For several years now I have desired to attend the Desiring God Conference for Pastors in Minneapolis and finally had the opportunity this week from Feb 5-7. The overall theme of the conference was "Holiness." The following is a brief synopsis of each speaker at the conference. [Audio of all talks here.]
Keynote Speaker: R. C. Sproul
Having already read and heard most of the things that R. C. Sproul usually taught on the topic of holiness, I was slightly complacent about his talks going into the conference kind of like watching the 1995 Super Bowl on NFL Films…you already know what happens but you're still interested in seeing the event. However, being my first time to see and hear Sproul in person, I was quite surprised by his presentation and was certainly impressed by his teaching. Even being familiar with his anecdotes and the points that he makes from the passages to which he refers, Sproul's teaching on holiness was quite fresh and certainly refreshing.
Pastoral Speaker: Thabiti Anyabwile
I was familiar with Thabiti Anyabwile before I arrived because he has written a few articles for 9Marks and he also has a blog. His talk entitled "The Glory of Holiness in the Life of the Pastor" poured out of Ezekiel 8 & 9 (a text we all know by heart, right?) and was rich in application for the role of the pastor with the congregation. While a summary seems too simple for the greatness of all that Thabiti taught, he did sum up his exhortation with the call to cultivate holiness in ourselves [pastors] and in our people. His first point (out of 10) was the most stirring to me: Pastors are to help their congregations choose God over idols by presenting God's majesty. God is often (and wrongly) made to be so tame that people's eyes are not even attracted to God.
Biographical Speaker: John Piper
John Piper never ceases to amaze me with his passion and ability to bring to life things in which we struggle otherwise to find much relevance. While I felt that I had some appreciation for the person and life of Andrew Fuller, Piper presented his role in the history of the church and missions in such a way that by the finish one wonders if anything good could possibly have taken place outside of the way that God used Fuller. Piper wins the award as well for the title of this talk: "Holy Faith, Worthy Gospel, World Vision: Andrew Fuller's Broadsides Against Sandemanianism, Hyper-Calvinism, and Global Unbelief." That title has more content that my last sermon. As you can also derive from the title, such a biographical talk has little to do with the chronological events of such a man's life, but rather of the ways that he impacting not only his own era, but continues to impact us today.
Missions Speaker: William Mackenzie
Think you know and like books? William Mackenzie is a publisher whose goals include telling children the Bible through books and evangelizing the world through the printing of great books. I concluded that while pastors (in general) tend to pride themselves on the amount of reading they do, in reality the amount of reading that pastors do today is only better by comparison to our society in general. As Mackenzie named off some hugely influential books and asked how many in the room had read them, only a small percentage of hands went up. Among the books that he suggested have influenced the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the past few centuries were:
"The Life of God in the Soul of Man" by Henry Scougal
"A Call to United, Extraordinary Prayer" by Jonathan Edwards
"The Bruised Reed" by Richard Sibbes
"The Mortification of Sin" by John Owen
"Around the Wicket Gate" by Charles Spurgeon
Instead, today's society pats people on the back for reading books with titles like "The Purpose Driven Life" or "Your Best Life Now" (curiously, neither of which were for sale at the conference book store.)
The value of such a conference by its very design is that the organizers strategically design everything for the good of their target audience: men in ministry. From the talks to the prayer room to the Q & A to the promoting of fellowship between sessions, the ministry of Desiring God hosts a superb conference for pastors. However, I am somewhat inclined to agree with Thabiti Anyabwile's assessment at his blog that the conference should be hosted in Grand Cayman next year rather than Minneapolis in February.