When the fella’s announced the first Together for the Gospel (the conference not yet known as T4G), I decided to travel down with my pal, Challies, to see what was up.
I recall being pretty surprised at a guy named Mahaney. Those were some long introductions! Dever with his book endorsements and crowd surveys was as expected. I had not heard Mohler before, nor Duncan. Both were a delight. But, the real joy was when the four dudes would sit together right after somebody preached and talk about the sermon. They were modelling something quite wonderful… taking the Word and, as the Puritans put it, “improving upon it.” Not so much making the sermon better, but helping the truth to settle by pondering and discussing it.
Also, the chairs were too close together. And does anybody have footage of Sproul going to town on the dude from Australia that took a picture of him with a flash only one minute after someone had just announced no flash photography?
The highlight of that first trip was the 25 Canadians standing around a room in the Galt House introducing ourselves to each other. That was a first meeting for many relationships that last to this day. And that little gathering of Canucks grew into something we really looked forward to at each conference. T4G was always great at finding us a spot to meet and we were delighted to make introductions. There were hundreds of Canucks at our last breakout.
Two years after that first conference we were back and things had gotten quite larger. One thing I always appreciated about this meeting was that numbers were not announced. I have no idea how many people were at anything. It didn’t matter. That was not the point. The point was to gather together with Gospel-believing brothers and sisters from across the globe in order to build relationships, be strengthened in our faith and to try and keep the main thing the main thing.
Mark Dever is a friend of mine. I love him a lot. And his gregarious, open-handed approach to this conference (and life!) were so shaping. With that openness came risk and sometimes things did not go as planned, but that is fine. Unless you are the kind of person who has to control everything.
Every two years I would hem and haw about going back. It is a bit of an ordeal to cross the border, arrange accommodations and pay for it all in American dollars. We are not a huge church and I am cautious about using money saints have donated to pay for things like this. Still, the Lord seemed to make a way to go back every year. I have been at every one.
The 2020 T4G was supposed to be the first father-son conference for me and my boy. He had been asking to come for years and we gave him that trip as a Christmas present. Yeah, that Christmas. The one right before COVID. So, Will and I watched T4G ’20 from our basement. Not quite the same thing. But, it was something.
When Mark and Lig announced 2022 would be the last conference, I was of mixed emotions. At first, I was quite sad at the thought. So many good connections made, so many relationships strengthened, so many good conversations and wonderful preaching moments… I hated the thought of losing that.
But, then I was relieved. Not for me, more for the guys. For whatever reason, it seems like everybody and their brother hates “Big Eva” and somehow lops T4G into that… whatever that is.
If one was able to simply take this conference for what it said it was - a gathering of people who love the Gospel - there was so much to be gained from it. The celebriti-ism and nonsense that marks so much of evangelicalism was always pushed back. I mean, guys like me want to hear Piper and Sproul and MacArthur. But, we are also thrilled to listen to the Ed Moores and Bobby Scotts of the world, those faithful pastors of smaller works who are little known outside of their local churches. In fact, some of the greatest blessings to my own soul have come from the unlikeliest of sources.
So, why I am planning to go back for the last one? Not for the nostalgia. I mean, it doesn’t take much to make me cry anymore, so I will likely weep like a baby at the last song. But, that is not why I plan to go.
- I plan to go so I can see old friends, in particular, fellow pastors who stay faithful in the ministry. (Ask any guy who has been pastoring for as long as me how much it means to have long friendships with faithful fellow pastors!) So, I will try to connect with guys like Wiley, Trent, Mez, Clint, Steve, Ryan, Justin, Mark, Dan and a gazillion others.
- I plan to go so I can be refreshed in my love for God. As a pastor, few things are as encouraging to me as sitting under the Word of God and taking in all the hard work of another servant of the King. I will go eager, ready to be rebuked, encouraged, edified and strengthened.
- I plan to go so I can be sung to. I love the gift of singing and I will admit to finding special encouragement from thousands of voices declaring the Truth around me. It is difficult to put into words how meaningful this is.
- I plan to go in order to sing. See above. I want to do my part to bless the brothers and sisters around me.
- I plan to go so I can have more fellowship with my staff. They will be there and we will be able to debrief sermons, peruse the bookstore together and enjoy some good food.
- And I plan to go because I want my son to know what all of this is like. God willing, he will come with me and we will do all of it together.
Nobody asked me to write this post. I am not trying to convince anyone else to do something they do not want to do. But, I am happy to stand with many others and say how much this conference has blessed my soul and helped my ministry. And I am happy to stand with all who are there, together, for the Gospel.