By Elizabeth Prata
The Shepherds’ Conference is a conference held at California’s Grace Community Church hosted by its pastor-teacher John MacArthur. It has been going for 20 years, annually, with 2021 the lone exception. For two decades it has hosted thousands of pastors, teachers, leaders from around the world who travel there to be encouraged with like minded laborers, to learn more of Jesus (being preached TO is something these men don’t receive often, being the ones who preach), and to be served by eager volunteers who want to host these weary ministers of the word, rejuvenating them before returning them to the battles they face.
The men who come enjoy it, the servers who serve enjoy serving, and I, as a watcher on the sidelines, am also encouraged by this conference. Ever since I began watching it in 2007, I am mightily moved by scenes from the conference. I don’t know why THIS particular conference moves me so, but it does. Maybe because I have been edified over the years by John MacArthur, Phil Johnson, Paul Twiss, Don Green, and many other teachers at Grace Community Church. Maybe because I rejoice in the word of God being preached so well and to so many.
Seeing this photo moved me to tears today:
The earnest pastor hunched over the place where truth winds from Bibles from mouths to ears…the eager listeners with pens in hand and open Bibles, receiving the pure word, reviving their hearts and minds. I’m moved because there are SO MANY pastors in that audience- a sea of heads and hearts inclined to Jesus. Because they represent SO MANY churches where people have been saved and are being saved. How great is God.
I’m also moved in the other direction when I see that photo, sadness, because while we have the joy of hearing the word and exalting Jesus because of it, SO MANY don’t know Him! There are myriads of lost, their hearts gleefully exulting in sin and darkness as they go about stumbling toward death. They do not know the wrath of God hangs above them like a heavy storm cloud about to break over their heads.
Amid all the Twitter hoo-hah from detractors arguing about ShepCon, I think the grumps and crankies mainly forget that this conference, as with others like Ligonier, G3, Truth Matters, etc, that for attendees hearing the word, returning with a strong resolve, a better walk, a higher grasp of the Word, we multiply the sheep. Ultimately we are about our father’s business. Most days, we can’t see it. We gather in our local churches once a week, see our friends, hear the sermon, and scatter back to work on Monday, doing our best to live the Christian life.
When we’re lifted out of our small sphere to see all those men gathered at the Shepherds’ Conference, men who are husbands, pastors, grandfathers…making the huge effort in time and money to attend a conference with such superlative preachers…it’s moving. It’s a reminder that we are out there in force, pleading with souls to repent. It makes me feel joy to see visibly the pastors who otherwise I’d not know about. They are all trophies of grace the Lord has given the world. Rejoice in that!
MacArthur is a man who has preached steadily for 53 years. Nary a blot on his name. He has given the gospel to thousands, millions even, if you count the radio ministry. His MacArthur Study Bible is seen in the hands of an African preacher walking barefoot down a rural dusty path amid the elephants. It is seen in the hands of a pastor preaching truth in the Arctic circle on a tiny rock of an island in the Faroes, and everywhere in between. Thousands of men have been trained up by MacArthur, his men, and the seminary and sent as milkweed seeds into the rare places and the busy places and the common places, with the sole intent of bringing Jesus to the lost.
Who wouldn’t be excited for a ministry like that, and conference coming out a ministry like that? I am. The Lord always leaves a remnant. He is great and His promises are sure.