Posts Tagged ‘T4G’

Well, the Conservative bit of it anyway! 🙂

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Right, let me get something straight right off the bat. I am not a conference junkie! It just so happened that I squeezed in these 3 during a manic 2 week period. In fact, this is the most conferences I have been to in 10 years! I do not usually like these things. I hate the crowds and the whole “famous speaker” thing but this can usually be offset by a decent book stall!

T4G

This conference was in Louisville, Kentucky and I was the guest of my friends at 9Marks. Some observations:

1. It was huge, almost 8000 people I think. That made it both good and bad. Bad in that it did feel a little impersonal and good that it was so powerful when we were all standing together singing some great hymns. It was such a powerful experience praising God with so many other people in one place.

2. Of the 9 main session: 3 were outstanding, 2 were good, 2 were OK and 2 were a disappointment (ironically, from the 2 speakers I was most looking forward to). As models for exegetical preaching, most of the talkers were poor but, as inspirational speakers, they were generally very good. I found the seminars and talking head things to be generally OK (ish), although they talked about issues which I feel are old hat for us in the UK (or maybe that’s just me). The one on famous pastors, particularly, (ironically chaired by famous pastors and even the guy against is famous for being anti famous) was bemusing to say the least. I think this part was weakened by the fact that every speaker (particularly CJ Mahaney) spent at least 10 minutes introducing each main session speaker by telling us why so and so was “the single greatest influence in my life as a believer and/or is perhaps the greatest treasure to the church today” or words to that effect. I don’t know if it is my European nature but I found this toe curlingly horrible.

3. It was brilliantly organised and there was a seamlessness to the event despite the huge numbers. Amazingly, it did not feel overcrowded at any point. All of the stewards were helpful and cheerful. The free book store was a brilliant idea and there was a massive selection of books to choose from. I only bought 1 because they gave so many quality ones away! I did find some of the stalls confusing. For instance there was a Gospel Coalition stall there which didn’t seem to do anything other than be a meeting place for painfully cool twenty somethings. I saw the odd person being interviewed but was otherwise mystified to its purpose. Other stalls were much clearer in handing out literature and promoting some of their work. Free sweets always works for me incidentally!

4. There was a great 2 day meeting afterwards at Southern Seminary. It was a retreat for pastors who had been invited by 9marks. I found that intense and immensely encouraging and enlightening. These are some Godly, friendly men and I have a real affinity and love for them. The way they invited feedback on the whole conference was a real example of humble leadership and wanting to learn. I bought myself a nodding Al Mohler doll for my shelf of tat at home (he sits alongside Obama) from the amazing on site book shop. The seminary just cracked me up. I noticed they had sold out to satan by allowing a Starbucks to sell their products in the place! It was a sort of theological Disneyworld with Al living in the princesses palace. His gaff seemed a little bit OTT for me!

Mark Dever and the 9marks team are just so open and generous with their time and resources. Truly amazing.

City2City

I have gotten involved with this group largely through a friendship with a guy called Al Barth. I also spent 5 weeks at Redeemer last year doing an intensive training programme for church planters. This particular set of meetings was for ‘network leaders’ from around the globe (sounds so grandiose when you say it like that)! Some observations:

1. I am still uncertain of the point of the event. It not really made clear (to me).

2. There were people from around the world and that was a good thing (in terms of shared ideas).

3. I felt some of the sessions were nothing more than psycho babble, business speak, seminar type things. One guy talked about having a crap-ometer and mine was in overdrive at certain points during the two days (and, ironically, particularly during his session).

4. Tim Keller, Al Barth and a couple of other people (one on prayer stood out) were on the money and spoke with a real authority and a distinct clarity. It was worth coming for that. The rest felt somewhat fragmented and lacking in cohesion. I observed that Tim pretty much disappeared straight away and I find him and some of his team strangely less accessible than Mark Dever and the 9marks staff.

5. It seemed very “American” in its “how to approaches”. In other words, much of what was presented would be a struggle to contextualise into Europe. Certainly, their heavy reliance on corporate models of church and leadership structures does not carry into our British types of churches (the majority at least).

7. The Bible was not really opened and expounded upon enough for my liking. It seemed to lack real theological foundation and punch. Maybe this was because this was not the purpose of the meeting? However, I would expect a room full of church planters from around the globe to get at it with the Word more. Very rarely was Christ and the gospel mentioned and certainly not really from the front.

8. I found it a more helpful trip in terms of establishing my relationship with a fellow gospel worker from Edinburgh, Neil Macmillan. We got to spend time together, (he got offered hookers and coke outside our hotel – always amusing), and we had many opportunities to talk about a vision for supporting church planters of all stripes in our city. That was perhaps the single biggest benefit of the time away for me. I also got to meet a couple of impressive men in the UK, not least of whom is a man called Neil Powell involved in Birmingham 2020.

