A tradition that was interrupted in 2020 by COVID-19 returned this week as pastors from throughout the Midwest—and farther away—gathered at the First Baptist Church of Rockford, Ill., on Monday for the 18th edition of the Conference on the Church for God’s Glory.
I feel like I get two Memorial Days when I attend this conference, which is always held on the Monday preceding Memorial Day weekend. This was the second time that I attended the meeting, and exhibited at it, as a church ministries representative for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry.
The conference is aimed at church and ministry leaders, and consists almost entirely of full-length messages offered one after another. This year’s speakers included, interestingly enough, three seminary presidents. Those who taught, in order, with their topics, were:
- Dr. Jim Tillotson, president, Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary, Ankeny, Iowa—“The Pastor, The Church and Challenges Today.”
- Dr. Kevin Bauder, research professor of systematic theology, Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Plymouth, Minn.—“Creation, Sex and Gender”
- Pastor Glen Currie, assistant pastor, Maranatha Baptist Church, Clarkston, Mich.—“The Senior Pastor’s Last Five Years”
- Dr. David Doran, senior pastor, Inter-City Baptist Church; president, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, Allen Park, Mich.—“Missions and Planting Churches”
- Dr. Michael Harding, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Troy, Mich.—“Social ‘Just-Us’ and the Gospel”
- Dr. Matt Morrell, senior pastor, Fourth Baptist Church; president, Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Plymouth, Minn.—2 Tim. 4:1-5
It is evident that the focus this year, in particular, was on local church pastors—and on providing the encouragement and answers that they need for practical ministry in the midst of ongoing challenges.
Tillotson made that emphasis clear in the opening message, when he turned to 1 Kings 19 to draw lessons from the experience of the prophet Elijah to apply to ministers who have had to lead churches through the pandemic—with all of its attendant complications and problems. He set the tone with a shocking statement, saying that many pastors would have “no idea” how many people are in their churches right now—rendering the classic question often asked during such pastors’ gatherings meaningless.
All of the speakers addressed the group with a focus on making their Biblical material eminently practical, as well as thought-provoking. All of their messages are worthy of further study. Those interested in the conference can actually go back and listen to the audios of the messages from all previous years (this year’s have not been posted as of the time of this writing) at ccggrockford.org.
The purpose of a conference like this is not necessarily to learn something totally new as much as it is to be reinvigorated by hearing familiar truth in a fresh way. For some of these pastors, I am sure that the highlight of the day was an important and encouraging conversation that they had with someone—or the reunion with an old friend. For others, it may have been the robust singing of serious and traditional hymns reverberating off of the sanctuary ceiling—always a highlight of this conference.
And that leads me to my final point. There is much more that could be said about all that transpired on Monday, or about the history and purpose of this conference. But one item should be noted clearly: The name of the conference sets the tone for its entire emphasis.
Both First Baptist Church and this conference that it produces—which, I am sure, takes up a monumental amount of time and energy each year—are strongly dispensational in their theology. One does not necessarily need to agree with every point made by every speaker through the years of this conference to benefit from the basic conclusion that it drives home—namely, that dispensationalists are not lunatics or lightweights. Their worship need not be silly or slaphappy; their teaching should never be marked by sloppiness or speculation.
Rather, their ministries must befit the words of the Apostle Paul in Eph. 3:20-21:
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
The Conference on the Church for God’s Glory represents the genre of dispensationalism that I have known and loved, and that I aspire to uphold. These are the kind of sober-minded men that I desire to emulate in ministry.
Thus, in my mind, this conference helps me to set the tone for the season of service ahead. May the Lord allow it to continue to be so—for His glory.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Paul J. Scharf (M.A., M.Div., Faith Baptist Theological Seminary) is a church ministries representative for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, serving in the midwest. He also assists Whitcomb Ministries and writes for “Answers” Magazine and Regular Baptist Press. For more information on his ministry, visit foi.org/scharf or email firstname.lastname@example.org.