NEW ORLEANS (BP) – New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Jamie Dew kicked off the annual meeting for the Southern Baptist Conference for Associational Leaders with a stirring reminder to stay true to the Gospel despite the spiritual headwinds facing the American church.
“In our culture, at least in the South, in the buckle of the Bible Belt, you can kind of assume – or at least you could kind of assume – that there were certain moral norms, even certain religious norms that we assumed that perhaps we can no longer assume,” Dew said. “The government, the media, cultural forces of our day, with increasing strength, with every passing week, seems to rise up against, not just what we say, but who we are. I suspect increasingly more, for those of us who want to live the faithful life of Jesus Christ, it may begin to cost us.”
Dew preached during the Sunday morning worship service for associational leaders, which launched the conference. Ray Gentry, the president and CEO of the SBCAL, expects this year’s associational leaders’ meeting to be more than 40 percent larger than last year’s gathering in Anaheim.
“You all are on the frontlines, and you’re absolutely essential for kingdom work,” Dew said. “In and through the work of your hands, the kingdom is moving forward. There will be fruit eternal for all of them that stay with that work.”
Dew became NOBTS’ ninth president in June 2019. During his Sunday morning sermon, Dew noted he didn’t grow up planning to go into theological education. He shared his testimony of growing up in a divorced home, attaining a 1.6 grade point average in high school, and being arrested twice before God saved him at 18 years old. God then led him to study philosophy to equip him to share his faith with the non-Christians in his life, beginning a lifelong study of apologetics and eventually the journey of SBC theological education.
Anchoring his message in 1 Peter 3:14-17, Dew encouraged SBC associational leaders with five reminders about serving Christ in today’s world. First, he told attendees that it was an honor to suffer for Jesus’ sake.
“Perhaps we’ve not really had to [suffer for Jesus’ sake],” Dew said. “Perhaps this has been so absent from our life that it now feels counterintuitive to us. Listen to me. It might be counterintuitive to us, but it is not unbiblical. It is what the Bible tells us. It is precisely what it tries to prepare our minds and our hearts for. If we suffer for righteousness’ sake, we are blessed.”
Next, Dew told the associational leaders to love God more supremely than anything else.
“You want to get through the mess. You want to get through the fire, keep your heart in exactly the place it belongs. That is before the Lord, that He himself is our prize, our joy, our strength,” Dew said.
Dew urged associational leaders to make their love for God so significant in their lives that it’s more important than anything else.
“We’re really good at thinking well about our faith,” Dew said. “We are a people whose theology matters to us. Hear me please – yes and amen. We’re also really good at speaking out about stuff. We can protest some stuff – yes and amen. Can I tell you what I often fear though? That we’re not really good at keeping our affections for Jesus Christ.”
Third, Dew told attendees to remember to preach the Gospel to people. Referencing his experience preaching in a variety of churches, in an assortment of contexts, throughout the SBC, he says: “I don’t know if any of them are as evangelistic as our churches used to be. How about instead of us trying to point at somebody as a scapegoat, how about we all just get back to sharing the Gospel?”
Referencing 1 Peter 3:16, Dew then told his listeners to speak with gentleness and respect. He encouraged leaders not to choose between humility and speaking truthfully.
“Did you know that it is possible to be faithful and firm and kind and respectful at the same time?” Dew asked. “It’s not just possible, but it’s actually necessitated to us by the Scriptures. The message of the Gospel is already offensive enough.”
Finally, Dew told associational leaders to keep their consciences clean.
“One of the most effective strategies that the devil has to make us powerless and our ministries powerless is to get our hands, our heads and our hearts dirty,” Dew said.
The morning worship service concluded with a greeting to associational leaders from Chris Martin, the International Mission Board convention and network relations leader. Martin encouraged the associational leaders by reminding them of their partnership in the joint mission of the Great Commission.
“We know that in your role you hear and see a lot,” Martin said. “Our job is to serve you and assist you in any way that we can. We know that in today’s world, it’s a challenge for our churches to stay focused and to pursue the Great Commission. We have enough challenges around us. Let’s unite. Let’s come together as the Body of Christ. Our unity speaks to a lost world. The Gospel we preach changes that lostness.”