9. The time away helped crystalise some thoughts about what’s next for me in my ministry and life.

Acts29We

To be frank, this was the one I could have done without. I was exhausted from my US trip (I was back a day and a half before heading to London) and only went along to do a seminar out of respect for Steve Timmis (and because I had made a prior commitment). If I’m really honest, I am not a big Acts29 fan in terms of all the machismo that sometimes come out of the US with this movement (cage fighting and beer drinking etc). I don’t find any of that stuff to be helpful in my context at all. I see the point that men need to be men (and not the feminised girly boys that mark so much of middle class Christianity in the UK) but at the same time I am trying to get guys to stop drinking (as much) and to see “being a man” as taking responsibility for their kids, not beating their girlfriends and/or spending their rent money on beer/drugs. Anyway, I digress. Some observations:

1. Straight off the bat it was gospel centred and it was gospel all the way.

2. The main preaching (I say this instead of ‘speaking’) sessions taken by JD Greear were on the money. By that I mean they were biblical, faithful to the texts and contextually applied to a European audience. This was a man who had done some homework and sought to engage cross culturally. He showed a great deal of humility in wanting to engage with us and not just turning up for the gig before being ushered out the door by his “personal aid” (other “speakers” take note).

3. The leading of the music by a couple of guys from Sojourn was profoundly biblical and extremely reverently done. I am not sure why it couldn’t have been done by someone from Europe but, regardless, outstanding and an example to any and all worship leaders (scrap that, everybody) in attendance.

4. The first day seemed to contain one too many sessions and I found the last speaker on the first day unnecessary in terms of what he had to say and how it fitted in with the overall message of the conference. Maybe I was tired but it didn’t resonate with me and those I was with. I think perhaps the problem was that Steve and JD can preach and, unfortunately, the gentleman concerned isn’t particularly gifted (in my opinion) to the same level (if at all).

5. As an outsider to Acts29WE I didn’t feel that I was given a full explanation of what they are about early on. I think there was a lot of assumption there and their 4 major principles could have been explained more clearly. I know there was a session on this somewhere but I got waylaid by people wanting to talk to me and missed it. Not the fault of the conference, but I would have appreciated this being explained in a session right at the opening of the couple of days so as to set the scene. As it was, Dai Hankey gave me a very good summary at lunch.

6. I am still unsure as to whom Steve Timmis is accountable in this movement. Who decides direction and strategy? Who keeps him from wandering off track? I am assuming his elders at TCH but how this will develop practically on the ground as this movement explodes (and it will) will be interesting. At the moment this looks like a movement largely bringing in those who are already planting churches, so it will be interesting to see how it develops as this first generation begins to birth them. I could smell the potential in the room and he is going to need a lot of support and prayer.

7. I found the seminar I attended to be pretty naff. The guy involved was from the states (a mistake I think) who used lots of illustrations that practically nobody in the room could relate to (he took a survey before ploughing on regardless). Many around me were playing on mobile phones or doing something else on computers. When I leaned in to the guy next to me and asked if he knew what was happening he just gave a resigned shrug. One guy at lunch said it “wasn’t the most helpful” thing he’d heard on the subject (posh speak for crap). It was a bit of a wayward presentation which didn’t seem to have any real connection in terms of application to the UK and/or European scene. I understood where he was trying to go philosophically but I didn’t really care how “Tinkerbell” fitted in to an overarching redemptive metanarrative! This space could have been used far more effectively for a seminar on Porterbrook, for example (see point 9).

8. The American contingent were extremely Godly, helpful, humble and insightful throughout the 2 days. They were a great example to some of their fellow countrymen who can sometimes present themselves in the opposite light when dealing with other cultures. I think Steve Timmis chose very wisely in this and, again, only strengthens my view that he is the right man for this type of movement from a European perspective.

9. The Porterbrook teaching material was there at a table but I felt it could/should have been given more prominence (there was a short talk given but it could have been clearer). There were some good interviews with planters and maybe an interview with someone using the material and how it has benefitted them would have been really helpful. This is a great tool for those of us trying to plant and train planters and I thought it deserved to be pushed more.

10. The interview(s) procedure(s) got various feedback. One of my friends found the chat intimate, friendly and helpful and another found it adversarial, aggressive and a bit hostile. Yet another, somewhere in the middle. It seemed to depend on “who you got” (and, to be fair, what stage you were at – all 3 were at different stages). As a person looking to perhaps join the network as a partner, I am not sure about this method (is there some universal questions to follow or is it more ‘organic’? – I suspect it is the latter given the feedback. I may be wrong!) and it’s purpose. It made me a little uneasy and hesitant to continue the process (more so for my shy wife than myself!).

