As I pulled onto the historic Elizabethtown College campus in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, after my multi-day, 750+ mile journey, I was hit with an odd nervousness. I had signed up to attend the Banner of Truth conference on the mere knowledge of their reputation as a publishing company and the speakers who would set to address this gathering of pastors. I had no previous experience or companions to help me in this new environment, which led to a bit of aimless wandering as I sought directions towards registration and lodging.
At the end of my three day personal retreat at the Banner of Truth Conference, I walked away refreshed, encouraged and refocused on my calling to serve as a pastor. The three days included excellent preaching, reverent worship, new relationships and too many visits to the Banner of Truth bookstore.
I walked away with three personal reflections which highlighted the personal impact of this conference. These three reflections also serve as advertisements for others who are considering whether the Banner of Truth conference might be worth adding to their yearly calendar of conferences and seminars.
Banner of Truth is well known for its republication of classic Reformation and Protestant works. In a day of chronological snobbery and growing functional illiteracy, many classic Christian works which where treasured by the generations of the past are fading from memory. Banner of Truth is working to republish many of these works to ensure that they last for the generations to come.
Along the line of these classic works, the comment was regularly made by the conference speakers concerning the unique nature of this conference, which was a gathering of a particular group of people around a particular set of books. In the same stream of deep theological reflection and piercing pastoral application found in all of the Banner books, the preachers proclaimed the importance of the pastor as servants of Christ. Every message was gripping and pointed at the unique calling of the pastor as one who ministers in service to the church of Christ under Christ’s authority. The preachers examined the multiple perspectives on Scripture concerning the calling and requirements for serving as ministers.
There were two talks that I remember that particularly challenged and encouraged me: Alistair Begg’s second sermon of 1 Timothy 4 on Paul’s exhortation to Timothy and Dr. Mohler’s second sermon on John 15 on Jesus, his servant ministers and the world.
One can trust based upon the nature of the Banner books that the preaching will reflect the nature and depth of their published works at any conference one can attend.
The Banner of Truth conference has a different feel from many conferences pastors can attend today. Having attended conferences with over 10,000 attendees, it was quite different to see the first session gather with roughly 450 pastors. This greatly impacted the nature of the conference. Rather feeling like one individual in a sea of faces, I found myself regularly seeing and greeting the same people, whether in line for the salad bar or shoulder to shoulder looking at the newest Banner of Truth title. This led to many great interactions with different pastors and establishing new relationships with others in ministry. The conference intentionally focuses on helping pastors build relationships with others through shared boarding options, intentional breaks between talks and environments for fellowship instead of herding thousands of people in and out of large rooms and whisking away speakers to other engagements.
There was a unique unity in diversity at the conference. Everyone at the conference had a similar set of beliefs and convictions about ministry from the nature of the Banner of Truth books. Yet there was a great diversity in the education and denominational backgrounds with Presbyterians and Baptists from all across the country and the world. I was encouraged to see Baptist pastors serving in the Northeast area of the US and enjoyed meeting pastors from Ghana and Kenya who were preaching expositional sermons to their congregations and have been reading Banner of Truth books from before I was born. I established a great relationship with an older pastor who even encouragement me with the gift of a book and enjoyed discussing my theological heroes with a group of students and alumni from Westminster Theological Seminary.
The speakers even made themselves regularly available. They sat among the pastors under the preaching of the Word and were very approachable. One speaker made a passing comment which caught my attention which led a great extended interaction later that evening. In a day in which most pastors conferences are maxing out large facilities, it was encouraging and refreshing to be in an environment which supported relationships with other likeminded pastors across denominational lines.
The bookstore was outright dangerous. Every title was discounted and first time visitors were granted the ability for a special “Book Room Tour” which culminated with a number of titles at steeply discounted prices. Every session began with at least three book recommendations, which meant many trips to the bookstore and many calls to my wife.
In discussing a few titles with one of the speakers, I made the mistake of ending our conversation by asking if the titles in my hands were good choices to reassure myself of the potential purchase.
“If they weren’t good books, they wouldn’t be out on the floor.”
For anyone who is looking to build a theological library, it was very helpful to have the entire Banner of Truth catalog visible and available with the Banner of Truth staff floating around the bookstore to answer questions. First time guests will have the pleasure of the “Book Room Tour”, which lived up to the expectations set by the veteran Banner attenders concerning its discounts.
All in all, I left Pennsylvania rejuvenated and refocused for pastoral ministry. If you are looking for a pastors conference to attend with fantastic preaching, encouraging fellowship and excellent resources, I highly recommend marking your calendar for the next Banner of Truth Conference.
Jared Poulton (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Pastor of Children and Families at First Baptist Church Dublin, in Dublin, GA. He is married to Kerry Poulton and they have two children, Riley and Oliver. Jared and Kerry are originally from South Carolina. You can follow Jared Poulton on twitter at @Jared_Poulton, or see his personal blog at @jspoulton.wordpress.com.