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Elliff, at Southern, addresses effective ministry, CP, Disney

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Warning of the inherent dangers of chasing “success” in ministry, Southern Baptist Convention President Tom Elliff challenged pastors to pursue “effectiveness” instead in a Sept. 16 message at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Elliff, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla., was the featured speaker at Southern Seminary’s first-ever Pastor Appreciation Day on the Louisville campus of the denomination’s oldest seminary. About 220 pastors from Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio joined the seminary community for chapel worship, a luncheon and a slate of seminars and activities, climaxing with a question-and-answer forum with Elliff.
At the pastors’ forum, Elliff pronounced confidence in the SBC Cooperative Program in spite of a Baptist General Convention of Texas study committee recommendation to reconsider the state’s relationship with the national body.
Churches and individuals who support moves such as that of the BGCT committee are a distinct minority, Elliff contended, adding the health of the denomination is more accurately measured by the large numbers of churches increasing their giving to Cooperative Program causes. Comparing the situation to a local church, Elliff noted, “People in your church vote in several ways, and one of the least significant votes is in business meetings. Their most important vote is their continued faithfulness, attendance, their giving, their support and their soul-winning.”
Similarly, he argued, “Southern Baptist churches are giving strongly. They’re faithful. They’re sending students to seminaries like this.”
Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr., praised Elliff for “redefining” the role of SBC president, especially in his representation of Southern Baptists to national media regarding the convention’s controversial boycott of The Walt Disney Company.
Though popular sentiment plays no role in defining evangelical convictions, Elliff said public reaction to the boycott has been surprisingly friendly to Southern Baptist concerns. Since August, Elliff has received approximately 1,000 letters a week on the boycott, with the ratio of correspondence running 5,000 letters in support of the boycott for every three that oppose it, he said.
“People have had it,” he said. “What Disney is doing is dumping stuff in the front yard of America that is diminishing the moral value of our nation.”
Corporations such as Disney which provide insurance benefits to “domestic partners” will unwittingly destroy the insurance industry in the United States, Elliff argued, by stretching the definition of family to incredible and unworkable lengths.
“If you can say, ‘I believe a family is two men,’ what’s going to keep them from saying, ‘I believe a family is three men’ or ‘I believe a family is two men and one woman’ or ‘I believe a family is two men, two women and one something else?'”
The catastrophic health consequences which follow “aberrant lifestyles” may also prove to be an untenable burden on the insurance industry, Elliff said.
In a chapel message based on the first verse of the Book of Romans, Elliff preached that effectiveness and success are not necessarily synonymous in the work of ministry.
“If you want to be successful, you’ll be thinking about the size of your church; effective, you’ll be thinking about the certainty of your call,” he asserted. “If you are just thinking about success, you’ll always be rejoicing in numbers. If you want to be effective, you’ll be trying to remember names.”
Elliff contrasted the man-centered, success-oriented pastor who “thinks he influences more people than he does” with the God-focused effective minister who “influences more people than he thinks he does.”
Though not viewed as a success, “none of us can question whether the Apostle Paul, author of the Romans epistle, was an effective minister of the gospel,” Elliff said. “The shadow of his ministry falls across this auditorium this morning.”
Effective ministers must be confident in the sovereign control of God, Elliff said, pointing to the significance of Paul’s self-identification as a “bond slave” of Christ. Such trust will evidence itself in “battle scars.” Some ministers, he remarked, have as “their primary goal in the ministry just keeping from getting hurt.
They are observers of the times and seasons in their church to the extent that if they feel that something is coming up that’s really going to be a challenge that it’s time to start asking their friends to recommend them someplace else.”
The example of Jesus ensures the goal of ministry is not “to get through life unscathed;” the lordship of Christ compels the minister to an obvious self-denial, Elliff said. “It is one thing for Jesus to come to this earth to suffer and bleed and die on a cruel and ignominious cross. It is another thing for ministers to sit around in conference centers and figure out how much money they can make telling that story.”
Effective ministers are also distinguished from the successful by their profound awareness of the immutable nature of God’s call, Elliff said.
Ministers who turn aside from their calling should realize all other pursuits are “just something else.” The effective also prove themselves to be content with the perimeters God has drawn around their lives. “He didn’t give you somebody else’s ministry,” Elliff said, but the one to which ministers are currently serving.
Elliff expressed delight over the “unbelievable day” of conservative resurgence on the campuses of Southern and the other five SBC seminaries.
No institution has made as dramatic a change as Southern Seminary, he asserted. “I thank God for you, the trustees and Dr. Mohler and his wonderful leadership.” He told seminarians during the afternoon forum, “Every one of our seminaries is just breathing the rarefied air of exuberance. God is sending us ‘Green Berets’ to our campuses. You guys, as someone said, arrived with knives in your mouths ready to do battle for the Lord Jesus!”
“Learn Christian doctrine” was the advice Elliff had for young ministers and seminarians in the pastors’ forum. “Part of the problem we have had in the Southern Baptist Convention is that we have a generation of preachers who did not learn doctrine,” he said. “If you don’t get systematic theology planted in your heart, when you go to your church you’re going to talk to them about things that are about as significant as cotton candy.”
Elliff recommended pastors awake early for prayer and Bible study, both individually and with their wives. “I do not know one man of God who has been effective for God who did not get up early in the morning and spend time with God,” he said.
“We’re in the battlefield and it’s tough,” one pastor remarked to Mohler during the forum. “We need this type of thing,” the pastor said of the day-long event at the seminary. Mohler reminded pastors of their open invitation to the campus throughout the year.
Mohler reiterated plans to make Pastor Appreciation Day an annual event of the seminary. “If Southern Seminary does not produce, by God’s grace, an army of pastors who will go out and preach the inerrant and infallible Word of God, and be faithful evangelists and missionaries and shepherds of the flock, then we have failed and this campus is nothing more than a beautiful pile of bricks,” he said.
“If we are not, as a seminary, a place where pastors come for edification and encouragement and fellowship with other like-minded, like-convicted pastors who are out serving in the churches, then we likewise have failed.”

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  • Russell D. Moore