11. Without doubt I would give the Acts29WE conference 11/10. I would have liked it to have gone on for more days and I left greatly energised and encouraged by God’s Word and the presence of so many planters out there with big dreams, battling in hard places. Steve and his team are to be congratulated for this.

In summary, T4G was a great experience. The pastors retreat afterwards was truly excellent. I love spending time with Mark Dever and his people. He is just such a great and supportive man. City2City was OK but often baffling. However, it gave me time to review what I was doing and the direction of my own ministry. Acts29WE was immensely encouraging and without doubt Steve Timmis will do the business. He is definitely the right man for the job. There were some great men there battling away in difficult places and it was a real pleasure and a privilege to get an invite. This is a movement that is going to grow and it will only be good for our continent and for the glory and fame of the Lord Jesus Christ. I would say that I left it with a confidence that Acts29 may have hit the jackpot in recent months with changes in personnel and the addition of Steve Timmis and those around him. Oh, and not a beer tasting competition or a cage fight in sight. Just good old-fashioned pubs and footie. Bliss!

I will be posting on the various talks in the coming weeks and trying to contextualise them for our housing scheme ministry. Watch this space!

I was encouraged to see Thabiti Anyabwile give a shout out to the work of 20Schemes on his blog recently. Check it out here. We are praying for a new wave of gospel workers and church planters to come and help us establish healthy, gospel centred churches in Scotland’s housing schemes.

Speaker: David Platt

Text: Revelation 5

Title: Divine Sovereignty: The Fuel of Death-Defying Missions

Find the sermon online here.

For those of you who have been following these posts, this is my final one. The more beady eyed among you will know that there were 9 main sessions at T4G but I only took notes for 7. Unfortunately, I was not there for John Piper’s gig, and for some reason the notes from Al Mohler’s talk seem somewhat sparse (he was either really good or really bad – I can’t remember!).

David started off his talk with 3 fundamental presuppositions. They were:

  1. Local ministry & mission are necessary.
  2. Global mission is often neglected.
  3. Pastors have the chief responsibility to lead the way in global mission.

He then brought us four theological truths:

  1. Our sovereign God holds the destiny of the world in the palm of His hand (v1). Man is responsible IN human history but God is responsible OVER human history. God allows us to be part of his sovereign plan, not because He needs us but because he loves us.
  2. The state of man before God, apart from Christ, is utterly hopeless. John weeps over this truth in the book of Revelation. There is a real, eternal wrath waiting sinners and John knows and feels this deeply. We have over 2BN people on our planet whose knowledge of God is only sufficient to send them to hell!
  3. The great news is that the slaughtered lamb of God reigns as the sovereign Lord of all (v5). (This was too powerful to take notes at this point!)
  4. The atonement of Christ is graciously, gloriously and globally particular (Vv9-10). He has ransomed those he has chosen before the foundation of the world! He has done this from every tribe, nation, clan and housing scheme (that last one was my addition). Our salvation is a particular, purposeful action of His will – He planned it! (This is why we need to go to housing schemes – God has a people there and we must go, proclaim the gospel and make disciples)

Do we believe that our king deserves glory from every single people group?

4 Practical Implications

  1. We must lead our churches to confidently pray for the spread of the gospel to all nations (Rev. 8v3). God has sovereignly ordained the prayers of His people to bring about His kingdom.
  2. We  must lead our churches to give sacrificially.
  3. We must lead our churches to go intentionally. Are you going as pastors? Are you involved in short-term and long-term missions?
  4. Lead your churches to die willingly. Reaching the unchurched is dangerous and they will oppose you!

This was a supremely challenging message and caused me to reflect on our own church situation here at Niddrie. It is easy to excuse a lack of international missionary interest because we are a new church plant. However, upon reflection the elders and I will be discussing our ‘giving’ toward the establishment and/or development of international church plants, particularly focusing in on Brasil. Please pray for us in this.

Speaker: Ligon Duncan

Text: 1 Kings 19

Title: The Underestimated God: God’s Ruthless, Compassionate Grace in the Pursuit of His Own Glory and His Ministers’ Joy

I tell you what they don’t go for the snappy soundbite titles these boys! This one was definitely up there for the “whose sounds most like a puritan work” award. Anyway, I had heard pretty disparaging remarks about this man’s ability to hold an audience before he came up to speak. Nobody was personally critical, I hasten to add, but, apparently, a couple of years ago he had pretty much bombed on some topic to do with the Patristics (google them). It gives me great pleasure to tell you that the two men seated next to me throughout this message were cringing in repentant embarrassment by the end as I was left incredulous as to how they could have provided me with such misinformation. This has to be the most gloriously encouraging sermon (although there were parts I strongly disagreed with) that I have heard for many, many years. It lifted my soul and it is no exaggeration to say that this message gave me renewed vigour for my ministry and my future in church planting. Others have listened to it online and wondered what I am making such a big fuss about, but I can tell you that it spoke in to my life in such a powerful way that all other messages I heard paled into insignificance during my time away. Listen to it here online.

