In late March, the Timothy Conference (TC) completed its first circle around the OPC. From Escondido to Chicago, Charlotte, Philadelphia, and back to Escondido, the conference has been hosted by OP churches with nearby Reformed seminaries. Over the last four years, the OPC has invested about $50,000, encouraging ninety-six young men to consider whether the Lord might be calling them to the ministry. That is a significant investment, though it represents just 2 percent of the Christian Education budget over that time.
“So how’s that TC thing workin’ for ya?” is a question that we are starting to get. And it’s a good one. How is the Lord answering our prayers? Is he using the TC to draw young men into the gospel ministry? In answering these questions, it is important to remember that the “cedars of Lebanon” that flourish in the courts of the Lord are not grown in a day, or at a single conference. More importantly, we must remind ourselves that the gifts and calling are from God. As we pray that he will raise up more workers for the harvest fields, we also acknowledge that the whole harvest belongs to him. We will be content if the TC is one of many means that the Lord uses to spark a recognition of his gifts and calling in the lives of these young saplings that attend the conference.
Actually, it is a bit too soon to assess the conference’s impact on the OPC. Those who attended in 2008 are just now entering the years when they would be attending seminary and coming under care of their presbytery. Several have done just that. It is easier for us to assess the more immediate effectiveness of the conference by what we hear from the young men who have attended and from the ongoing interest shown by sessions nominating them to attend.
River La Belle, from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, summarized well this year what we have heard from others: “This conference has truly been life-changing in regard to my plans for the future.… I am very eager to serve in my church and presbytery as extensively as possible to build up the kingdom of Christ in whatever small ways I can, and prepare for the ministry. The TC has been a great blessing in other ways too. The fellowship I have had, both with speakers, the seminarians, and the other young men, has been extremely uplifting, inspiring, and encouraging in my own walk with God.”
It would be good to emphasize what the seminarians brought to the 2012 conference. At each TC, we have tried to have OP seminarians mingle with our “Timothies,” but this year we had our most effective interaction. Timothy Cho and Geoff Downey were among six Westminster students who were particularly helpful in sharing their personal reflections. Tim and Geoff are both under care, and Geoff will begin a yearlong internship in September. So from firsthand experience, they could explain how the church and their seminary education have helped to bring together, and strengthen in their hearts, the internal and external nature of the call to the ministry.
As Joel Carini said, “I was most challenged by considering the gravity of what it means to be a ‘steward of the mysteries of God’ … ‘rightly handling the word of truth.’ Pastor Keele’s insights about the many ways a pastor must image Christ—in proclaiming the word of truth, in loving people sacrificially, and even in suffering for the sake of the glory of God—have required me to begin to count the cost of what it would mean to become a minister of the gospel.” It was indeed very helpful to see young seminarians living the challenge that was set before the conference attendees through the lectures delivered by Zach Keele, Michael Babcock, Dave Crum, Danny Olinger, and Dave VanDrunen. They were living examples of the content of the conference lectures!
Thinking of the return on our investment, we do see immediate fruit, as exemplified in a pastor’s words of thanks for the 2012 conference: “I wanted to tell you that the Timothy Conference had a profound effect on my son. He came back with a much clearer idea of what it means to be called to the ministry. He told me that while he doesn’t yet know whether God would have him serve as a minister, he does think that God is doing something very significant in his life. He committed himself to two things: to having a closer walk with Christ, and to knowing the Scriptures more thoroughly.” We expect to be able to show you more in future years to come, and so we will continue to sow at the Timothy Conference.