This week I am in Los Angeles, attending the Shepherd’s Conference through the generosity of others. This year the church I serve couldn’t afford to send me, but the Lord provided. And I’m glad he did, I really needed it this year. Two years after first writing this, It is just as true and maybe more valuable than ever. The Shepherd’s conference isn’t the only game around, there is the Shepherd’s 360 conference associated with Shepherds Theological Seminary, There is the Banner of Truth Minister’s Conference, For the Church as well as smaller regional conferences like the annual GAMA Equipping Conference. Wherever you send him, send the man who labors in the Word for you and cares for your soul to a conference (or two).Perhaps the best thing you could do for your pastor (and your church) is to send him to a good conference this year.
Two weeks ago, most of the ParkingSpace23 crew joined over 3000 pastors and elders at the Shepherd’s Conference cum TMS Inerrancy Summit held at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA. Many of us wrote about the doctrinal importance of Inerrancy pointing you to some wonderful resources on the topic. Pastors and theologians addressed Inerrancy from the pulpit, powerfully, from a number of different angles — I commend all of those sessions to you.
But I want to let you in on a secret, the teaching and the seminar sessions are not the only reason you, as church members, should send your pastors to conferences. In fact the teaching itself is probably not the most important reason you should send them.
Speaking from experience, attending a pastors’ conference is a great blessing, because it is good and refreshing to my soul, and will be for your pastor too. Let me give you a few reasons you should love your pastor in this way.
- It provides a needed respite
If you have a good and faithful pastor, he labors for you, diligently. He prays for you daily, and he studies to preach, counsel, and teach you. These are joys and privileges, but they are also consuming; My mind is constantly in gear thinking of something related to the church. As an illustration, couple of weeks ago, on my day off, my wife had to snap me out of a withdrawn state, where I was essentially staring off into space. I wasn’t flirting with catatonia, I simply couldn’t stop thinking about why Mark suddenly starts using the pluperfect tense in chapter 15 of his gospel. It was an exegetical conundrum plaguing my thoughts for days. When I wasn’t thinking about it, I was thinking about raising up elders in the church; a counseling situation; the church budget; or any number of other things related to church ministry. There is something about the change of scenery that allows me to focus on God, without viewing everything through the prism of the ministry at my local church. That is refreshing to my soul, and likely would be refreshing to your pastor too.
- It Provides an Opportunity for Fellowship
I love the fellowship at Piedmont Bible Church (the church I pastor), it is one of the greatest blessings in my life, but it is not the kind of fellowship I am talking about. Conferences provide an unparalleled opportunity to fellowship with other pastors. Pastoral ministry is a unique thing. Even as a seminary student I failed to fully appreciate the singularity of pastoral ministry. But when you are surrounded by thousands of other men, who are also living this unique calling there is an opportunity for sweet fellowship. Some men come weary from the battle, and find themselves sitting next to men who have come through similar trials, and so find great encouragement. Some men come flush with victory as they are experiencing great times in the ministry, and so they are uniquely equipped to encourage others in the ministry. Most importantly this unique fellowship allows less seasoned men (like me) to drink in the wisdom of those who have decades in the ministry, and bring the blessings of that wisdom back to their home churches.
- It Provides Intellectual Challenges
Contrary to what some think, being a pastor, especially a teaching pastor, is very much about the life of the mind. Your pastor constantly is thinking about grammatical esoterica, epistemology, church history, the history of interpretation, and the effective use of language (or at least he should).
When thousands of pastors get together one of the topics of conversation is invariably “what are you reading?” And as a result of that kind of conversation, pastors hear of books, blogs, and journal articles that they may not have otherwise noticed or know about. For instance I heard Michael Kruger’s fine work A Question of Canon commended, and since it was published after I had graduated from seminary, there is a good chance, that if I had not been at the conference I would have never heard of it. But I did, and I devoured it on the plane ride home, and I am now better equipped to answer the challenges to the orthodox view of canonicity that are currently in vogue. More importantly I am better equipped to help church members answer those challenges when they hear them. [And hear them they will. Oddly the Easter season has become the time of the most concerted effort to attack the Christian faith in the media, so be ready, and remember “bible based” is often just a slick way to say unbiblical in a marketing campaign.]
- It Provides a Deeper Connection to the Universal Church
One of the greatest things about pastors conferences is the opportunity to meet and interact with like minded pastors from all over the word. I had the privilege of fellowshipping with a dear friend from Fiji who was a close friend in seminary who now trains pastors from all over the South Pacific. I ate breakfast with a friend from Alberta, who I have grown very fond of, even though we only see one another at the Shepherd’s Conference. I met countless men who I have interacted with on social media, including Kofi from London of Pulpit & Pen fame. I was even given a bear hug (and a cold) by an Uzbek pastor who was imprisoned by the Soviets for His faith. All of these (except the Uzbek cold, which I apparently have absolutely no immunity to) are tremendously encouraging, because they remind me that faithfulness in my local church is part of God’s global plan, through which He is bringing history to the conclusion that He has ordained, that will culminate in the return of Christ and, subsequently, the new heavens and the new earth.
And by the way I also got to sit under hours of some of the best preaching and teaching I have ever heard. So I would encourage you to consider the value of sending your pastor to some conferences. It will be a blessing to him in ways you may not have imagined. And I’ll let you in on another secret, it’s good for you too, because he will return eager to pour all of the benefits and blessings he received into you.