I think this sermon moved me so profoundly for a number of reasons:

1. I came to this conference extremely tired and in need of a break.

2. I had experienced an intense few weeks prior to the conference. 7 people had been saved, 2 men stabbed to death on the scheme, another man mugged on the steps of the church in front of us, I had to stop a knife fight outside the building, one of our contacts  who had professed faith but drifted – overdosed and died and one of our young “pre-interns” had returned back to his criminal way of life after having been clean for 6 months. Most of these events occurred on Easter weekend and I flew out to the US the next day. I arrived (after 24 hours because of delays) practically on my knees and every last ounce of spiritual energy drained from my body.

This was his (almost) opening line:

Discouragement is no stranger to the lives of faithful pastors and Christians. (I almost laughed out loud at this)

His point was that there are things we need to learn through these times. Most importantly, we learn what we truly believe through the moments of crushing discouragement. During these times we find our where we truly rest and where our treasure really is hidden.

Discouragement = Forgetting God. Not only that, forgetting that He is Good.

What are your greatest losses in life? Your desire and yearnings? Hopes and treasures unobtained or removed from you? How we respond may be the most important thing we do in life. Elijah was a man of power comparable to Moses and he yearned for good and great things, and yet his hopes were dashed despite his great ministry. There are lessons here;

  • Even people who believe in God’s sovereignty can fail to believe that the Lord is good. In 1K.18 he has just kicked butt (my words) and even outran a chariot! Then a messenger brings word from Jezreel – who remains unimpressed by all these displays of power – and makes a promise to kill him. We read, incredibly that in v3 he was afraid for his life despite all that had occurred previously! How had a man who had faced down 100’s of false prophets suddenly become frightened by a woman (although those who know some of the ladies on our scheme could answer that)? The point was he was disheartened and discouraged. But why? Verses 10 and 14 tell us. He had wanted a revival in response to the miracles against the prophets of Baal. Yet, all he got was a death threat and so he realised that the dream he had was not going to happen. The realisation of this crushed his spirit.

Application

Likewise, which of our prayers and hopes have been left unfulfilled? A big church? A more effective ministry? Greater response to our preaching and/or evangelism? When these things don’t work out according to our desires, they can crush us and ultimately show up where our hearts truly lie. For Elijah, he was crushed, his dram was in tatters, and so he ran.

  • Even people who fight against idolatry can succumb to it. Elijah had forgotten about the very God he had been preaching about! The root of his depression was theological and not psychological. His own name means “God is Lord” and yet he appears to have forgotten this! 11-14 is a picture of what Elijah wanted for the nation and yet God is not in this dream. It didn’t happen in the spectacular way he wanted. Ligon used a great phrase here: “God is in the whisper” and so he sends Elijah to Syria. Unfortunately, for Elijah, revival is going to happen through Elisha and a Pagan and not him! He found himself in a similar position to Moses who got to the cusp of the Promised Land but never entered in.

Application

God doesn’t always give us what we want and, in fact, he will often ruthlessly crush our idolatries in order for us to receive a greater joy. Remember Elijah had told Israel to forsake her idols and trust in the Lord. Here he was experiencing his own message for himself! How true that is for us as people who minister his word. We must preach and allow the Spirit to apply to our own lives if we are to expound with power to others. Elijah wanted God to be exalted but God wanted it done in a different way – His way. Remember the Lord Jesus in Gethsemane knew the joy and pain of this when he exclaimed: “not my will but your be done”. That was a battle of idolatry that Christ clearly won.

Concluding Remarks

So, God ends Elijah’s ministry and it didn’t look good for him – he’d had his day. In fact the Lord rebukes him by questioning, “What are you doing here?” How fair was this on a faithful and loyal servant? Yet God loves him and shows him by sending him an angel to cook breakfast and by a demonstration of His glory. But Elijah wasn’t interested – he just wanted to die!

In Luke 9v28 we meet Elijah again. Here he gets a glimpse of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was in this moment he came to realise God’s plan was not his plan. God wanted more than the Northern Kingdom to repent – he wanted the nations. I wonder what Elijah said to the Lord upon his return to heaven? The plan upon which he had built his own hopes upon seemed puny in comparison. He thought that God had taken his dreams away and yet he couldn’t have been further from the truth. THIS IS OUR GOD! He will not leave us in our disappointments and he has a plan for the everlasting joy of His elect. Believe that!

