"Above All Earthly Powers"

October 2, 2006

Mark, Lig and Al—since I was the only one who was able to attend the Desiring God conference, “Above All Earthly Powers,” I thought I would do a brief post relating my experience. Brief, because I would have to type all day to adequately recount all I learned and enjoyed at this great event. I wish you guys could have been there.

As much as I appreciated the content of the excellent messages, the highlight for me was the time I spent with my very good friends Jeff Purswell (Dean of the Sovereign Grace Pastors College) and Joshua Harris (my favorite Senior Pastor). Conferences provide unique and all-too-rare opportunities for priorities that pastors can easily neglect, such as deepening friendships, unhurried discussions about doctrine, and strategic planning for the church. I have discovered that when I am away at a conference, and removed from the daily demands and responsibilities of ministry, I tend to think more creatively and evaluate more effectively.

Therefore, it has been my practice over the past 30 years to take my pastoral team to at least one conference or class at Reformed Theological Seminary each year, for the purpose of learning and deepening our friendship. (BTW, If you want to hear some entertaining stories, ask Don Carson about what it was like to have the Covenant Life pastoral team attend his classes, with me in the back row.) During these trips, we’ve heard great preaching and teaching. But we’ve also used our meal times (and late evenings) for discussion and application. We look into our hearts, we encourage and correct each other, and we contemplate the future together. We laugh much, think much, and eat much—all to the glory of God.

So I would encourage all pastors to build into their schedule and church budget at least one conference a year for you and your pastoral team. And if you are leading a church alone (you have my deepest respect) I would encourage you to attend at least one conference a year with a pastor(s) from another church. As I look back and consider all the wonderful memories and momentous conversations I’ve had at conferences with my friends, I am simply amazed.

Now, I’m not a conference “live blogger,” so I won’t even attempt to give a comprehensive overview of the exceptional content from this past weekend.  I think the messages will be online in just a few days, and CD’s will be available from Desiring God Ministries in the near future.

As you would expect, the conference was a feast of outstanding preaching; but I want to highlight a few moments that stood out to me. Particularly moving were Don Carson and John Piper’s comments to and care for the pastors of smaller churches during one of the panel sessions. There were two panel sessions that were both effectively led by Justin Taylor. In response to a question from Justin, Don and John wisely seized the opportunity to encourage pastors of smaller churches and those who labor faithfully but seem to see little fruit. Don’s tears as he described his father’s faithful pastoral ministry for decades in a rural setting were deeply moving. You could feel the deep effect of his words and his tears upon the souls of all pastors present, but especially those who are faithfully and heroically serving in obscurity. More importantly, you could feel the pleasure of God.

And one other moment that stood out was John Piper’s opening remarks before his message at the final session. John addressed those present who are a part of the emerging church movement and communicated his fatherly concern for them. Since it is clear (and was made clear throughout the conference) that serious doctrinal deficiencies exist in the emerging church, John wanted to communicate his care for those present with whom we disagree. John didn’t want the conference to simply be a series of critiques. Instead, he wanted to persuade and provide the doctrinal discernment that appears to be absent from this movement. And he wanted them to know how much he loved them—even with all his concerns. Again, I felt the pleasure of God.

Then, before he began his message, John made one more comment regarding observations he had previously shared about Mark Driscoll. Earlier in the conference, at the end of a panel session, John had informed us that he had received much criticism for inviting Mark Driscoll to speak at the conference. He explained why he invited Mark and what he appreciated about Mark’s message. He went on to express a concern he had regarding the content of Mark’s message. Though I would have expressed this concern to Mark privately and personally before expressing it publically, I have no doubt that his motive was to serve Mark and those present at the conference. John’s critique and concern was related to Mark’s clever comments about culture throughout his message. After the panel session, someone had approached John and observed that John had a tendency to be similarly clever in his comments about the academic world. So before he preached the final session, John acknowledged the accuracy of this observation and correction and its application to his preaching. It was humble for John to inform us of this private conversation and its corrective content. I believe that long after the messages of this conference are forgotten, John’s compelling example of humility will not be forgotten. It will continue to inspire us all to true greatness—to walk humbly before God and with those we have the privilege to serve. Once again, I felt God’s pleasure.

Well, my son Chad just came and asked me if we were going to lunch, like we do each Monday. Immediately and with great joy I informed him that we were. So it’s time for this post to end. I have something much more important to do. Although I am deeply grateful for what I experienced with my friends at this conference, there is nothing that compares to returning home to the arms of the wife I missed so terribly, the son I love so deeply, the hugs of my daughters and sons-in-law, the kisses of my grandchildren, and the encouragement of the local church I love the most.

I look forward to applying all I’ve learned so that by the grace of God I might grow in godliness, serve more effectively, reach out to the lost more consistently and hopefully bring some pleasure to God, who in the mystery of his mercy killed His Son for me.