Moderator's Comments - Posted 1 October 2018

When was the last time you told your pastor to go away? Or better still … sent him away?

… that is, sent him away to a pastor’s conference?

Sure, your pastor can do this himself, but sometimes – toiling away week after week, month after month – he needs a prompt from the elders. Time away at ministry conferences and conventions play an important role in the life and work of the Christian pastor. Pastors can have their faith restored, mind sharpened and skills honed.

Proverbs 27:17 reminds us: As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. There is mutual benefit in rubbing two iron blades together: the edges become sharper, making the knives more efficient in their task to cut and slice. Likewise, the Word of God is a “double-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12), and it is with this that we are to sharpen one another.

Together for the Gospel (T4G)

Unsure what to expect, but certain that it was the right fit for this year’s study leave, I trekked around the globe to Muhammad Ali’s home town in Kentucky, USA.

Though I knew of Louisville as a mid-America city renowned for hosting mega-conferences, I still wasn’t ready for the impact of being there. I reserved the entire week, 9 – 13 April, to stay in this great city for a Bible teaching conference under the leadership and inspiration of Dever, Duncan, Mohler, de Young, MacArthur, Piper, Chandler among others.

It’s not for everyone – feeling like a minnow in a swirling ocean of 12,500 pastors, seeking out your own pathway in the maelstrom of lunch queues, arriving an hour early to secure ‘ring-side’ seats. But for this event and for this season – I loved it. Two fellow PCV pastors Chris and Clinton were there too.

I returned home with my mind enlightened regarding some sweet doctrines that I’d not considered as deeply before. I found my heart filled with the joy of God at being in the company of so many pastors and leaders who valued this precious expression of true evangelicalism: a high view of the inspiration of Scripture, salvation by grace alone through faith, the penal substitutionary understanding of redemption in Christ and holding to truth over against pragmatism in church practice.

Some highlights:

  • Kevin de Young’s brilliant talk on the Immutability of God and its practical application. Kevin spoke ‘til my brain hurt. This was the standout highlight for me. As an aside: I have been inspired to use and teach the concept of God’s immutability twice since then, once at Reservoir (home congregation) and once in Lusaka, Zambia.
  • Al Mohler’s salutary warning to the church from 1 Corinthians – a brilliant address.
  • Matt Chandler’s ability to summarise the Sermon on the Mount and address the question of law vs grace – all in 40 minutes (while not feeling well).
  • Ligon Duncan’s heart-moving message – exploring the vexed question of historic Southern Presbyterianism’s fault-ridden support of slavery and questioning how the church should respond to that today. Clinton Le Page found this address the highlight, “The wonderful way Ligon connected law and grace, and law and love.”
  • The panel discussion and reflection on the ministry of R C Sproul – wonderful memories of a profound servant of God – a man who, after Arthur W Pink, first gave me the foundations to understand the sovereignty of God as expressed in the reformed faith.

Chris Siriweera especially enjoyed the Presbyterian/Reformed afternoon gathering where we had the opportunity to meet together with other pastors of like mind to see what challenges are faced by Presbyterians across the world and to be of encouragement to one another. This was particularly helpful in the light of the fact that the majority of the attendees were Reformed Baptists.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE – side benefits as well:

  • Every meal time in our allotted hotel dining rooms – to sit with people from different parts of the US and Canada and share stories of God’s grace together over a meal. Everyone was so polite and willing to share.
  • The singing was out of this world, expertly led by Bob Kaufman. It was heavenly to sing the great hymns of the faith with 12,499 other voices in the one stadium. The experience was so overwhelming, Clinton Le Page says, “Sometimes I'd just stop singing to listen to the multitude and even wept at the joy of it.” It’s hard to see the words with tears in your eyes.
  • Then, there were the free give-aways. Imagine my delight in bringing home a John Piper book of 800 pages “21 servants of Sovereign Joy”. After every session, there were pallets of books given away – one for each participant. When you come with me next time, leave room in your travel bags for books. Americans are very warm-hearted and generous hosts.

To be sure, if you wanted to, you could pick apart the concept of spending so much money to go to America for a week’s study leave. You could criticise the expense and say, “you’re better off staying at home and reading a book”.

If it was your mind to – you could bemoan the plenary nature of all the sessions and prefer more intimate discussion groups and work stations. You could wince at the American flavour of things (but wait, it is IN America!), or the chumminess of the key speakers as they make a few ‘in-house’ folksy reflections that arise from their camaraderie. But I choose not to. I’ve booked the week 13 – 17 April 2020 to go again (that’s the week immediately following Easter) – will you JOIN ME?

See the Together for the Gospel website:  t4g.org –  all the messages are there for downloading.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Here are stories from other pastors whose church elders sent them away this year …

Banner of Truth

Rev Bob Thomas writes … Conferences and conventions play an important role in the life and work of the Christian Church. Pastors who were the victims of a theologically liberal education can have their faith restored and rebuilt as well‐informed, committed and faithful speakers deliver addresses covering a wide range of Biblical, theological, historical and practical topics.

In the course of reporting on various conferences and conventions I attend as many as I can, especially the Belgrave Heights Convention in Melbourne each Christmas and Easter, the Oxygen Conference in Sydney organized by the Katoomba Christian Convention for Gospel workers and the Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conferences. This latter one is my favourite because Banner gave me my theological education through its vigorous publication program and their conferences anchor the teaching in the books to the practicalities of pastoring. An added bonus is that it is the only conference I go to where Presbyterians predominate, although it is always good to see a fair smattering of fellow Presbyterians at the others as well.

I encourage ministers (with the help and encouragement of their Sessions and Boards of Management, for whom a refreshed minister is a good investment) to attend at least one conference each year.

Oxygen

Rev Barry Oakes writes … Oxygen 2018 provided a great opportunity for Suzanne and I to get away as a couple, to be ministered to, and to ‘refill the tank.’ We met old friends and made new friends over the four days. In addition to the plenary sessions, there was a wide selection of masterclasses and topical talks. Suzanne enjoyed the ministry of Nancy Guthrie and Jen Wilkin.

I particularly appreciated the ministry of Sam Chan (who dragged himself out of hospital), Michael Ramsden, who widened our vision the power of the gospel in the hardest places, and Jared Wilson. Jared, now with Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, shared from his ministry experience in large and small churches, city and rural. He was a great encouragement to me and many others as he shared some of his story, his struggles and insights, and God’s grace in it all.

Team Pastors

Rev Adam Humphries writes … I attended the three-day Team Pastoring conference which was held at EV Church in Erina, NSW.  The conference has the aim of “stirring and equipping church leaders and their teams to build grounded and growing churches.”  The particular focus this year was “volunteer revolution”.  

Lots of helpful, biblical material was presented on how to recruit and equip teams for church ministries (e.g. music, welcoming, outreach, bible study groups).  I was encouraged by the model because it moves away from roster filling or ticking off tasks and instead fosters discipleship, community and ownership. This empowers the church body to use their gifts (Ephesians 4) and enables the minister to focus on his role of prayer and preaching (Acts 6).  

I recognised more than a dozen people from the Presbyterian Church of Australia there. As the conference combines with the Multiply conference next year to become “Reach Australia” I pray that there will be even more Presbyterians attending in 2019. 

Give your pastor a break and send him away. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

John P Wilson

(Moderator-General, PCA)

October 2018