Actually I’m in Washington DC. But this is a work thing. Honestly, it really is. After some mild and loving mock abuse on Facebook from members of the CCB congregation, I feel that I have to justify that comment! So here goes. I usually go on one ministry conference a year (it’s in my contract) and usually that’s a Proclamation Trust conference in the UK. I tend to go for three reasons.
First, I go to see mates so that I can encourage them and they can encourage me. That usually happens as we chat over meals catching up on family news and what’s big in ministry at the moment. It happens as we stay up far too late in the bar talking absolute nonsense. And then it happens more constructively as we share news and pray together in fellowship groups.
Secondly, I go to get away from it all and be spiritually refreshed. By the time the conference comes along I’m usually spiritually out of shape (to be honest, I tend to live most of my Christian life like this). But it provides me with an opportunity to get away from the demands of ministry and to concentrate on my relationship with the Lord.
And thirdly, I go to be fed by someone else teaching me for a change. They’ve put in the hard yards of prayerful preparation. They’ve thought about applying the scriptures to our particular situations as pastors. They’ve thought through how to encourage and grow me in my Christian life. And it’s a real privilege to sit under their ministry.
I was all set to go to the Senior Ministers’ Conference last term but it all got too much at CCB. Life without an administrator and assistant staff member was just too overwhelming and we had too much to do. And so sadly, the only sensible thing to do was to withdraw from the conference. But a generous American friend mentioned the 9 Marks Weekender, had a word with some friends at Capitol Hill Baptist and then paid for me to go at the start of this term. So here I am. It’s been hugely stimulating. And I’m very grateful.
I’m here with Bill Lovell, the Minister of Christ Church Carrollton, a PCA church plant in suburban Dallas. We got to know each other after I spoke at their Bible Conference last May. And that’s been a source of great encouragement to me and, I hope, to him also. Our drive to and from the conference in Capitol Hill from our lodgings in Arlington, Virginia has provided us with lots of opportunity to try and apply what we’re hearing in our own situations.
9 Marks is a ministry that’s grown out of Capitol Hill Baptist and the leadership of Mark Dever. Mark became the pastor of CHBC in 1994, I think. Their big thing is growing healthy churches. And the nine marks are the nine characteristic ministries that contribute to a churches health. The nine marks are as follows;
- Expositional Preaching
- Biblical Theology
- The Gospel
- A biblical understanding of Conversion
- A biblical understanding of Evangelism
- A biblical understanding of Church Membership
- A biblical understanding of Church Discipline
- A concern for discipleship and growth
- Biblical Church Leadership
I’ll post some reflections in due course. But at this stage, I’m prepared to say that it’s been far and away the most stimulating ministry conference I’ve been on in ten years of ministry. It’s not come at a great time of year. But it’s been a great conference. I’m aware that the danger with these conferences is that you come back with a head full of good ideas. But in the excitement of seeing something hugely impressive we forget to distinguish what’s biblical and what’s contextual. I’m due to have lunch with a friend who worked at CHBC for a while and runs a church in the UK so that I can try and bring some coherence to the thoughts currently swimming round in my head!
I think what impressed me most about what I heard and saw was the that these guys had the courage to go where their theological convictions were pointing them. They their ecclesiological practice where their mouth is. They’re actually applying biblical truth to congregational life. The trouble with those of us who are Anglicism evangelicals is that we’ve grown up compromising on those things for the sake of the gospel opportunities the Church of England gives us. We could never imagine implementing biblical church membership or exercising church discipline. But it was so refreshing to see unencumbered obedience to the scriptural material about how to shape church life under a plurality of elders who took responsibility for those entrusted to their care. I’ll keep thinking and let you know where I’m up to!