Saturday, May 14, 2011

Fellowship in the Gospel 2011

I just arrived home from the Fellowship in the Gospel men’s conference hosted by Berean Baptist Church in Livonia Michigan. The theme of this year’s conference was Recovering the Gospel: The Ancient Message of Hope. This conference was developed because men of Berean Baptist were so blessed by their trip to the T4G conference in 2006. The T4G conferences are biannual so the men thought it would be a good idea to have a regional men’s conference in the intervening years. The format is similar to T4G where there are plenary and breakout sessions, free resources, discounted books, and panel discussions. It was a great time of fellowship and learning for both me and a few other men from my church who participated. The conference was a great experience and I would like to thank Berean Baptist for hosting the event.

There were two elements of the conference that I felt were particularly good. First, were the sessions by Dr. Sidney Greidanus, Former Pastor, Emeritus Professor at Calvin Theological Seminary, and author of many books including Preaching Christ from the Old Testament. Dr. Greidanus demonstrated how to prepare sermons and teaching material on Old Testament passages in ways that illustrate the person, work, or teaching of Jesus Christ. He explained that if a Jewish Rabbi could preach the same message that we have given in our sermons or classes on Old Testament texts then we have failed to preach the Gospel and have thus missed the most important biblical theme, namely Jesus. He also cautioned that we must remain true to the context and purpose of the Old Testament and be careful not to allegorize or twist scriptures to make them leapfrog to Christ. To do so is not necessary because as Christ showed His disciples on the Emmaus road the pinnacle and central theme of all scripture is Christ. We should therefore ensure when we are teaching and preaching from the Old Testament that we highlight the elements in it that are pointers to Jesus. The material that Dr. Greidanus presented was very helpful in demonstrating how to do this while remaining faithful to a commitment to historical-grammatical interpretation and I can see a number of areas in my teaching and preaching where I can be more Christ focussed using these tools.

The second element that I thought was particularly good were the plenary sessions by Rico Tice, minister of evangelism as All Souls Church in London England. As a result of his passion for evangelism he helped to develop the Christianity Explored materials I am generally nervous about canned evangelism programs or tools because I believe that it is the Gospel itself and not techniques that get people saved. I recognize the need to take certain fundamentals of communication into consideration but I do not like the “packaging” of the Gospel as if it were laundry detergent or a time-share in Florida. I told Rico this when I met him and after a few seconds of conversation it became obvious to me that he shared a passion and commitment to the power of the Word of God in his approach to evangelism.

From what I have been able to see (have not had a chance to fully review all the material yet) this is a program that combines a fervent desire to see souls saved with complete confidence that it is God who saves. His “technique” for getting people to a place where he can share the Gospel with them is simply to ask “would you like to read the bible with me?” They either say yes or no so there isn’t any marketing agenda just an explicit desire to discuss the things of God. If they say yes he suggests walking through the Gospel of Mark focusing on four basic themes. By reading the Gospel itself together with someone and asking them about what the text is saying about the identity, mission, and call of Christ contrasted with the blindness of those around Him you can allow the Holy Spirit using the Word to work in the heart of the person. His approach is to let the Gospel tell the Gospel. He also equipped us with some basic organizational and communication tools but the foundation of what he does is to focus on Gospel itself. He also reassured us that even those who are not gifted as teachers could nevertheless be Gospel "sharers". Rico is a very focused and entertaining speaker. His questions are convicting and caused me to realize that evangelism needs to be a more important focus of my own walk and ministry. If you or your church are looking to develop your evangelism programs but want to do so in a Christ centered/bible centered way I recommend that you visit their website linked above and check out their material.

In addition to these speakers there were other speakers handling a series of topics in breakout sessions, wonderful worship music, prayer time, and fellowship opportunities. It is truly a blessing to have such good and Gospel focused speakers and leaders at a local conference. In addition to the human resources they also gave away some free books and there were many others at a good discount in the conference bookstore. This was my first year attending but I am planning on coming back for the next one and if you are a man, or know one, who is looking for conservative Christian teaching and fellowship I recommend that you consider attending the next one in 2013.

May the Lord bless all those who attended and also all those who helped put the conference together and worked to support it. 

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