I attended the Shepherds Conference for the first time this year (SC hereafter). Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA hosts this annual conference. SC had an impressive line-up of keynote speakers, including John MacArthur, Al Mohler, and Mark Dever. I want to offer several reflections on the conference related to the content, experience, and collegiality of the conference.
First, the content of SC was superb. The conference had general sessions and breakout seminars. The general sessions were outstanding. A general session by Mark Dever on Isaiah 34-35 and a general session by Al Mohler on Romans 1 proved to be personally enriching and the two best general sessions from my perspective. The conference offered a number of seminars so one could not attend very many of them. I attended a session titled “Small Church, Big Impact.” Unfortunately, it was broader that the title of the seminar so I went away a little disappointed. I would also add the music was great. One of the highlights from the music was the singing during the plenary meetings. There were over 3,000 conference attendees. The Grace Community Church worship center was packed. There were skilled vocalists that provided musical ministries as well as some different choirs. They all did a great job. But for me, it is tough to beat the sound of 3,000 men heartily singing.
Second, the experience at SC was outstanding. Grace Community knows how to put on this conference. They had over 750 volunteers working. These volunteers were sincerely welcoming, readily willing to serve, and graciously assisting in any way possible. Food was abundant, breaks were a nice length, and the schedule was full but not insane. A person who attends the conference is immersed in hospitality. The volunteers were efficient too. They made sure to keep lines moving to minimize wait times. This leads me to another observation. The conference was sold out. If there is a critique I would offer is that it was packed. Sometimes seating was hard to come by in the main sessions and the breakout seminars. However, this is probably more a reflection of the success and appeal of the conference. One of the memorable moments at the conference was when the power went out during John MacArthur’s general session. Evidently, this was a first in the history of the church. What did he do? He kept preaching. It was a great moment.
Third, the collegiality at the conference was phenomenal. This is a conference geared toward conservative evangelical pastors. This means that the vast majority of men at SC were like-minded on the larger issues. So it would be easy to meet a stranger and immediately have enough things in common to carry on a good conversation. However, I didn’t attend SC alone. I attended the conference with seven other pastors from Minnesota. The time spent with these men made the trip worthwhile. We stayed in a small house and just had a great time. We discussed ministry, associations, and any other topic entirely unrelated to the conference. We laughed hard and often. We spent some time in prayer. Incidentally, we experienced a 3.2 earthquake while we were praying. It was so Acts-like (cf. Acts 4:31). We also enjoyed some time at the Santa Monica pier and promenade. This trip strengthened our bond as brothers in Christ and fellow pastors.
In summary, the content of SC was superb, the overall experience at SC was outstanding, and the collegiality at the conference was phenomenal. This was a memorable trip. Conferences are like tweets on a Twitter feed, there are just too many to get to. SC is one conference I would love to attend annually, especially with my pastor brothers.
P.S. I want to mention the group of pastors who went from Minnesota (in alphabetical order): Joel Albright, Steve Brower, Greg Linscott, Matt Morrell, Dave Stertz, Micah Tanis, and Shad Vork. The time spent with these men had to be the highlight of the trip.