LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – The final Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference, taking place April 19-21, has prompted many Southern Baptists to reflect on the conference series’ impact on evangelical Christianity as well as their own personal lives.
The conference brings together people from a variety of conservative evangelical denominations, who experience the same preaching, sing the same songs, hear the same panel discussions, attend the same breakout sessions and receive the same free books.
T4G has taken place every two years in Louisville, Ky., since 2006 with the exception of 2020, which was a fully online event. It has grown to thousands of attendees from more than 25 denominations hailing from every state and more than 60 countries.
This year’s conference, previously announced to be the group’s final event , opened with a video clip from the first T4G gathering in 2006 featuring Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Washington, D.C., and cofounder of T4G.
Dever explained the purpose of the event was not to put together a lineup of well-known speakers, but rather for fellowship with other Christians of different traditions.
“We have our differences and that will be obvious at this gathering … but we thought it would be edifying for the Kingdom of Christ if you all would meet each other,” Dever said in the clip.
“We want to encourage you to get to know other evangelical, bible-believing Christians in your town, city and area. We wanted to have a conference like this in no small part to encourage different groups of conservative evangelicals who agree on the Gospel to meet each other and begin to get to know who’s out there. Hopefully this will encourage, model and instruct in that kind of cooperation. That’s what we pray and desire for you.”
Dever was among the group of four evangelical leaders who founded the T4G event including Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; C.J. Mahaney, founder of Sovereign Grace Ministries; and Ligon Duncan, now chancellor/CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary.
With only Dever and Duncan participating in this year’s event, the duo decided this year would mark the group’s last gathering and gave it the theme: “Last Word: Come Together One Last Time.”
After the introductory video, Dever opened this year’s conference by reading from Ephesians chapter 4, where Paul speaks of the importance of the Ephesian believers to “maintain” unity with each other.
“The exhortation to ‘maintain’ implies that it will take work,” Dever said. “It takes work to be together for the Gospel. The together part of our name is an important point that we just want to underline for you as an important part of our witness to the Gospel and it takes work to maintain that. That’s what we’ve tried to do through this conference.”
Even though not participating in this year’s conference, Mohler told Baptist Press he hopes the unity and teaching promoted at the conferences will ultimately serve to build local churches.
“I hope the lasting impact of T4G will be confidence in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ … and I hope that the greatest impact of the conferences is strengthening pastors and local churches,” Mohler said in a statement to Baptist Press. “My great joy has been in seeing it used to do just that.
“I hope the lasting impact is there will be healthier churches and deeply convictional pastors who love the Gospel. The good news is thousands of people have come through all these successive meetings of Together for the Gospel. We hope they’ve been inspired by what has taken place in our conferences through the preaching and through the singing together; and they go back to their churches to serve the bride of Christ more faithfully. That’s what I hope the real legacy is.
“Together for the Gospel has been a very big part of my life, especially with the friends with whom I had the honor of organizing it.
“Together for the Gospel, in its happiest sense, has been exactly what it was named to be. I’ve grown ever deeper in my love for Christ and my commitment to the Gospel during the years of Together for the Gospel. I’ve also learned so much about Gospel friendship, not only with those whom we started this movement, but the thousands of people who have come.”
Many Southern Baptists attend the event and have been greatly impacted. One example is Aaron Swain, pastor of students and operations at Freedom Church in Lincolnton, N.C. Swain took his first ministry position in 2006, the first year T4G was held.
“Much of T4G has taken place over some of the most formative years of my life and my ministry,” he said. “So much of my time while in seminary and young in ministry was spent thinking about and reflecting on what I had heard at Together for the Gospel.”
Swain said the unity and friendship on display among different believers was an important part of his personal ministry journey.
“I believe T4G helped us learn a little bit about theological triage and theological humility,” he said. “There is always a brotherly or pastoral disposition that Mark and the others have that I think has really taught me how not be a jerk or want to fight. They are willing to defend their beliefs, but they don’t want to fight.
“I would encapsulate T4G as one long providence of God, a good gift from the Lord for me and my friends.”
Another Southern Baptist pastor deeply affected by the conferences is John Sypert, pastor of Preston Highlands Baptist Church in Dallas.
Sypert only started attending T4G in 2016, but usually brings a small group from his church as a way for them to fellowship and learn together.
He echoed the sentiment that cooperation for Christians extending even beyond denominational lines has shaped his worldview.
“We don’t have to agree on everything to have warm, sweet, joyful, biblical worship and fellowship together,” Sypert said.
“I have been in the SBC my whole life. I’m happy to be in the SBC and I love it, but it has been really refreshing to be a part of a larger group of Christians and realize that the Church does not stand or fall on the SBC. The Gospel is flourishing in different places across the country and across the world. It helped me see unity in the Gospel is a beautiful thing.”
Dever said during the conference’s opening night that T4G was always meant to be a temporary event, and he hopes the unity and relationships build through it will extend far into the future.
“There are a lot of people who see this conference as sort of standing for this kind of moment and the fact that it’s ending is an identifying marker of that moment ending …,” he said, “but I think that actually what has taken place here has succeeded.
“I think we have all observed lots of ‘Together for the Gospelness,’ well beyond this conference. A lot of relationships have been built that didn’t exist before, and hopefully the relationships will go even beyond individuals but into different institutions and churches for years to come.”