The Shepherd's Conference - Initial Reflections
There is always something a little bit strange about returning from a conference. When at such a gathering one’s mind is set on a particular topic for a day, two days, five days. And what’s more, there are hundreds or thousands of other people in attendance, all of whom are focused on this same subject. For the duration of the conference a whole group of people are living in a little world nearly all their own - a little world where everyone has the same primary interest, at least for a few days.
For the past few days I, along with 3500 other men, have been thinking about preaching and about the gospel. I’ve been thinking about the challenges that face the church in the years to come and have come to an ever-deeper understanding that it is really only the church that can bring hope to the world. It is only the church that has the answers to our society’s deepest problems. And it is only godly men who can shepherd these churches.
This has been a challenging week. I have had my faith tested and sharpened. I have been challenged by men far more humble and godly and committed and sanctified than I am. I have been challenged to be a better man. A better Christian.
I don’t think I want to be a pastor, and perhaps that is the same as saying that I don’t think that God wants me to be a pastor. I’ve often wondered, you know, whether I should begin some sort of vocational ministry. I have often wondered if I should answer some type of call (whatever the “calling” is that people keep talking about) and become one of these shepherds. But having been privileged to sit through seminar after seminar, session after session, I have come to at least two conclusions.
The first conclusion is that I have a deep love and respect for pastors. Not just any pastors, mind you, but those pastors who are willing to humbly place themselves under the authority of the Word of God and submit themselves wholly, willingly to the ministry of the Word. We need pastors so desperately. Our churches are crying out for them. Christians of all ages, all denominations, are weeping in desperation for men - godly men - to lead them. They are crying aloud for men to lead them into God’s deepest truths. They are groaning in desperation for men to open the Word of God to them.
I have seen so many examples of men and women who are saved and spend a period of time in a church that does not feed them with the Word of God. These people inevitably become hungry. They know instinctively that they are lacking and famished, and may not even know what they hunger for. Yet if that hunger goes without being fed, eventually these people lose the hunger and settle into a spirituality that is based not on sound teaching from the Word but on whatever fad is being passed off as true spirituality. They find purpose and Jabez and their wild hearts, but never receive deep, satisfying teaching from God’s Word.
It is those pastors I most admire who forsake the fads and trends in Christianity and dedicate their ministries to simply teaching the Word. I hope and pray that the thousands of pastors at the Shepherd’s Conference who do just that were blessed and encouraged. I trust they believe in their hearts that faithfulness to God is so much more valuable than the praise of men.
The second conclusion I have reached through this weekend is that I am not going to be one of these pastors. I listened to Steve Lawson exhort pastors to give their lives for the church and felt my heart stir for pastors. I heard the other speakers - John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan - tell us just how badly we need a revival of pastors. I felt their passion, but not for me. My heart cried out for pastors, but I felt no tug. I looked at the priorities and desires and qualifications for these pastors and did not see myself reflected in them.
I don’t think I am cut out to be a pastor. And I think that’s okay. And it’s more than okay - it’s great.
I still want to teach. I still want to do what I can to disciple and teach and equip, but not within the scope of the pastoral ministry. I would do nearly anything to somehow be able to help these pastors do what they do, for there are few people I admire more.
I’m not certain about all of this, of course. But I guess the point is that if I traveled to California with more questions than answers, I seem to have returned with more answers than questions. And for that, I am grateful.
Just before I left the conference I spoke to Phil Johnson one last time and he mentioned that, while all of the Shepherd’s Conferences have been great, this one somehow seemed to have an epic feel to it. I cannot speak for the conferences from past years, but I also felt that this one was extraordinarily powerful and meaningful, not just for myself, but for all those I spoke to. God did some amazing things in and through that assembly of pastors, teachers and men of God. I was blessed to be a part of it.