Reflections on the For the Church Conference
I just returned from the For the Church Conference hosted by Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. It was the best conference, with the best content, I’ve ever attended. Here are three reflections on why.
1. Midwestern Seminary is thoroughly, faithfully, and doggedly for the church.
Seminaries are wonderful places. They train the next generation of pastors, counselors, missionaries, and scholars. They teach God’s word, at best, with enthusiasm and faithfulness. But not every seminary is created equal. Not every seminary, for example, remains faithful to the Bible. Some stray down dark paths, holding the flashlight of the world when the floodlight of the Holy Spirit is available. But Midwestern is not one of those unfaithful schools. No, they don’t just love the Bible, they love the Bible. There’s isn’t the flash-in-the-pan puppy love of the high-schooler. There’s is the life-long, rooted love of a lifetime.
And because they love the Bible, they love the local church, because you can’t read the Bible and come away believing the church is inconsequential. Seminaries don’t appear in scripture; churches do. Parachurch ministries don’t appear in Scripture; churches do. That doesn’t diminish the importance of either, it just puts both underneath the local church. It is the church, globally sowed by God, organized locally by his Spirit, that serves as the primary strategy for worldwide advancement of the Kingdom. And it is this church that Midwestern is not only a fan of, but is thoroughly, faithfully, and doggedly for.
What does it mean to be “for the church?” Ask anyone on campus and they’ll tell you. Their website says, “Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary & College serves the church by biblically educating God-called men and women to be and make disciples of Jesus Christ.” Do you notice those three words in the middle? “Serves the church.” Those three words make all the difference. Their very mission is one of being for the church.
This mission comes through loud and clear in so many ways. From the mission statement itself to the website (to which I contribute) called, unsurprisingly, For the Church, where article upon article written by and for those serving in the trenches of local ministry is housed, to the conference focused on the work of the minister, Midwestern is living up to its mission, and it’s serving the church very, very well.
Their goal for the conference this year, as stated on their website, was for it to be “a time of refreshing and rejoicing.” For me, and for many others, it was a success on both fronts. I came in weary and anxious. I left refreshed and happy in Christ—restful, even. I came in with a limp and left with a back stiffened by the gospel, ready to take the hill for Christ. They had no magic tricks, just an old story of a crucified savior.
Midwestern is for the church, and I’m thankful they are because that’s my people and my people need them.
2. The plenary sermons were grounded in scripture and pointed toward pastors of local churches.
The line-up was first class. Midwestern’s President, Jason Allen, kicked it off with The Minister’s Preaching. H.B. Charles, Jr., pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, gave us the best sermon on prayer I’ve heard on The Minister’s Prayer. Ray Ortlund, Jr., my former pastor at Immanuel Church in Nashville, TN, and my dear friend preached the best sermon anyone’s ever heard on The Minister’s Marriage. Associate Professor of Christian Theology and Director of the Center for Public Theology, Owen Strachan, helped us understand the importance of the warfare that is The Minister’s Study. The Austin Stone’s Matt Carter reminded us that the time for our people to engage in Christ’s mission is right now in his powerful, The Minister’s Mission. My friend and For the Church’s Director of Content Strategy, Jared Wilson, preached the most refreshing-to-my-soul sermon on The Ministry’s Legacy, calling us all to a “glorious nothingness” for Christ. And Matt Chandler of the Village Church in Dallas, Texas, undertook the difficult but vital task of urging a room full of pastors to believe the gospel for themselves in The Minister’s Gospel. From front to back, the preaching was not only saturated in scripture, it was proclaimed with fire.
One can’t help but notice each sermon began with an address to the minister. Once again, Midwestern is proving their mission to serve the local church. A conference can be about many things. It can be educational. It can be practical. It can be both. But the best kind of conference for a pastor is one of gospel-rich content applied to the Jesus-needy heart of the minister. It is the cool water of the gospel poured into the heart whereupon the flame is fanned into an urgency to preach and teach and share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I commend every sermon and every preacher. And I didn’t even have time to mention the breakout sessions and extra talks given. From beginning to end, and all through the middle, this conference was not only helpful, it was like resting in the arms of Jesus for two days, interrupted only by the laughter and enjoyment of friends and fellow laborers in the field.
3. The church is not only surviving our crazy culture, God is expanding, growing, and deepening her.
Aside from the preaching, the conference gave me another look into the deep things of God: his work in the local church. It is one thing to hear about the local church from the stage, it’s another entirely to see it in the hearts of the men around. My church plant is in year two of public ministry. It is going well, but it is hard. It is exhausting. It is challenging. And, it turns out, we aren’t alone. What the Lord is doing in my church is different from but shockingly similar to what he’s doing in so many around the country. I can tend to think the church is in trouble, and in many cases she is. But when I gathered this week with my friends in Kansas City, I saw that the church wasn’t only surviving in this crazy culture of ours, she’s expanding, growing, and deepening by the grace of Christ.
The future of the church in America is bright. Not because we have found some secret to share but because God has given us a story as old as the universe that has the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. It was that gospel that we needed yesterday, that we need today, and that we’ll need tomorrow that was preached, believed, and rejoiced in this week on the campus of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The chapel was probably bouncing. After all, Aaron Ivey and the Austin Stone’s worship band was there. And when you get a thousand pastors and ministry leaders in the same room with the same gospel, it gets loud.
May the loudness of that chapel echo in the churches of all represented, and may the Lord continue his work, doing what only he can do through sinners redeemed by his grace.
Join us next year. I promise it’ll be worth the trip a hundred times over.