are not saved?" He walked through God's plan throughout the ages is to save a people for His own glory. God does things for the glory of His name. That message is not a friendly one, so much in fact, that he reiterated that unbelievers hate it while believers love it. True believers love that God does things for the glory of His name. And the church, God's people, are composed of people who are born again, repentant, and growing Christians.
He made some fairly profound statements in this sermon. One of them was that we work against God when we build churches that camouflage the glory of God's name by having people who are indistinguishable from the world. Ouch. That hurts. We avoid false conversions when we continually call people to a life being converted.
His solution? He says the pastor must "keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1 Timothy 4:16). He encouraged pastors to consistently make it a habit of preaching on five topics: God's judgement, it is a personal judgement, our only hope is in Christ, we never see the fullness of salvation in this life, and we can easily be deceived.
A church that doesn't emphasize the importance of true saving fruit in the life of people who claim to have received Jesus can be in danger. He encouraged each pastor to think of the future generations when he said, "False converts hire false teachers." The longevity of any ministry will be seen as pastors hold out a high standard of salvation as they bring people into the membership of their church.
Yesterday was a great day and I look forward to a really long day today. There were so many other things that happened yesterday, but I do not have time to share about them at this point. I would still appreciate your prayers as I try to drink from a fire hose today.