In our darker moments we must hold on to these great truths. Our dreams and visions for our ministries pale into insignificance in the face of His glory. He has made us to endure through the difficult times and one day we, too, will see Jesus face to face and in that moment true, glorious understanding will come. We press on.

Speaker: Kevin DeYoung

Text: 1 Corinthians 15:10

Title: Spirit-Powered, Gospel-Driven, Faith-Fueled Effort

This was a man whose books I have read, reviewed and respected and so I was expecting much as he came to speak to us. Maybe this expectation was heightened by the introduction from the front as the man in whose hands is the “future of the faith for the next generation”. A tad difficult to follow that intro!

His beginning was strong:

Ultimately, there are only two categories of people: those who will see the Lord and those who will not.

He was quick to point out that we are what we are only by the grace of God. He showed how Paul worked “very hard” in ministry but at the same time held in tension that all his accomplishments belonged to God. So, how do we (a) work hard and at the same time (b) show forth God’s grace?

  1. We must be Spirit powered (1 Pt. 1v2). In Eph. 2v16 we read that we have power in our inner being that comes from the same Spirit who was there at creation. In other words, defeatist Christians who say they lack this power dishonour Christ who was raised from the dead by it! Alongside this, God is light and he will expose sin in our lives (Jn. 16). In Jn.16v14 we are reminded that the Spirit draws attention to Christ and not just to our sin. (note: at this point he seemed a bit muddled and I was unsure of the connection and/or logic of drawing these two subpoints together).
  2. We must be gospel driven. Good deeds are an act of gratitude for what God has done in our lives.
  3. We must be faith fuelled. We are justified by faith, not sanctified by it. Faith plays a role in the pursuit of holiness, but it is the fight of faith, which is an ongoing, lifetime battle. That one day we will claim our future reward should motivate our faith and our drive toward holiness.
  4. We must make an effort. This effort toward holiness is, of course, driven by the Holy Spirit. But we are called to it nonetheless (Ro. 8v13; Col. 3v5; 1 Tim. 6v12; Lk. 13v24; 1 Cor. 9Vv24-27; Phil. 3Vv12-14). 2 Peter 1v5 reminds us “to make every effort”. The great thing about this toil and effort, according to DeYoung is that it is “divinely enabled” (I really liked that phrase!).

Application

We toil and work with HIS energy but we must ensure that this is not the same thing as being a “workaholic”. This is a great danger in church planting, particularly in the early days. We are trying to make contacts, establish links, lead and inspire people, build a core and a thousand other things and yet these things can be detrimental to our spiritual lives, marriages and health.

The problem in ministry is not often “hard work” but “foolish work”. We must work just as hard at “resting”, having “days off” and being with our family and friends. It often takes more effort to “work less”.

In our teaching we must be careful to teach that salvation is all of grace BUT also they MUST obey the Word of God. Again, having a chaotic lifestyle and being abused as a child does not let people off the hook. Remember, the gospel leads to law keeping. The Bible insists that we obey the Word of God.

Encouraging people to pursue holiness is not adding to the gospel. again, the Law is intrinsically tied to the good news. we don;t become believers and then move away from the Law.

Holiness does not come apart from trusting in Christ but nor does salvation in Him put an end to
trying.

Wise words with multiple applications for our ministries.

Speaker: Mark Dever

Text: 1 Timothy 4:16

Title: False Conversions: The Suicide of the Church

This was more a talk than an exegetical message. I have to confess that I didn’t stay for the whole of this message (give me a break – I stayed for an hour!) but I will record what I heard. Mark is a great guy but the control he exercises over the timing of every part of his services, he doesn’t actually model himself (I suppose he doesn’t have to – being in charge and all!). Anyway, my observations.

There were three main points:

1. The Plan. God’s purpose is to get glory for himself through a people (Ps. 86:ff). This plan for his glory comes, ultimately, through the Lord Jesus and the gospel. This people are now the church of Christ.

2. The Problem. God’s people in the Old Testament were continually unfaithful (Ps. 106). They worshipped idols (Ro. 2v24). We read of how God exiles Israel for bringing shame to his name. They forgot just how important the honour of his name is to the Lord. Their holiness was directly attached to His reputation and glory. Similarly, our good deeds (in NT terms) reflect on God and His character (1 Pt. 2v12).

3. The Source of the problem. Why do we suffer with so many unbelievers and false converts in our congregations?

  • Teachers. Are we faithful to the truth?
  • Doctrine. Wrong teaching is disastrous! False teaching only produces false converts. We will be judged by God for this (2 Pt. 3). We SHOULD be judged for God for slackness in this area. We must feel our own helplessness and we should throw ourselves on His mercy. Our only hope is in Christ (1 Jn.). When we get this right we both attract and offend people.

