The Banner Conference at Collaroy, Sydney, was held from 4-7 March, and there was a fine spirit among those who gathered which showed itself from the outset. A few weeks beforehand we were rather concerned at the low bookings, but, Australian fashion, late bookings happily multiplied, so that around 90 people came.
Attendance would be no doubt stronger at a day conference held near the city centre, but, as Allan Blanch reminded the gathering at the outset, a primary purpose of the conference is to build relationships, and that needs days together.
It is also true that participants will not come from afar for just a day’s conference, and we had people this week from various parts of this vast land, including Tasmania and Western Australia.
There was also a happy mix of age groups and nationalities. We have looked for more of the younger age group and there were a few more this year, including one Eritrean, converted in Australia and presently studying for the gospel ministry.
The Reformers’ Book Shop, Sydney, provided a large supply of Banner books and it was good to see how many were taken up.
The oldest member of the conference was Donald Howard, 87, author of the Banner titles on Grief and on Burial or cremation. He continues to be a stimulus to us all. His book, Preach or perish, published in Australia, ought to be better known than it is.
The conference began with a sermon on Christ risen, and it was an appropriate beginning. The three evening sessions were taken by Murray Capill, principal of Reformed Theological College, Geelong, on the subject of ‘Application in preaching’.
Although the conference is no longer pastors-only and male-only, the whole gathering valued these addresses on a very relevant need in preaching. We had not heard Mr Capill at the conference since he last spoke on Richard Baxter, ten years ago, and all were glad to see him again.
Speaking at the conference for the first time, but much at home in our midst, was Simon Manchester, who serves a North Sydney parish, and reaches roughly 100,000 by radio, every Sunday morning at 8.00am.
In two addresses, he spoke on the necessity of godliness in the church and on ‘steadiness for the long term’. His, and other addresses, were valued by men serving in small congregations, and his practical observations from his own ministry since the 1980s were relevant for us all.
Mr Manchester’s subjects dove-tailed with an address from Joel Radford, pastor of Drummoyne Baptist Church, Sydney, on ‘Liberating ministry from the success syndrome’.
With the hope of many years ministry yet before him, the conference was much encouraged to hear Dr Radford, and the reminder he gave us that faithfulness, not success, will come first in God’s judgement. He also directed us to valuable reading material by Kent Hughes and Jeremiah Burroughs: The divine art of Christian contentment.
In terms of lighting-up the meaning of Scripture, the exposition by Noel Weeks of the book of Judges will long be remembered. Not only did we see that book, and its characters, in a new way, but principles for the understanding of history were given.
Peter Barnes, who chaired that session, underlined the value of the two titles by Dr Weeks published by the Trust, Gateway to the Old Testament and The sufficiency of Scripture.
Variety helps in a conference and there were two sessions of a different nature this year. In one of them I sought to give a bird’s eye view of Puritan history from Tyndale to 1662, with a view to deepening interest in evangelical history.
In the other, Stephen Turner spoke under the general title of ‘India today’. Since the early 1990s, Mr Turner has combined his long pastorate at North Shore Baptist Church, Auckland, with an annual visit to South India.
With the co-operation of churches, he gathers young Tamil men and potential future leaders, and spends extended time with them. From this, long-standing relationships have been built up with these young men and pastors.
An unplanned addition to the conference, on the afternoon after Stephen spoke, was the showing of the film, The story of Amy Carmichael and the Dohnavur Fellowship. The large number who wanted to see this film, and the comments which followed, showed how much it was appreciated.