This week the elders went to Orlando for the annual SG Pastors Conference (teachings are all here). How encouraging to hear about God’s work throughout the world and to be challenged in so many ways! It was the most edifying conference we’ve had in years and reminded us of the gift of partnership. Like the way a Christian benefits from being connected to other Christians within a church, so a church benefits from being connected to other churches. It is both a protection and a glorious opportunity for mission. Alone we can’t reach the nations, but together we can reach many!
The Only Ovation
The conference begins with the Council of Elders. This is our time to make critical decisions as a denomination and think about key aspects of our mission together.
A highlight here was a standing ovation for Phil. When it was mentioned that he was retiring this year and would be stepping down as chair of the Polity Committee, there was an exuberant standing ovation in gratitude for how much Phil has meant to Sovereign Grace these last six years especially. It was the only standing ovation of the conference (Yes, maybe I did keep track).
Mark Prater gave some encouraging reports on the work of church planting throughout the world. There have been about a dozen plants in the last couple years with several more in the works for next year. Dave Taylor from Australia is our main liaison to new works internationally and told us there are groups of churches in the Philippines and India that continue to move along toward becoming Sovereign Grace regions. A new church was added in Zambia, a church our own Ken Auer (and Josh!) has visited.
Exciting for our eldership was the mention of a church plant in Guatemala in the early stages. I spoke with the pastor involved with this, and I hope to coordinate our efforts there with this new opportunity. The plant would be in Guatemala City, which is where we fly into when we go to Agua viva.
Jeff Boettcher shared about a home their church has created for recovering addicts. This is a challenging and expensive ministry, but they are proving effective thus far.
“If I had ______, then I'd be content”
The conference teachings began Tuesday night with CJ preaching out of Titus 2:11–15. His challenge to us was to be those who are continually looking back at where “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation” and looking ahead, “waiting for our blessed hope.”
Rick Gamache spoke on contentment from Philippians 4:10–13. He said to think about how we’d fill in the black: “If I only had _____, then I’d be content.” The truth he developed was that anything other than Jesus you place in that blank will lead to disappointment and bitterness in the end.
Mark Prater preached a great message on courage as the ability to do the right thing even when you believe it will have a great cost. This was a challenging word on a difficult topic. Life throws opportunities routinely where we are forced to either go forward in obedience and pay a cost or cower.
Mickey Connolly exhorted us to “pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts” (1 Cor 14:1). Two great challenges here were to (1) be more than “open” to the gifts but be zealous for them, and (2) recognize the broad work of the Spirit and appreciate that. The dynamic gifts of the Spirit get a lot of our attention, but don’t lose sight of the greatest miracle of all—our salvation.
Jarrod Mellinger preached on justice. His challenge was to grow in our understanding of it by study and discussion as elders. Being a people of justice has implications in society and culture, but it also speaks to how an older brother treats his younger brother. Justice is a dominant category in the Bible and needs to inform all our relationships.
Jeff Purswell closed out the conference with a word from Colossians 1:9–11. How do you measure growth in the church? The temptation is to look at statistics and finances, but the Bible would call us to look to something very different:
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col 1:9–14)
Are we a church filled with people seeking to be “fully pleasing to Christ”? That’s the growth we need to celebrate and build.
It was the most edifying pastors conference we’ve had in years and refreshing for all of us. May God help us to take all the thoughts and challenges rolling around in our minds and turn them into fruitful work at Sovereign Grace Church!