Ligon Duncan kicked things off with an explanation of this fellowship (they do not refer to it as a conference), the reason it exists and what they mean by continually referring to “the ordinary means of grace.” The Twin Lakes Fellowship is a ministerial fraternal committed to connecting gospel ministers and elders with one another. Duncan quoted Jonathan Edwards who said that when God prepares His church for a significant blessing, He brings together a brotherhood of ministers. These people will have differences but believe passionately in the things that bind them. The Fellowship represents a wide variety of Christians spanning Presbyterians, Baptists, Christian Missionary Alliance, etc.
Every minister at some point feels alone and this is too hard a work to feel alone. This fellowship promotes a dissipation of that aloneness and promote this fellowship. They can come together to know that they’re not alone and to find people who are close to them both theologically and geographically. It is not just a ministerial fraternal but one that wants to have a positive effect on church health and growth through the ordinary means of grace. They want to promote church planting and kingdom extension.
This phrase, the ordinary means of grace, required lengthy explanation. The ordinary means of grace are a focus on the Word, prayer and sacraments. These are the ordinances given by God through which congregational life is nurtured. A ministry that focuses on the things God says are critical to the health and growth of His people.
He paused here to reflect on results-based ministry and said we cannot shoot for only short-term results but need to work towards the long-term results. He quoted Jim Boice who said Evangelicals over-estimate what they can accomplish in five years but under-estimate what they can accomplish in twenty. Far too many ministers and ministries focus on the short-term at the expense of real growth and change.
Ministers today are facing challenges from the emerging church, the word faith movement, Purpose Driven and other fad-driven programs. These programs claim that, since everything in the world has changed, we need to change. But the fundamental human problem has not changed and thus neither has the biblical solution or the God-given means. Effective Christian ministry has always been marked by a confidence in God’s Word both in message and method. This doesn’t mean that we don’t think hard about cultural context but we must know what God’s answer is.
There are only three views of gospel ministry:
- Effective engagement requires us to update the message.
- Effective ministry requires us to update our methods.
- Effective ministry begins with a pre-commitment to God’s methods and message as set forth in His Word.
The first approach is that of theological liberalism and says that the gospel won’t work until the message is changed. The second approach is that of modern evangelicalism and especially the seeker-friendly approach, as they say that the gospel won’t work until the method is changed–the message is fine, but the methods need to be tweaked. However, the medium is the message. The method and the message cannot simply be neatly separated. The third approach is that of those who are committed to the ordinary means of grace. Those committed to an approach that believes that the gospel works and that God has given both the message and the method. This is a ministry based on doing the things God says are central to the spiritual health and growth of His people. It is radically committed to a biblical direction of the priorities of ministry. There is a desire among young Reformed evangelicals to see change in the church but “what kind of change?” is the question of the hour. Some people say we need to reject how church and ministry have been done because they don’t work, but they look only to recent church history and blame Protestant confessional theology on the mistakes of the past forty years. This is bad diagnosis and the solutions are worse than the problem. The other direction of change is to go back to the way the Bible says we are to do things. This means challenging some of the sacred cows of church tradition and the culture around us.
However important it is to understand our times and our context (and they are very important!) the ordinary means approach to ministry is first and foremost concerned with biblical fidelity because we believe that faithfulness is relevance. As David Wells says, those whom the world thinks are most irrelevant are in fact those who are most relevant to this world.
People committed to the ordinary means of grace know that God instructs ministers and churches to: Give attention to the public reading of the Word; Preach the Word; Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…; Celebrate the Lord’s Supper; Pray. These are the ways that God’s people grow. These are the tools of God’s grace and nothing else in the church’s program should detract from these means of grace. This means that ministry is not rocket science. Gospel faithfulness does not require a PhD in Sociology. Ministry is determined more by reading the Word of God than by reading culture. The ordinary means of grace minister wants to think hard about culture, but when it comes to determining method and priorities he moves from text to ministry, not from culture to ministry.
Duncan then asked What do we want to see coming out of the Twin Lakes Fellowship? He mentioned briefly that a few days ago he was with John Piper who has told Reformed leaders that they need to take responsibility to shepherd the young Reformed awakening and to give it godly, biblical counsel. Duncan then said that this Fellowship longs to see a renewal of the old evangelical alliances around the gospel and a strong coalition of [And here he began to channel John Piper in a paragraph that would have broken the – key on my keyboard had I been able to keep up with it and transcribe it] pastors working together for the gospel. And these men will shepherd churches banding together for the gospel and holding tightly to biblical theology.
And that is an overview of the Twin Lakes Fellowship. After a brief pause he called Philip Ryken to discuss two projects Ryken is leading, a literary study Bible that will be published by Crossway and the Reformed Expository Commentary series.