Why I’m Thankful For T4G

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Today marks the beginning of the last Together For the Gospel conference. As we prepare to gather together with over 10,000 brothers and sisters in Louisville, I wanted to spend a few minutes reflecting on a number of reasons that I’m thankful for this particular conference.

The Messages

I’m not one of those guys who attended every T4G since 2006. In fact, I didn’t really know much about the conference until 2012. That year, I watched online. The plenary session that I remember most from that conference was David Platt’s “Divine Sovereignty: The Fuel of Death-Defying Missions.” I’ll always be grateful for David’s ability to connect the sovereignty of God to the necessity of taking the gospel to the farthest places in the world. Shortly after this session, I joined the Canadian Board of Directors of Ethnos 360, an organization committed to taking the gospel to those who have never heard it. While that organization does not hold to reformed soteriology, they graciously allowed a young Calvinist Canadian to partner with them for ten years. As my time on Ethnos Canada’s Board comes to an end, I can distinctively say that David’s talk was instrumental in my commitment to that task.

In 2014, I attended T4G in-person for the first time. I’ll never forget the tears flowing, at least in my section of the Yum Center, as Ligon Duncan concluded his message “The Gospel by Numbers.” Ligon eloquently drew our attention to Jesus in Luke in light of the laws laid out throughout the book of Numbers, particularly those laws that pertained to clean and unclean people. In 2018, during my first trip with Reaching & Teaching to train pastors, I was teaching on the book of Numbers and I wanted to show the brothers in Burkina Faso what Ligon had taught me. As I asked them to turn to Luke 8:43, a few of the brothers seemingly read ahead and started to clap their hands in praise. I couldn’t get a word in as they praised the Lord for what they were seeing in Numbers and Luke.

In 2016, Mark Dever’s message was titled “Endurance Needed: Strength for a Slow Reformation and the Dangerous Allure of Speed.” Two things stood out. First, Mark really loves his church. More than once in his sermon, he held back emotion as he reflected on God’s faithfulness to his congregation. I left that session aspiring to love my congregation that much, should the Lord ever allow me to serve as a pastor. The second thing that stood out to me was the need for patience and the concern over speed. By this point, my biggest missiological influences were church planters who took 15-20 years to plant one church in an unreached people group and I was blissfully unaware of the modern missiological methods. But, I had seen ministries in North America driven by a need for speed; Mark’s call for patience was a much-needed word at a much-needed time. It’s hard to believe it’s been six years since that message, but I’m now confronted almost daily with those methodologies that prioritize speed over everything else. Mark’s talk in 2016 is as needed globally in 2022 as it was in 2016. It’s worth revisiting.

The Singing

I was converted to congregational singing and sheet music at the 2014 T4G. It only took a few bars of music, accompanied by Bob Kauflin, for me to be hooked. We even received a hymnal as one of the book giveaways in 2016. The voices – so strong – and so convictional in what we were singing! The doctrine – how true! Who else remembers how loudly we sang “A Mighty Fortress” in 2016, while marking the 500th anniversary of The Reformation? I discovered “He Will Hold Me Fast” at T4G as well, a song that I sang often through my cancer diagnosis in 2017. A song I sang anew at T4G in 2018, two months into remission.

Many of the hymns on my Apple Music playlist are versions from the T4G recordings and the voices of those gatherings take me back in time to the various T4Gs I attended. This week, we’ll sing aloud together. Some of us entering new and challenging seasons, others of us crawling out of them. Voices will ring, hands will raise, and tears will flow, and together we’ll sing of the glorious gospel of our King.

The Books

Anyone who doesn’t think of books when they think of T4G hasn’t been to T4G. The “Zero-Dollar” bookstore is legendary and the piles of thousands of books, along with giddy pastors grabbing a volume, is another reason I’m thankful for T4G. Through the generosity of publishers and the conference itself, attendees have received a number of free books at each conference. They even shipped a box of books to each registrant when the 2020 conference was moved online due to Covid-19, at a large cost to the organizers.

That generosity has modeled for many a pastor the joys of giving away a favorite volume to someone else. It’s shaped my book purchasing habits. I tend to refrain from buying new volumes in the months leading up to T4G. I learned the hard way that a few new releases will be added to the giveaways. The actual bookstore at T4G is also second to none. The team at T4G has vetted each book on sale and the books are arranged by publisher and “Speaker’s Selections.” I’ve purchased over 50 books at the three T4G conferences that I’ve attended in person, and it was at the 2016 conference that I picked up a copy of “Don’t Fire Your Church Members” by Jonathan Leeman – a book that the Lord used to challenge and shape my ecclesiological convictions. Since that conference in 2016 Jonathan has been a guide from afar, through his writing. Over the last couple of years, he’s become a dear friend. I’m grateful for the Lord’s providence through a well-placed book at a conference six years ago.

The Fellowship

I visited my first T4G with Kevin Bender, a dear friend, and another friend who was in Kevin’s small group at church. We arrived early, the day before the conference, with our research in hand. Our research had nothing to do with the speakers or even the conference itself, but on the various dining establishments of Louisville. We kicked off a progressive dinner that Kevin & I still text about to this day. After a burger at Game, we travelled to Homemade Pie Kitchen where we grabbed a slice of the best apple pie I’d ever tasted. Because we couldn’t just finish with one dessert, we just made it to the Comfy Cow before it closed for some ice cream. That food night was epic, but the fellowship with brothers was even more so.

In 2016, Kevin and I were in a Suburban travelling from Canada with a number of pastors and friends. The group was larger and the fellowship was just as sweet. We visited our old eating spots and found new ones. We sang loud, listened to the messages, and made even more great memories in the time between sessions in the bookstore and exhibit hall. Most of those guys remember me splitting my pants hopping over the seats to make it in time to hear John MacArthur begin his message. It still comes up every so often.

In 2018, my wife was my T4G partner and we were just preparing to move to Louisville with our family. I had fallen for the city of Louisville, was starting doctoral classes at Southern (which all started by visiting an SBTS booth in 2014), and I was eager for her to attend the conference that had kicked off so much change in our life. We hung out for a bit with my new colleagues at Reaching & Teaching, including Jon Deedrick who would soon be one of my elders at our new church, Third Avenue Baptist.

As I write this, I’m texting with a number of friends who will be in town for T4G and we’re making arrangements to meet up for meals or coffee. A number of Reaching & Teaching’s overseas personnel, staff, and partner churches will be in town too and I’m really looking forward to the various reunions that will take place. T4G was one of those events that you could depend on your friends being at for a regular connection. I’m thankful for that!

As we attend the final T4G conference, let’s take the time to reflect on God’s goodness to us through the vision of Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, and their friends. Let’s thank the Lord for the hard work of Matt Schmucker and his team. Let’s listen attentively to new messages, enjoy new and old friends, load up on some books, and sing some sweet music with thousands of others. I’m looking forward to being together for the gospel this week!

Ryan Robertson

Ryan Robertson serves as President of Reaching & Teaching. He is currently enrolled in the Doctor of Missiology program at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Ryan and his wife Erin have three children and are members of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, KY, where Ryan also serves as an elder.

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