His stand out quote is as follows:

We don’t see the fullness of our salvation in this life. Our basic posture as believers is “waiting” for our Lord’s return (1Cor. 15v18ff).

Application

This is a timely and prophetic reminder to us to watch our lives and doctrine closely, thereby saving our hearers. The temptation in housing scheme ministry is to denigrate doctrine as being somehow unnecessary and yet nothing could be further from the truth. We must be faithful to teach our people the “whole counsel of God” no matter the difficulty we find in doing that.

Even more fundamentally, we must be clear in our evangelism. People need to hear the full message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The danger in the face of indifference and hostility is to water it down or to make excuses for people who have come from difficult backgrounds. But, all are sinners and fall short of God’s glory and God calls all people everywhere to repent of their sins and trust in the saving work of Jesus.

As believers we serve people, love them and seek to do good deeds as a sign of our love for Christ, the honour of God’s name and the love of all people around us.

Speaker: Matt Chandler

Text: Revelation 21 & 22

Title: The Fulfillment of the Gospel

I will say that I find Matt Chandler to be (on the outside at least) an extremely Godly, humble and passionate man for the gospel of the Lord Jesus. He oozes class. I think his appointment to Acts29 is a shrewd move and I wish him all the best in his recovery from health problems and his future in the movement.

I have to be honest and say this was the speaker I was looking forward to the most and yet, sadly, enjoyed the least. I have only ever heard him speak once before (in Chicago) where he spoke with passion (and extremely movingly) on the book of Ecclesiastes. From what I’ve heard online he’s never jumped out as an example of systematic, expository preaching and, in that sense, he didn’t disappoint (let me be clear that he is an extremely gifted communicator!). Sadly, he just didn’t deliver and that was a feeling pretty much unanimously shared by all those around me (and much of the feedback given afterward). Nevertheless, I will try to pick out a few gems.

Matt was clear that as believers we get front row seats to the “greatest gospel show on earth”. More than that, we are “spiritual first responders” to a world gone awry. We must have our hope anchored in the right place if we are to survive this as men of God battling in the ministry.

The first fruits of our hope are here and now. Jesus has paid the price when he came to rescue us and Matt reminded us (with a quote from Goldsworthy) that:

“Hope without a time of fulfillment is a delusion.”

We must accept the fact that we will look delusional to unbelievers in this world. He pointed out to us that Revelation 21 is actually a picture of a renewed earth (Is. 35v1; Am. 9v13). Perhaps his greatest single quote was,

“There will be a day when we are no longer looking forward to the day.”

In other words, our view of the future should drive us on to faithfulness in the present. Keep going and let’s be all in for Jesus.

Application

It doesn’t take much to convince scheme workers that we are the “spiritual paramedics” (to contextualise) of our day. We live and work in areas where life is just an absolute mess on so many chaotic fronts. Because of that, we must keep our eyes focused in the right place. It is easy to get swamped and downhearted by the endless stream of troubles, suffering, pain and death that lands on our doorstep. That’s why we must be grounded in the gospel. We may not see massive fruit in our ministry on the ground (or we may) but, regardless, our hope is set on a day to come and our aim is to present the good news until that final day is ushered in. Any time spent serving Jesus is never wasted time however it appears to us (and others) on the ground. We press on.

Right, let me get something straight right off the bat. I am not a conference junkie! It just so happened that I squeezed in these 3 during a manic 2 week period. In fact, this is the most conferences I have been to in 10 years! I do not usually like these things. I hate the crowds and the whole “famous speaker” thing but this can usually be offset by a decent book stall!

T4G

This conference was in Louisville, Kentucky and I was the guest of my friends at 9Marks. Some observations:

1. It was huge, almost 8000 people I think. That made it both good and bad. Bad in that it did feel a little impersonal and good that it was so powerful when we were all standing together singing some great hymns. It was such a powerful experience praising God with so many other people in one place.

2. Of the 9 main session: 3 were outstanding, 2 were good, 2 were OK and 2 were a disappointment (ironically, from the 2 speakers I was most looking forward to). As models for exegetical preaching, most of the talkers were poor but, as inspirational speakers, they were generally very good. I found the seminars and talking head things to be generally OK (ish), although they talked about issues which I feel are old hat for us in the UK (or maybe that’s just me). The one on famous pastors, particularly, (ironically chaired by famous pastors and even the guy against is famous for being anti famous) was bemusing to say the least. I think this part was weakened by the fact that every speaker (particularly CJ Mahaney) spent at least 10 minutes introducing each main session speaker by telling us why so and so was “the single greatest influence in my life as a believer and/or is perhaps the greatest treasure to the church today” or words to that effect. I don’t know if it is my European nature but I found this toe curlingly horrible.

