Confession: in nearly 13 years of ministry there’s only been one women’s conference I’ve attended that didn’t involve me speaking or leading worship. And that one time was over 10 years ago.
So, when my dear friend Beth nominated me for The Gospel Coalition’s Send-a-Friend contest in March, I began to seriously consider going whether or not I won free tickets. I’ve desperately needed a reprieve to help me focus and reorient myself to gospel conversations outside of my current context. To our surprise, both Beth and I won free tickets to the conference! Additionally, a generous church member found out we were going and paid for our hotel, gas, and food costs. This trip was literally going to cost me nothing.
I had planned to meet Beth in St. Louis to travel with a group from her church, but I was going to make the trip in my husband’s unairconditioned truck as he would need the van while keeping our kids. Traveling for 2.5 hours in the heat was not ideal, but I would make it work. I needn’t have worried. A wonderful couple from my church insisted I take their car, and sent me to STL in comfort and with plenty of coffee money in my pocket. I don’t know about you, but I was beginning to feel like God really wanted me at this conference. I was also feeling overwhelmed by the kindness of my brothers and sisters in Christ.
I’ve been skeptical of women’s conferences in general because the content seems to be too light, barely scratching any kind of theological surface. I’ve avoided conferences for this very reason. I’m not sure what my expectations were for The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference (henceforth, TGCW), but they were pretty high in that I felt starved for the break from normal routine and hungrily looked forward to whatever the fantastic lineup of speakers was going to give.
My first overall impression of TGCW was one of excellence.
In both theology and in practical organization, the entire conference was done with utmost excellence. Even the fact that there was a PopCon conference going on simultaneously at the Indianapolis convention center didn’t detract from the high caliber teaching and organization that went into this event. Exiting the main hall and mingling with Elsa, Elmo, and various superheroes only made the atmosphere more interesting.
Don’t believe me? Elmo was there.
What I think I appreciated the most, though, was that the entire conference—plenary sessions, workshops, worship, and focus gatherings—was soaked with Scripture and thus gospel-centered. The conference theme was Resurrection Life in a World of Suffering, and the truths from 1 Peter exposited by the plenary speakers were threaded through every break-out session. I attended three workshops and one focus gathering, and this is the most common evaluation I’ve heard from folks who attended many of the other workshops. I loved how intentional the speakers and organizers were in keeping 1 Peter in front of us at all times. I also loved that the book of 1 Peter was handled wisely and with excellence in each plenary session. The speakers for the main sessions each exposited the text with faithfulness and were as follows:
Kathleen Nielson | Born Again to a Living Hope | 1 Pet 1:1-12
Jen Wilkin | Living Resurrection Life | 1 Pet 1:13-2:3
Carrie Sandom | Remember Who You Are! | 1 Pet 2:4-10
Mary Willson | Following Jesus Far From Home | 1 Pet 2:11-3:12
Don Carson | Sharing Christ’s Sufferings; Showing His Glory | 1 Pet 3:13-4:19
Nancy Guthrie, Don Carson, K. A. Ellis, Mindy Belz, Nastaran Farahani | On the Persecuted Church | Panel Discussion
John Piper | A Shepherd and a Lion | 1 Peter 5
With that kind of lineup, you know you’ll be attempting to drink from a fire hose, and truly, in some respects, it was almost too much to take in. Almost. I wish every woman in my life had the opportunity to sit under such solid teaching that didn’t make much of the speaker but rather—made much of GOD.
Because here’s the thing—
I don’t need someone to stand at a podium and tell me how to be a good mother in five alliterated points.
I don’t need a complimentary monogrammed water bottle reminding me that I’m valuable.
I don’t need a rousing speech that makes me want to do more and be better, as though grace has no place in sanctification.
I don’t need a soul-coddling self-esteem boost, as though my sin is never an issue.
I NEED THE GOSPEL.
I need someone to open the Bible in front of me and 7,200 other women and tell us what the text meant when it was written.
I need to listen to men and women explain the depths of our sin and the greatness of a God who provided His own Son as payment for our sin.
I need the hard verses explained in a way that acknowledges that women have brains and can handle tough exposition.
I need to know that this Jesus upon whom I’ve staked my life and my eternity is going to be my hope and my perseverance when trials come.
I need to know that all that has been lost in this life will be restored in heaven.
I need to know that when suffering settles all over us and it looks like evil is winning, that God is still on His throne and that all wrongs will be set right.
I need truth that is hard to swallow but deeply nourishing.
I need direction in graciously embracing our unwelcome strangeness in a rapidly self-destructing culture.
I need to be encouraged that plodding along in anonymity can be precious in God’s sight.
I need to hear that the Bible is about God.
I need to be gently rebuked because I have refused to see the Church as Christ sees her.
I need to be reassured that the gospel that reconciles me to God can also reconcile me to others.
I need to be reminded that God can use the Church to heal church hurt and that emotional vulnerability is a self-sacrificing thing.
I NEEDED THE GOSPEL, AND I GOT THE GOSPEL.
The gospel isn’t just for salvation.
It’s for sanctification, too.
Once we move away from the centrality of Scripture, we move away from knowing God as He has revealed Himself to us, and then we’ve lost everything that matters. I’m so grateful that TGCW never moved away from the Word. If anything, all 7,200 of us were propelled toward knowing the Lord more deeply as we study the Word faithfully.
There are so many highlights I could share, but truthfully, I’m still unpacking my brain. I flip through the 21 pages of notes I took, and I wish I had written down every word I heard. My friend Beth and I tried to rehash what we’d learned in our hotel at night, and then I attempted to recycle it with my husband at home. But every time I’m asked and then try to explain what I learned, I get choked with tears because what stands out to me the most is Jesus, high and lifted up.
I’m trusting the Lord to apply the corrections I need while helping me to remember those encouraging words regarding His unchanging, sovereign, wise, loyal character.
What did I come away with from TGCW?
A bigger view of God, an urgency to know Him more through His Word, gratefulness for the delicately strong timbre of 7,200 female voices unified in praise of one Christ, compassion and renewed commitment to pray for my persecuted brothers and sisters across the globe, a heightened focus on the gospel, and conviction to share the hope that I have in Christ—the hope that will help me to persevere through trials because Christ has saved me from ultimate destruction.
I cannot thank enough the people who invested in my trip. I don’t want to name you here, because I know you’ll hate that. The Lord knows and He sees you.
All the sessions are available to watch/listen HERE.
*I loved the amount of diversity built into TGCW. Here is one of Blair Linne’s spoken word poems. She performed another right before John Piper’s sermon.
*Here is Jackie Hill-Perry’s talk on Loving the Church When it Hurts. This one was hard on me in the best way possible.
If you’re interested, I live tweeted during some of the conference, which was a new thing for me. One of my tweets landed on the TGC web page (you know, just helping them out with their marketing!), and a few of the speakers responded to my other tweets, most noticeably the ones about John Piper quoting 1 Peter 5 from memory and DA Carson making us all cry. Find me at Twitter to read through my conference tweets.
Next post will be a return to our series: Knowing God in His Own Words.