27 Apr 2017

Notes from the Gospel Coalition 2017 National Conference

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Joel is a member of CTPC and is currently serving as deacon of spiritual growth.

We are still recovering from a busy Holy Week season and my wife and I are in the process of moving, but I wanted to post what will be the first in (hopefully) a series of reflections on our experiences at The Gospel Coalition 2017 National Conference. A couple of weeks ago, Eric, Mayline and I headed to Indianapolis for this three-day conference. Every year TGC draws together pastors and lay leaders to hear messages on various topics related to the Christian faith, given by the heavy hitters of the Reformed Evangelical movement. Founded by Tim Keller and Don Carson, the Gospel Coalition includes pastors such as John Piper, Kevin DeYoung, and David Platt (interim pastor of McLean Bible Church.) Local pastors include Thabiti Anyabwile of Anacostia Bible Church, and Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church.

The theme of this year’s conference was a celebration of the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation; a few of the keynote speakers gave messages that were more like history lessons on Martin Luther and John Calvin. We also got to “participate” (I use the term loosely; it was actually just more listening to speakers talk) in smaller workshops that had more focused topics; highlights included “Common Misconceptions About Singleness” and “Preaching the Gospel to Millenials”. I wish I could say corporate worship with 8,500 pastors and lay leaders was a highlight, but, as often happens when I attend conferences, it is difficult for me to adjust to worship music in an unfamiliar style. (In this case, entirely hymns.)

I’ll share my reflections on the content of the messages in future posts, but for now I want to address an important question: Why go to conferences at all? It’s a considerable expense to fly across the country, rent a car, and eat out for three days. (And because I’m self-employed, I incurred a significant lost income cost as well. Not to mention the difficulty of my wife having to take care of our son by herself.) Each of the keynote speakers has dozens of messages available online for free. You could select a playlist, choose your favorite worship songs, make some popcorn, and have a DIY TGC Conference in your basement for a fraction of the cost. Why bother?

In thinking about this question for myself, another question came to mind: Why do people run marathons? A recent article from Money.com estimates the cost of running the Boston Marathon at $1,000 – $4,000. I feel like I should create my own marathon and sell tickets. You give me $4,000, and I’ll give you a map of a 26.2-mile course and a bottle of water. I’ll even create a little race bib for you to wear. You can choose a day when the weather’s good. Why so much time and money spent to run an arbitrary distance along with 30,000 other people?

I think it’s about the event. When you make a goal, plan ahead, and set aside time and resources for something, it gives it significance. For me, I’ve been to a few Christian conferences now, and they are always memorable and have a positive impact on my spiritual growth. In a world where we fill our lives with obligations, activities, and entertainment, it’s so rare to set aside your daily routine and focus on God for three days. This specialness is one of the things that you can’t replicate with the Joel’s basement conference. It seems strange, but when you spend money and time for something, you get more out of it.

There was another wonderful blessing we enjoyed during the conference, which was enjoying the community of the other CTPC members attending. Often at conferences you have lots of opportunities to meet and fellowship with members of other churches, but TGC2017 really wasn’t structured with that in mind. However, it was a great time for Eric, Mayline and I to fellowship. In particular, it was a great time for the three of us to talk about God, the bible, church, how we should run church, theology, and a lot of other Big Topics. We had conversations on car rides, at meals, and in between sessions. Not only did we get to exchange ideas that we learned or raise questions, but it was a great time to reflect on our own spiritual journey and how God is leading each of us in our different roles as leaders in our congregation.

All of this leads to the obvious advertisement: Registration for the 2017 CTPC/TPCW joint retreat is open now! We will be enjoying the campus of St. Mary’s College of Maryland June 23-25, hearing the word as preached by Dr. Paul Cho of Wesley Seminary, singing praise songs and praying together, and discussing what it all means in small groups. Register here! 

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