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Common Ground: Pastors share testimonies, advice

PHOENIX (BP) — Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, said he began his ministry as a street preacher who didn’t know anything about the Southern Baptist Convention.

Luter, a former SBC president, was one of four pastors who gave a “Common Ground Testimony” to encourage those in ministry during the SBC Pastors’ Conference meeting in Phoenix June 11-12.

“I was raised as a National Baptist,” he said. “Someone asked me if I would be interested in submitting my resume to Franklin Avenue Baptist Church. I put in my resume, but I was scared. I had never pastored; I wasn’t ordained; I hadn’t been to seminary yet. But a congregation of 50 people asked me to be their pastor.”

Luter told the audience that he was convinced that if they were faithful in four areas, God would bless their ministries. “First, be faithful to God,” he said. “God called you to ministry. Whatever you do in life, make certain you are faithful to God. When you stand in the pulpit, be faithful to God who called you.”

Second, Luter said, pastors should be faithful to God’s Word. “Preach it, teach it and live the word of God. If people are saved, it will be because of the Word of God. If your church will be evangelized, it will be because of the Word of God.”

Third, he said it was important that pastors be faithful to their wife and their family. “Brothers, pastors, your family is your first priority, not the church. The church is God’s church — it will go on with or without you. Be faithful to your family. Let the leadership know that your family is your priority. I promise it will make all the difference in the world.”

Finally, Luter advised pastors to be faithful to the church that called them. “When I went to Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, those people didn’t know how to pronounce my name, but I wanted to be faithful because they gave me a chance. Don’t go somewhere and say that you’re only going to be there a short while until something bigger comes along.”

Luter said he had no idea that one day his church would lead the state in baptisms, or that he would be elected the first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2012. “I am a living testimony,” he said. “Be faithful to God, and He will be faithful to you.”

J.D. Greear

J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church of Raleigh-Durham, N.C., called the debt he owed small churches “enormous.” Greear spoke of the impact a small church pastor had on his parents’ lives when, as adults, they came to faith in Christ. He said a small congregation allowed the pastor to provide his parents “life-on-life discipleship.”

“The pastor brought them personally into his life,” Greear explained, adding that the pastor modeled faithfulness in prayer and a heart for evangelism. “He poured his life into theirs.”

Greear said The Summit Church grew from a church plant that dreamed of reaching the world for Christ. Founded by a missionary waiting to go to the mission field, the small congregation’s dream appeared unmet for 40 years, he said. But he said God “grew the dream in his own time,” noting that his congregation marked its 227th church plant this year and is working toward a goal of planting 1,000 churches.

“Brothers, it is big faith — not big churches — that is God’s instrument to change the world,” Greear said.

He pointed to the small New Testament churches that made a big impact for the Great Commission. “They turned the world upside down,” Greear said.
He urged listeners to remember that “tomorrow’s champions” of the faith most likely are seated today in the pews of small churches.

“So, be faithful brothers,” Greear said. “Do the one thing we were all appointed by God to do and that is preach the Bible, God’s inerrant word, and make sure every man, woman, boy and girl in your town has a chance to hear and respond to the Gospel. And dream big dreams about how God can use your seeds of faith sown in tears and weakness and watered by faithfulness to transform the world.”

Johnny Hunt

Pastors are called to be models of evangelistic witness for their church members, said Johnny Hunt, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga. His pastoral experience has taught him that “whatever is important to the pastor is important to the people” so pastors should “model the ministry” they want their people to embrace.

Hunt described the third church he served as pastor and also the church where he was converted to the Christian faith: Longleaf Baptist Church in Wilmington, N.C. When he was called to pastor there, the church was running approximately 90 people on Sunday morning. He quickly decided to spend “most of his time on the field.”

Each morning in Longleaf, Hunt went into town, knocking on doors and asking people if he could pray for them. “As I sensed that God was opening doors, I would share the Gospel,” he said.

The church also rented space at a local skating rink for a Sunday morning Bible study.

Soon, Longleaf Baptist Church became the fastest-growing church in North Carolina and the first church in the state to baptize 200 people in one year.

“The greatest call on my life is not to be a pastor,” he said. “The greatest call on my life is to be a Christian. My relationship with Jesus propelled me to be a witness for Christ.”

Hunt described “a great need [for] Southern Baptists to get back to just bona fide soul-winning — to sharing the Gospel and knowing that the Spirit of God will honor the witness and proclamation of the Gospel in bringing people to Himself.

“May God bless Southern Baptists to once again become a soul-winning denomination,” he said.

Steve Gaines

As pastors worked their way through the book of Philippians during the 2017 Pastor’s Conference, SBC President Steve Gaines, pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., said the study has special meaning for him because his first sermon series as a pastor in Lake Dallas, Texas, came from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi.

Gaines brought a short message of encouragement to pastors based on his personal experiences in ministry. “Do whatever the Lord wants you to do,” Gaines shared. “Stay close and walk with Him.”

He urged pastors to be committed to their times of prayer, “If you really love the Lord, then you will talk to Him,” Gaines said. “Don’t talk about Christ until you talk to Christ!”

He also urged pastors to rediscover their own love for personal evangelism.

“The Gospel is not just for studying, it is for sharing,” he said. “We must encourage people, and persuade them toward the repentance of their sins.”

He concluded with a few simple words of advice for pastors. “Be a soul winner, be a prayer warrior, love your wife, love your children, and stay in love with your wife … because you get her back once the kids finally move out!” And, he added with a smile, “If I were you, I would not take Monday off. Don’t feel that bad on your own time. Take Friday off, you’ll feel better by then.”

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