This past Monday, our church’s youth pastor intern and I began a journey towards Charlotte, North Carolina for the 9Marks First Five Years conference. Under normal driving conditions, we would have arrived in Charlotte in plenty of time for dinner. However, we just so happened to be driving on the infamous day of Snowpocalypse. We literally drove until we were forced off the interstate as it had been closed down. After an unplanned, interesting stay in a hotel at a small, remote exit, we made it to the conference the next day about 20 minutes into the first session.
My draw to this conference was the specific focus for those that are beginning in ministry in their church. Though, as I have mentioned before, I have been doing ministry, mostly bivocational, for about 7 years now, I am in the first few months of my first, full-time position as a pastor. I have already discovered how vastly different this position is than what I have been doing for the last 7 years (more about that in a later post).
As we were driving through the dreadful winter weather on Monday, we joked that this conference better be the best conference we have ever attended. Thankfully, we were not disappointed by the conference in the slightest. The couple of days of sessions proved to be well worth the drive. I won’t try to recap all of the sessions nor list all of the speakers, but I will highlight some things that I took away from this conference.
The theme of slowness kept coming out in different ways in the various sessions. It was also a big part of the conversations that we would have after the sessions. There is such a temptation to want to come into a ministry position at 110 mph and just blow the roof off the place, but that is a sure way to tire quickly. Many of the speakers kept coming back to the notion of valuing faithfulness over productivity. John Onwuchekwa’s entire session was about this very thing. He said, “Jesus aimed for faithfulness, not usefulness and productivity.” Other speakers exhorted us to focus on preaching the Word and loving the people above all other “strategic” things we may desire to do in our first years. Sometimes the cannon that we are shot out of from seminary is a bad marker for the pace and manner in which we enter real ministry. That is of course all the more reason for young men to stay connected to local churches throughout their seminary and other preparatory years.
Jeremy Yong reminded us, “A supreme love for Christ is what brings forth a love for His people.” Obviously, pastors should love and trust in Jesus. But I wonder how easy it can become to merely talk to others about how important it is that they love Jesus, but actually forget to love Jesus? This manifests itself in all kinds of general and practical ways: trusting in Jesus, praying, being in the Bible, singing, finding joy in Jesus, and so on. If we are not orienting our hearts towards Christ it is and will be impossible to help anyone else do so.
The tangible thing that I believe embodies both a slowing down and an emphasis on loving Jesus is discipleship. Harshit Singh referred to it as, “a time-consuming, blood-sucking, heart-wrenching, love-filled process.” Nothing can make us slow down more than making the effort to dig into the lives of those around us. With all the temptations to program everything we do in the church, discipleship forces us to set all of that aside and build relationships that are directed to Christ. I would say that discipleship is the output of a life that is slowed down and loving Jesus. As one of my mentors often says, “our smartphones are liars.” They tell us that everything can and should happen instantaneously, but not so in God’s economy, or should I say, not so in true reality.
One of the many things that I appreciate about 9Marks is how dedicated they are to upholding the importance of the church. That was evident in all that we heard for the two days of the conference. I am hopeful that God can work into my heart and mind, these themes and others that we heard at the conference. No pastor desires to start off and point themselves towards unfaithfulness and ineffectiveness. I pray that God will use what I was able to take in throughout the future of my ministry.
If you weren’t able to attend or livestream the conference, I would highly encourage you to check out the session videos at the link below: