Last week I had the privilege of attending the Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, Kentucky. Molly joined me, as did Seth and Taylor Troutt, for three days of singing, learning, and connecting.
I had known of T4G for many years and have listened to some of the messages from previous years, but this was my first experience attending in person. I took a number of things away from the experience:
1. Singing is powerful when people come ready to sing.
The main draw of T4G for me, to be totally transparent, was to participate in the singing. For the last few years, I’ve listened to the three albums recorded at previous events in 2008, 2012, and 2016. The music is simple — mostly hymns led from one piano, with thousands of voices singing along. Hearing these albums made me want to experience it in person. I was not disappointed.
Upon reflection, I think what made the singing so powerful was that people came ready and eager to sing. Regardless of how unfamiliar or difficult some of the songs were to sing, everyone seemed to jump right in. The majority of the 12,000 people even came early to multiple sessions to participate in extra singing.
Regardless of style or song choice, singing is powerful when a congregation comes ready to celebrate Jesus.
2. I love sitting under strong Bible preaching.
Before I was a pastor, I was a Christian. Before I was a preacher, I was a disciple. As a disciple of Jesus, I love to hear his word proclaimed. Part of what drew me to being a preacher myself was how much I benefited from dynamic gospel preaching.
I was reminded last week how powerful God’s word is and was deeply thankful for the men who preached it boldly and faithfully.
My favorite messages (see below) were “The Whole in Our Holiness” by Ligon Duncan, “Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters: Racism and Our Need for Repentance” by David Platt, “New God, New Gospel, New Gladness” by John Piper, and “Distinctive Living in an Age of False Teaching” by Thabiti Anyabile.
3. My role as a pastor is serious business.
Besides the powerful experiences of singing and listening, the main takeaway in terms of content was that my role as a pastor is serious. God is using me as an instrument in the lives of his people, and I should take great pains to see Christ formed in them (Gal 4:19).
Mark Dever asked a penetrating question, especially as I consider the reality of our new building in the coming year: “Are you more concerned about your members or the number of your members?” He reminded me that while numbers are meaningful (because every number is a person), I have a responsibility to care for the sheep who are part of our flock. John MacArthur said something similar: “As a pastor, don’t feel the pain of the empty seats, but of the filled ones.”
These statements could be taken too far and lead to an insulated, insider-only focus that wouldn’t be in line with God’s heart for mission. But I was reminded how seriously I need to take the responsibility God has entrusted to me (and our other pastors and elders) in shepherding the flock of God that is among us.
4. Love is the measurement of spiritual maturity.
I’ve been preaching for the last few years that the Bible describes love as the true mark of a Christian. The demons know a lot, but they don’t love God or people. A few speakers confirmed that I’m reading the Bible correctly.
Mark Dever told a bold story about how when he encounters young people who want to be in ministry and are filling themselves with all kinds of theology and reading but are unwilling to come early to set up chairs or serve in the nursery, he tells them that he wonders if they are truly Christians. This is a bit more bold than I’m inclined to be, but it makes a strong point.
5. Obedience and the gospel are not opposed to each other.
Among those of us who love the good news of God’s unmerited grace, it can seem “legalistic” to exhort one another toward obedience. But obedience and the gospel of grace are friends.
Ligon Duncan pointed out that the very first blessing of God to Adam and Eve is also a command:
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28, ESV)
God was blessing them with the grace of a command that would be life giving.
Similarly, Thabiti Anyabile said that “Obedience is God’s love language.” The way we demonstrate trust in God is by obeying him.
If we are unwilling to obey God, we are scoffers who ask, like Satan, “Did God really say…?”
David Platt showed from Amos 5 that God has severe warnings for those who eagerly anticipate future salvation and play the game of religion while ignoring present sin and refusing to repent.
6. The Gospel is the main thing that can bring people together.
T4G started with four Christian leaders who have different views on a number of issues but find unity in their love for the gospel. This is allowed us to experience unity among the 12,000 gathered in Louisville last week, and it’s what unites the diversity of congregations in Redemption week in and week out. The gospel is what has the power to unite people who would otherwise never be connected.