Why I’m Thankful for T4G

by | Apr 29, 2022

It makes sense for a ministry called United? We Pray to reflect on a ministry called Together for the Gospel (T4G), which held its last session on April 21, 2022. The conference, focused on pastors but open to all, began in 2006, meeting every other year—except 2020 due to COVID—in Louisville, KY.

Like everything else in a fallen world, T4G has known good times and hard times. Like everything else in a fallen world, T4G is not above justified critique, nor has it gone without it. For full disclosure: I worked for the organization once upon a time (more on that below). Articles have been written about what the end of the conference may represent, and this is a worthwhile discussion. This piece is different, more of a thank-you letter. In honor of its nine meetings, here are nine reasons I am thankful for T4G.

1. Thanks, T4G, for giving all kinds of different pastors a good reason to get together. It’s not uncommon to hear T4G attendees say something like, “The preaching is excellent, and I love the giveaway books, but what I look forward to most is seeing old friends.” T4G was, for so many, not just a conference, but an intersection of networks, a family reunion. Maybe where I felt the most camaraderie was at a dinner with 13 other African-American ministers who served in predominantly white contexts. But there were more than pastors that looked like me at T4G. Indeed, what made the reunion particularly sweet was seeing something of its rich diversity.  There were Presbyterians from Australia, Baptists from Kenya, Anglicans from Virginia, ministers from Dubai, missionaries from Asia, pastors who have served for decades, pastors who have served for days, pastors who served large congregations—many who served smaller ones. We were blessed to meet so many attendees at our booth.  All of this displayed a beautiful catholicity that we all know exists but sometimes struggled to envision. T4G simply forced one to look outside themselves at the wider body of Christ as we gathered to relish the gospel of Christ.

WHY I'M THANKFUL FOR T4G

2. Thanks, T4G, for honoring old ministers. As I said, the preaching was good and faithful. The three sermons I would encourage you to listen to are Greg Gilbert’s on humility, Shai Linne’s on remembering Jesus, and Ligon Duncan’s on Christ in the Old Testament. That said, what particularly struck me were John Piper and Sinclair Ferguson’s reflections on decades of ministry. Hearing some of the (hilarious) mistakes Piper made was deeply helpful. I thought, “Okay, if God can use that guy despite his mistakes, he can use me.” Hearing Ferguson talk about running into the arms of Jesus at the end of his life was deeply moving. Ferguson talked about how his first words to Jesus would be, “I’m sorry,” and how Christ would still delight to give him a crown, as promised in 1 Peter 5. In all of this, a young pastor like me was able to see what I might look like decades down the road, should the Lord give grace, and that I can make it to the end of the road by God’s grace. In all of this, I realized, “I’m not alone in making rookie mistakes early on or having haunting regrets later on.” Indeed, no temptation faces us except what’s common to man (1 Corinthians 10:13).

3. Thanks, T4G, for not despising youth. While T4G22 allotted significant time to highlight veteran minister, not all the time was given to them. Earlier I mentioned sermons you should listen to. Add Christian Lwanda’s to that list. Lwanda is a young, Baptist minister in Abu Dahbi. Speaking to the necessity of pastors preaching the Word vs. merely entertaining the congregation, Lwanda proclaimed: “The human soul is too heavy a thing to lift into the presence of God on the twigs of entertainment.” My goodness! In giving younger brothers like Lwanda the mic, T4G reminded us that yes, God does delight to use young men (Jeremiah 1:6; 1 Samuel 17:14; 1 Timothy 4:12). The all-too-common Rise-and-Fall-of-Mars-Hill testimonies rightly warn us of the dangers of rushing a young minister to prominence, but let us not think that means no young man should ever minister.

4. Thanks, T4G, for talking about hard things. While the gospel was primary at the conference, other important issues were still, well, important. They were discussed, debated, and considered. Among these issues were Critical Race Theory and Disciple Making Movements—both discussed on the same day. No doubt, the panelists and the conferees wanted to say and hear more but at least somethingwas said and heard. And if we want to hear more and say more about these topics, we have the opportunity to carry on the conversation—with charity, civility, and honesty—in our communities and networks. And yet, there was something especially helpful about sitting with my church staff and listening to these conversations together. It gave us a common launching pad to start our own conversations together, as we discussed what we did and didn’t agree with, what we did and didn’t need to talk about further.

5. Thanks, T4G, for giving away helpful books. Among the books given away were Deepak Reju’s On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse at Church and Shai Linne’s The New Reformation: Finding Hope in the Fight for Multiethnic Unity. This point is somewhat a continuation of the last. Not only were important issues raised, each attendee got a free, thousands-word-long reminder to continue praying about and talking about them—to continue addressing them. T4G attendees got homework, more or less, over the years about the good work we should do in our homes, churches, and communities.