3. It was brilliantly organised and there was a seamlessness to the event despite the huge numbers. Amazingly, it did not feel overcrowded at any point. All of the stewards were helpful and cheerful. The free book store was a brilliant idea and there was a massive selection of books to choose from. I only bought 1 because they gave so many quality ones away! I did find some of the stalls confusing. For instance there was a Gospel Coalition stall there which didn’t seem to do anything other than be a meeting place for painfully cool twenty somethings. I saw the odd person being interviewed but was otherwise mystified to its purpose. Other stalls were much clearer in handing out literature and promoting some of their work. Free sweets always works for me incidentally!

4. There was a great 2 day meeting afterwards at Southern Seminary. It was a retreat for pastors who had been invited by 9marks. I found that intense and immensely encouraging and enlightening. These are some Godly, friendly men and I have a real affinity and love for them. The way they invited feedback on the whole conference was a real example of humble leadership and wanting to learn. I bought myself a nodding Al Mohler doll for my shelf of tat at home (he sits alongside Obama) from the amazing on site book shop. The seminary just cracked me up. I noticed they had sold out to satan by allowing a Starbucks to sell their products in the place! It was a sort of theological Disneyworld with Al living in the princesses palace. His gaff seemed a little bit OTT for me!

Mark Dever and the 9marks team are just so open and generous with their time and resources. Truly amazing.

City2City

I have gotten involved with this group largely through a friendship with a guy called Al Barth. I also spent 5 weeks at Redeemer last year doing an intensive training programme for church planters. This particular set of meetings was for ‘network leaders’ from around the globe (sounds so grandiose when you say it like that)! Some observations:

1. I am still uncertain of the point of the event. It not really made clear (to me).

2. There were people from around the world and that was a good thing (in terms of shared ideas).

3. I felt some of the sessions were nothing more than psycho babble, business speak, seminar type things. One guy talked about having a crap-ometer and mine was in overdrive at certain points during the two days (and, ironically, particularly during his session).

4. Tim Keller, Al Barth and a couple of other people (one on prayer stood out) were on the money and spoke with a real authority and a distinct clarity. It was worth coming for that. The rest felt somewhat fragmented and lacking in cohesion. I observed that Tim pretty much disappeared straight away and I find him and some of his team strangely less accessible than Mark Dever and the 9marks staff.

5. It seemed very “American” in its “how to approaches”. In other words, much of what was presented would be a struggle to contextualise into Europe. Certainly, their heavy reliance on corporate models of church and leadership structures does not carry into our British types of churches (the majority at least).

7. The Bible was not really opened and expounded upon enough for my liking. It seemed to lack real theological foundation and punch. Maybe this was because this was not the purpose of the meeting? However, I would expect a room full of church planters from around the globe to get at it with the Word more. Very rarely was Christ and the gospel mentioned and certainly not really from the front.

8. I found it a more helpful trip in terms of establishing my relationship with a fellow gospel worker from Edinburgh, Neil Macmillan. We got to spend time together, (he got offered hookers and coke outside our hotel – always amusing), and we had many opportunities to talk about a vision for supporting church planters of all stripes in our city. That was perhaps the single biggest benefit of the time away for me. I also got to meet a couple of impressive men in the UK, not least of whom is a man called Neil Powell involved in Birmingham 2020.

9. The time away helped crystalise some thoughts about what’s next for me in my ministry and life.

Acts29We

To be frank, this was the one I could have done without. I was exhausted from my US trip (I was back a day and a half before heading to London) and only went along to do a seminar out of respect for Steve Timmis (and because I had made a prior commitment). If I’m really honest, I am not a big Acts29 fan in terms of all the machismo that sometimes come out of the US with this movement (cage fighting and beer drinking etc). I don’t find any of that stuff to be helpful in my context at all. I see the point that men need to be men (and not the feminised girly boys that mark so much of middle class Christianity in the UK) but at the same time I am trying to get guys to stop drinking (as much) and to see “being a man” as taking responsibility for their kids, not beating their girlfriends and/or spending their rent money on beer/drugs. Anyway, I digress. Some observations:

1. Straight off the bat it was gospel centred and it was gospel all the way.

2. The main preaching (I say this instead of ‘speaking’) sessions taken by JD Greear were on the money. By that I mean they were biblical, faithful to the texts and contextually applied to a European audience. This was a man who had done some homework and sought to engage cross culturally. He showed a great deal of humility in wanting to engage with us and not just turning up for the gig before being ushered out the door by his “personal aid” (other “speakers” take note).

3. The leading of the music by a couple of guys from Sojourn was profoundly biblical and extremely reverently done. I am not sure why it couldn’t have been done by someone from Europe but, regardless, outstanding and an example to any and all worship leaders (scrap that, everybody) in attendance.

