Sabbatical 2017

Sabbatical 2017
Eiffel Tower

Monday, February 6, 2017

EFCA Theology Conference: What do pastors do at those conferences?

"What do you do at those conferences?" It's a question I hear frequently. Folks know I'm away and are curious what I've been doing. 

For me, as for a lot of other pastors, conferences are a means of further education, a way to stay on the learning curve and avoid getting stale or stagnant. At WBF, The elders help us choose conferences that are meaty enough to be beneficial. That means we try hard to pick the ones that are crammed with teaching instead of the ones that are thinly disguised vacations. 

Over the last fifteen years, these conferences have been instrumental in my theological development and the doctrinal foundation of Warrenton Bible Fellowship. I've had the privilege to sit under the teaching of some of the great theological minds of our time, to hear profound teaching from some truly excellent biblical scholars and to be challenged by more than a few world-class preachers on how I study and prep for a sermon. 

Meanwhile, I've been guided and counseled on what it means to be a pastor and a shepherd by men who have a heart for God's precious children. It's been an incredible experience and invaluable ingredient in the ongoing development of WBF. 

The schedules are intense. The days are long. Information comes at you like water from a fire hose. It can be as exhausting as it is exhilarating. It's not always easy being away from home. But, I've come to see it as an investment in the flock and a way to continue to hone my calling. 

After attending some of the upper-tier conferences like The Shephard's Conference, Basics, Together for the Gospel, The Gospel Coalition, Camp Logos, The Simeon Trust Workshops on Preaching and more, I've come to look forward to the EFCA's Theology Conference the most. 

Under the leadership of Dr. Greg Strand and his dedicated team, this conference seems to get better every year. It's well organized, moves along at a quick pace and can be very challenging. 

This year's conference was no exception. It was called "Reformation 500: Theology and Legacy - God's Gospel and the EFCA." It was held on the campus of Trinity International University in Chicago, where our group of about 400 pastors and church leaders were warmly greeted and well cared for.

The pre-conference session featured a debate between Dr. Al Mohler and Dr. John Collins. The subject was "Genesis and the Age of the Earth: Does the Bible speak definitively on the age of the universe?" The debate was a beautiful example of how the EFCA handles non-essentials issues. Both sides were eloquent, convincing, challenging and highly respectful of each other. As the debaters left the stage, they shook hands warmly and left us with much to consider.

The rest of the conference was dedicated to expounding upon the Reformation and its impact on the EFCA and each of its churches. We were blessed to hear a wide variety of speakers, each of them an expert in their field. With subjects ranging from the early years of the Reformation and the events surrounding its inception to the history of the EFCA to what it all means to our particular congregation, the
entire conference was one cohesive teaching, each session building on the ones previous.

This year's challenging array of speakers was exceptional. With solid biblical scholars as diverse as David Luy and Kenneth Young, we experienced the incredible depth and diversity of the EFCA. Powerful presentations from D.A. Carson, Kevin Vanhoozer,  Al Mohler, Scott Manetsch and others put on display the EFCA's commitment to excellence and willingness to tackle the tough issues of our time head on.

However, to limit the Theology Conference to what it teaches each year would miss one of its strongest blessings. For pastors and church leaders, it is an opportunity to sit and be ministered to with no distractions or disruptions. As a pastor, I love and cherish our weekly gatherings. They are the high point of the week for me, a golden opportunity to come together with the people I think about and pray for throughout the week. That being said, and heartfelt, it's difficult for a pastor to worship on Sunday mornings. A million things run through his mind from, "What time is it?" to "Are my notes arranged and ready for me to speak?" to "I wonder who is watching over the nursery today?"

At a conference like this one, all the pressure is off. There are no distractions, nothing to draw our attention away, just an opportunity to worship and learn. Someone else is responsible for the flow of the service, the sound & AV, the teaching and more. 

To add to the blessing of being ministered to, Greg and his team do an excellent job of arranging for meaningful, theologically rich and Christ-centered worship. This year, the musical portion of the services was an emotional expression of devotion to a sovereign and gracious God. I saw expressions of joy and tenderness on the pastors and leaders all around me. I knew their deep appreciation for being served and ministered to in such a beautiful way because I felt that appreciation as well.

"What do I do at those conferences?" I worship. I learn. I come away nourished, edified, challenged, stretched, filled and ready to put those things I've learned into action. I'm already looking forward to next year's conference.

1 comment:

  1. And we are the benefactors of that which is poured into you. You pour into your congregation with a strong desire to give us the meet of the word, and thank you that you do it with a little humor from time-to-time.

    Last night I was privileged to sit in on Pub Theology at McMahon's. This was another example of Pastor John pouring out what has been poured into him. Folks from congregations all over the area sat around a table, gleaned from John's teaching on the Biblical Narrative and then discussed its significance in our lives today. What a blessing.

    Thanks, Pastor John.

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