6. Thanks, T4G, for knowing your limits. In this fallen world, all good things—except Christ’s church—must come to an end. Good gifts come. Good gifts go. We are all finite. We all have limits. Sometimes, those limits are hard to discern. A friend of mine, who is not a Christian, was confused why the conference was ending. He said, “There are thousands of pastors here, aren’t there? What gives? Just hire some other company to run it.” Ah, if only it were that simple! Yet we all can think of ministries that tried, with the best of intentions, to endure past their hay day. But they either became irrelevant—like the rapper who should’ve retired but tried to be cool for too long. Worse, even than that is succumbing to mission drift and/or theological compromise. But T4G recognized that the conference had run its course. And even in this, there’s a sermon, one that sounds something like the Teacher of Ecclesiastes. Indeed, what did T4G final advertisement state? “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning” (Ecclesiastes 7:8).

7. Thanks, T4G, for giving me my first job. Here’s the most personal of the thanks. It hit me as we were concluding the conference by singing “It is Well” that this thing called T4G was really ending. Many reading this article will know my mother unexpectedly died a few weeks before the conference. Of course, her death and the end of a conference are universes apart in terms of significance. And yet my wife pointed out to me that, in God’s providence, I am oddly in a season of a lot of chapters closing. Like the rest of the T4G staff, I gave the thing all I had. I saw it come up, and now we were watching the sun set on our work. Anyone who has started anything worthwhile knows there’s a grief of sorts of watching it end, even if you trust God with the ending. And so it is with T4G. I’ve had a couple jobs since. I’ve grown a bit, I hope, seeing as I was basically the water boy for T4G, and I’m a pastor and author now. But I bless the Lord for whatever contribution I was able to make to an imperfect conference led by imperfect leaders who strove to hold up a perfect savior and his gospel.

8. Thanks, Matt Schmucker, for T4G. You’ve never heard of him. He prefers it that way, which annoys me, but I digress. No doubt, Mark Dever was a crucial factor in this conference’s birth, duration, and successful landing. But there would be no T4G without Matt Schmucker, the man who built the thing, the man who kept the thing going and herded the cats and held up the microphone from which others spoke. Have you ever planned a wedding? Imagine doing that for tens of thousands of pastors (some of whom can be a little grumpy!) every other year. It’s simply not easy. Mark gets a lot of recognition, which he doesn’t seek. Rightly so. But every Mark needs a Matt. Every pilot needs an air traffic controller. Someone snapped the picture below of me standing behind Matt as we closed the conference out with “It is Well.” I like how it captures how, by God’s grace, I’ve been able to follow Matt as he follows Christ. I’ve learned a lot from him, one lesson being that you can get a lot done when you don’t care who gets the credit.

WHY I'M THANKFUL FOR T4G

9. What about you? I’ll give the last word to you about T4G. What are you thankful for regarding it? I’m preaching Colossians right now to my local church. I’m struck by how often the book mentions being thankful (1:3, 12; 2:7; 3:15-17; 4:2). Thankfulness is a big deal in the Christian life. We Christians are to abound in it. We may all be thankful for different things, but thankful we must be. And we should all be thankful, most of all, for Jesus. His gospel. His church. His grace. Jesus promised to build his church (Matthew 16:18). He never said anything about its various and fleeting conferences. Those, like all intuitions, will rise and fall. But praise God that in Christ, the Christian only rises and rises. To God be the glory.

 

So, the conference has ended. Who, besides the Lord, could have predicted all that it became? Who, besides the Lord, knows what’s next? But as we look to the past, we can see a conference that did its best to hold on to the gospel, a conference that emphasized faithfulness over fruitfulness, a conference that reminded us that friendship is really hard (sadly, even Barnabas and Paul may go our separate ways). But ultimately, the conference reminded us that even as we come to an end, God’s praises will still be sung.

Earlier I said the attendees closed T4G by signing, “It is Well.” We technically ended by singing the doxology. Matt Merker, who led us in song, gave us a starting note from the piano on stage, but then, he walked off before the song was finished. And so we sang, with no one on stage—highlighting that we were not gathering around a man, a preacher, a personality. We were gathering around the gospel, thanking God who gave us this great news.

T4G isn’t heaven. It was never meant to be heaven. It could never compare to the glories of heaven. But dare I say we got the smallest taste of heaven while there? I’m thankful we did.

 


Prayer Requests:

  1. Pray the Lord would bring good fruit from T4G for years to come.
  2. Pray we would all build relationships with people who we differ with but with whom we are united in the gospel, and that we would cooperate well for the sake of the kingdom.
  3. Pray the Lord would teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12).

 

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  • Isaac Adams

    Isaac is a husband, father, author and the founder of U?WP. He is the lead pastor of Iron City Church in Birmingham, AL. @isickadams

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