I'm back from the 2010 Toronto Pastor's Conference, and raring to be back in the pulpit! No one but a pastor will understand just how refreshing it is for a pastor to spend a few days in this way. I believe that churches receive long-term blessing as pastors get this time. My favourite things about this year's conference:
- The Fellowship - Paul Martin and team intentionally created space for pastors to interact. There was no shortage of 'meat' but the sessions were well-spaced, and the conference organizers did a great job of 'herding' pastors back to sessions. I hardly looked at my watch for three straight days, and I constantly found myself learning about another man's ministry setting.
- The Serving Team - Simply put, Grace Fellowship Church excels at serving. During the sessions, teams of people were preparing the next snack, or the next meal, or cleaning to make the next break more comfortable. In the men's washroom I bumped into a man in rubber gloves with a spray bottle in one hand and a paper towel in the other. When I met him a few years ago he was an unbeliver who had just started attending GFC through the witness of a co-worker. Now he is a Christ-like servant who was cleaning the bathroom on his day off to make my conference all the more enjoyable. This is one story of many!
- The Food - Admittedly, I didn't make it in for either of the breakfasts, but the lasagna supper and the cold-cut-on-bun lunch were extraordinary. I really mean that. I've never seen a piece of lasagna that large, and that full of cheese and meat. And I had hardly finished it when a 12 year old girl from GFC was clearing my plate and asking me if I wanted seconds. We were catered to in every possible way.
- The Conversational Q & A - I enjoyed the hybrid panel discussion/Q & A times hosted by Pastor Paul Martin. Paul's questions were penetrating, the speaker's answers were helpful, and I still got a chance to ask my burning questions!
- The Speakers' Geography - Mike Bullmore from Wisconsin was excellent. Some of the things he said helped 'the penny to drop' as it were, and will continue to shape my preaching for years to come. But the other speakers were all local. Robbie Symons from Harvest Bible Chapel in Oakville, Paul Martin from Grace Fellowship Church in Rexdale (Toronto), and Dan MacDonald from Grace Toronto Church, downtown Toronto, were all as good as Mike Bullmore. Even more exciting: these are men leading churches in my area! What a privilege to get to know leaders of great churches so close to home.
- The Speakers' Variety - I loved the way so many denominations were represented, not just in the attendees, but also in the speakers. In fact, the four speakers come from four different denominations. The conference was given a 'T4G Canada', or 'Gospel Coalition Canada' feel, with four broadly reformed men who agree on many things, but who differ on non-core issues, all in the same line-up. And, if I can be so bold, I wonder if their content was as good or even better as the larger American Conferences I referenced?
- The Speakers' Content - As I've already hinted, the strengths already mentioned complimented the most essential strength: great speakers. My favourite overall message was probably Robbie Symons on evangelism. But a close second would be Paul Martin on Robert Murray M'Cheyne. Dan MacDonald's thought-provoking talk was punctuated by a very humble confession of pride that caused us all to search our own hearts and repent (listen to the first five minutes of his talk if you don't have time for anything else). And Mike Bullmore impressed upon me my great need to know and cherish the gospel more and more every day. When I'm not doing well it's because I don't believe the gospel! Another favourite Bullmore quote (or paraphrase): 'the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever; the chief temptation of man is to seek glory for himself'. How true this is! And this is along the lines of Dan MacDonald's confession of burn out.
Listen and be encouraged. All the messages and panel discussions can be downloaded here for free.