John MacArthur’s Shepherds’ Conference for men in church leadership, which was expected to draw some 3,000 attendees to the megachurch in Sun Valley, California, next month, has been postponed due to “ongoing litigation" and "threats" from the state.
“In light of our ongoing litigation and recent threats from the County of Los Angeles and the State of California, we have decided that the most prudent course of action at this time is to postpone the Shepherds' Conference,” the church announced on the conference website and its social media platforms Friday.
“We will be deposing the key health officers and county officials and requiring them to answer for their oppressive actions under oath, and requesting all documents and information supporting their arbitrary attempts to restrict our religious liberty as a church. Our church leadership remains firmly committed to the truth that Christ is the head of the Church, and we will not yield to government's infringement upon the biblical command to worship and gather together,” the church continued. “We intend to steadfastly defend this truth and obtain appropriate constitutional and legal protections and further relief from the Court.”
The announcement comes a week after the office of California Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state would revise guidelines for indoor worship services after the Supreme Court granted an emergency injunction blocking a complete public health ban on indoor worship services but keeping in place restrictions on singing, chanting and a 25% limit on crowd size in place.
"We will continue to enforce the restrictions the Supreme Court left in place and, after reviewing the decision, we will issue revised guidelines for worship services to continue to protect the lives of Californians,” Daniel Lopez, the governor's press secretary, said in a statement.
Dr. Muntu Davis, Los Angeles County’s health officer, told reporters prior to the postponement of the conference on Friday that they were very concerned about the health risks that could arise as a result of the gathering at Grace Community Church, which has been holding worship services regularly.
“The county is very concerned about the public health impacts that could come from an event like this if it’s held, especially as we continue to see high case numbers and large numbers of people in hospitals who are sick with COVID-19,” Davis said.
“Sun Valley and the surrounding areas continue to have among the highest case rates of COVID-19 within the county, and have for some time,” he explained. “And a gathering of this magnitude will create additional opportunities for COVID-19 transmission, both to the people that attend this gathering and the other people in the community.”
Grace Community Church has repeatedly challenged health guidelines, citing God's command for gathering and religious freedom, amid the pandemic.
It was unclear Tuesday when the conference, which was set to take place March 3-5 and featured such speakers as Paul Washer, founder and director of HeartCry Missionary Society, and H.B. Charles Jr., pastor-teacher of the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church, would be rescheduled.
“I don’t know when the conference might be rescheduled,” Phil Johnson, Grace To You executive director and an elder at Grace Community Church who has spoken at the conference over the years, said in a response to The Christian Post Tuesday.
“The ShepConf team have graciously invited me to speak at the conference over the years, but I’m otherwise not involved in any stage of the planning or logistics for the conference. So I’m waiting like everyone else to see what changes might be announced, and I expect it will be a few days before the men in charge have sorted out the strategy for rescheduling,” he explained.
Johnson further noted that while many who planned to attend the conference are disappointed, they have also been “universally understanding.”
“We’re all bitterly disappointed and frustrated, with no end in sight for the lockdowns, but we nevertheless know the Lord is still sovereign and he will use even this for our good and His glory. So we remain joyful and press on despite the disappointment,” he said.
The mission of the Shepherds’ Conference is to provide the opportunity for men in church leadership to be challenged in their commitment to biblical ministry, find encouragement together and seek to become more effective servants of God.