Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Conferences and Reality

I have just returned from the biennial Together for the Gospel Conference. It was edifying and refreshing just to sing praise and sit under fine preaching, particularly John Piper on imputation as the heart of the gospel, Lig Duncan who has the singular ability to edify us out of the patristics, and C.J. Mahaney on the work of the ordinary pastor.

The last is significant. As I have confessed before, my constant temptation is to compare my work with others. I often feel like I labor as a pygmy in the land of giants in Jackson, and a man without a country in the PCA. These are not easy things for prideful, foolish, and melancholy flesh to endure. Yet, CJ, in his unique blend of poignancy, humor, and hard-hitting application, told me just what I needed to hear --both in way of correction and encouragement. May I own what he had to say.

Why? Because life in the church (in its local, and connectional aspects) is tough, wherever you are. There are burdens to be borne. The alluring temptation is to think that the titans have no struggles or shortcomings. But, I've worked for a few titans, and struggle they do and shortcomings they have! They are human, too. And they must bleed for their churches, too.

We must believe the church is glorious, because God tells us that it is. Occasionally, we glimpse that glory. We glimpse it when someone is kind to us, when someone prays with us, or speaks in an edifying way to us. But the church is not perfected yet. It stumbles about blindly in the darkness a lot, getting cut and torn and bruised. It is silly in its pridefulness. It is childish in its wants and needs.

Yet, Jesus loves it. And we should too.


  1. In sitting in Sunday school this past Sunday and listening to Knox talk about baptism, I began to really look through the scriptures at the verses on baptism, noticing how closely placed they are to passages about husbands and wives and family. I was especially drawn to Ephesians 5:26 in reference to husbands loving their wives as Christ loves the church having given himself up for her to sanctify her and cleanse her with the washing of water with the word. This week, I am facing up to what I have always deep down thought (and didn't really even realize I had thought) -- that the church needed to make itself beautiful for Christ. Somewhere deep down, I had always carried a picture of the bride preparing HERSELF (because that's what human brides do) when in truth, the broken bride that the church is has no more ability to purify herself than the infant does to sprinkle itself with water. What foolishness I was harboring to think that somehow we could be good enough or that any measures the church could take to purify itself would most likely only make it filthier because of the sin seated deep within each of us. Though logically I knew it to be untrue that we could do anything FOR ourselves, at some point this week, the truth sank deep into my heart and I find myself viewing the church and it's ugliness as something that cannot be helped. Most certainly, when we are made aware of the right direction and enabled by the Spirit to move that way we must, but the ugliness that the church is capable of is in many ways (in my mind anyway) synonymous with the grotesque physical abilities of the infant. Though the parents LOVE that infant and would gladly die for it, it can still be quite disgusting. And we are disgusting, causing such problems in and around ourselves that we are quite unaware of -- and yet because Jesus loves his church, yes, we SHOULD love it too, stinking messes and all... I don't know if my parallels make any sort of sense to anyone but me, though. Thoughts?

    OH! And so glad you found encouragement -- it is so hard for the melancholy to find...

  2. The church that has the gospel has everything! Trinity has everything! We are blessed with gospel preaching and strong gospel preaching, I might add every Sunday. My prayer is that you keep preaching like you really believe that and that as a body we enthusiastically tell others about Trinity, like we believe that and trust God with the results - both individually and corporately.

  3. The question is, "How transparent is too transparent, in a blog or for a pastor?"

  4. Transparency rooted in humility of spirit that recognizes one's own deficiencies, looking to be reminded that we are all sufficient in Christ Jesus is admirable - strength in weakness. Transparency aimed at obtaining absolution or even worse an "in-your-face" independence of spirit that belittles the cost of grace is deplorable. The church should stand ready to encourage the former and correct the latter.

  5. You might find the following blogs of interest about C.J. Mahaney and the group he leads, Sovereign Grace Ministries:


    They tell another side. Hope this helps.

  6. Dear Ken --

    When I was a young minister we didn't really have much in the way of inter-denominational conferences. There was Urbana, and then Tenth Church began the PCRT (Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology) but the speakers were generally professors giving lectures. And the church growth movement hardly existed. There was much less emphasis on statistics. And you never really could hear other ministers' preaching unless you went in person. It was hard to get tapes of sermons. So there is much more pressure for ministers to compare themselves now than in the past, though I'm sure it's always been present to a degree.