4. The first day seemed to contain one too many sessions and I found the last speaker on the first day unnecessary in terms of what he had to say and how it fitted in with the overall message of the conference. Maybe I was tired but it didn’t resonate with me and those I was with. I think perhaps the problem was that Steve and JD can preach and, unfortunately, the gentleman concerned isn’t particularly gifted (in my opinion) to the same level (if at all).

5. As an outsider to Acts29WE I didn’t feel that I was given a full explanation of what they are about early on. I think there was a lot of assumption there and their 4 major principles could have been explained more clearly. I know there was a session on this somewhere but I got waylaid by people wanting to talk to me and missed it. Not the fault of the conference, but I would have appreciated this being explained in a session right at the opening of the couple of days so as to set the scene. As it was, Dai Hankey gave me a very good summary at lunch.

6. I am still unsure as to whom Steve Timmis is accountable in this movement. Who decides direction and strategy? Who keeps him from wandering off track? I am assuming his elders at TCH but how this will develop practically on the ground as this movement explodes (and it will) will be interesting. At the moment this looks like a movement largely bringing in those who are already planting churches, so it will be interesting to see how it develops as this first generation begins to birth them. I could smell the potential in the room and he is going to need a lot of support and prayer.

7. I found the seminar I attended to be pretty naff. The guy involved was from the states (a mistake I think) who used lots of illustrations that practically nobody in the room could relate to (he took a survey before ploughing on regardless). Many around me were playing on mobile phones or doing something else on computers. When I leaned in to the guy next to me and asked if he knew what was happening he just gave a resigned shrug. One guy at lunch said it “wasn’t the most helpful” thing he’d heard on the subject (posh speak for crap). It was a bit of a wayward presentation which didn’t seem to have any real connection in terms of application to the UK and/or European scene. I understood where he was trying to go philosophically but I didn’t really care how “Tinkerbell” fitted in to an overarching redemptive metanarrative! This space could have been used far more effectively for a seminar on Porterbrook, for example (see point 9).

8. The American contingent were extremely Godly, helpful, humble and insightful throughout the 2 days. They were a great example to some of their fellow countrymen who can sometimes present themselves in the opposite light when dealing with other cultures. I think Steve Timmis chose very wisely in this and, again, only strengthens my view that he is the right man for this type of movement from a European perspective.

9. The Porterbrook teaching material was there at a table but I felt it could/should have been given more prominence (there was a short talk given but it could have been clearer). There were some good interviews with planters and maybe an interview with someone using the material and how it has benefitted them would have been really helpful. This is a great tool for those of us trying to plant and train planters and I thought it deserved to be pushed more.

10. The interview(s) procedure(s) got various feedback. One of my friends found the chat intimate, friendly and helpful and another found it adversarial, aggressive and a bit hostile. Yet another, somewhere in the middle. It seemed to depend on “who you got” (and, to be fair, what stage you were at – all 3 were at different stages). As a person looking to perhaps join the network as a partner, I am not sure about this method (is there some universal questions to follow or is it more ‘organic’? – I suspect it is the latter given the feedback. I may be wrong!) and it’s purpose. It made me a little uneasy and hesitant to continue the process (more so for my shy wife than myself!).

11. Without doubt I would give the Acts29WE conference 11/10. I would have liked it to have gone on for more days and I left greatly energised and encouraged by God’s Word and the presence of so many planters out there with big dreams, battling in hard places. Steve and his team are to be congratulated for this.

In summary, T4G was a great experience. The pastors retreat afterwards was truly excellent. I love spending time with Mark Dever and his people. He is just such a great and supportive man. City2City was OK but often baffling. However, it gave me time to review what I was doing and the direction of my own ministry. Acts29WE was immensely encouraging and without doubt Steve Timmis will do the business. He is definitely the right man for the job. There were some great men there battling away in difficult places and it was a real pleasure and a privilege to get an invite. This is a movement that is going to grow and it will only be good for our continent and for the glory and fame of the Lord Jesus Christ. I would say that I left it with a confidence that Acts29 may have hit the jackpot in recent months with changes in personnel and the addition of Steve Timmis and those around him. Oh, and not a beer tasting competition or a cage fight in sight. Just good old-fashioned pubs and footie. Bliss!

I will be posting on the various talks in the coming weeks and trying to contextualise them for our housing scheme ministry. Watch this space!

There was an interesting discussion here at T4G (which I will blog extensively on when I return and have thought about the implications for housing scheme ministry) around the issue of complementarianism. This is a position we hold as a church when it comes to women in pastoral, eldership authority. The discussion was balanced enough but I always feel at these things that pertinent application was lacking. With that in mind, I found a good article here on the issue on TGC website.