COLUMBUS, Ohio (BP) — Pastors and churches must humble themselves and pursue a closer walk with God if they want to experience His peace, joy and purpose, speakers said at the 2015 Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference in its first two sessions June 14-15.
The conference, focusing on the theme “He Must Increase” from John the Baptist’s statement in John 3:30, precedes the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
Speakers in the Sunday evening and Monday morning sessions included:
Dean Fulks, lead pastor of LifePoint Church in Columbus, Ohio, in the opening message of the conference June 14, used the story of Jonah to illustrate the need for pastors to live with repentant hearts.
Sometimes pastors may mistakenly believe that God is waiting for them to step out of line so He can clobber them, Fulks said. But a biblical picture is found in Romans 2:3, where Paul writes that God’s kindness is what leads to repentance.
“God will be glorified by my life. God will be glorified by your life,” Fulks said. “Either through my joyful obedience or through my rebellious disobedience … God will be glorified.”
As God didn’t give up on Jonah, Fulks said He wouldn’t give up on pastors even on their worst days.
“Jesus took on His shoulders the wrath of God — not just of the sinners that fill our pews but the sins of those of us who fill the pulpits,” Fulks said.
Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, challenged pastors not to fear shifting cultural tides in America but to allow the Gospel to frame their mission.
“[T]he temptation we are going to have is to move into that changing culture with a lack of confidence and with a spirit of fear,” Moore said. As the culture has abandoned Christian views on morality, he reminded pastors that God is not surprised and that Christians have been on the “wrong” side of culture before.
“Maybe God is interested right now not so much in getting America in line with the church as God is interested in getting the church out of step with America,” Moore said, calling Christians to serve with convictional kindness and hold out the Gospel as the only hope for everyone.
“Remember that the power of the Gospel is able to reach, … transform, … [and] turn around any heart,” Moore said, “and we must have the confidence to go into any culture with that message.”
Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., said he believes the SBC is living in “a day of broken favor and broken union,” similar to the two staffs called “Favor” and “Union” cut by the Old Testament prophet Zechariah (Zech. 11).
“We lose favor when our lives are for sale at any price,” Traylor said. “A people who understands that their sins have been paid in full are not for sale at any price, but I’m fearful some of us as pastors … may sell out.”
Sharing how past Florida Baptist Convention presidents recently gathered together and described their state convention as “divided, divided, divided,” Traylor asserted, “We stand in need of God’s favor because we stand in need of being united together as the body of Christ.”
Traylor said he believes there are two “gluesticks” that glue Southern Baptists together: doctrine, through Scripture, ordinances and mission; and dollars, through the historic Cooperative Program.
Pointing back to Florida, Traylor shared about the newly elected executive director Tommy Green’s pledge to draft a budget to send 51 percent of CP gifts to the Southern Baptist Convention for international and national causes, and to keep only 49 percent within Florida for Baptist missions and ministries, beginning in 2016.
Traylor appealed to state convention workers for unity, asking them to move more quickly to 50/50 giving, as championed by the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force in 2010. He also spoke out against the “shared ministry” option in which state conventions retain a certain percentage of CP receipts to pay for CP promotion and other shared SBC costs.
Christ alone satisfies, and ministry both locally and globally overflows from a relationship with Him, Vance Pitman said during the opening of the Monday morning session of the Pastors’ Conference, June 15.
“As Christ has increased in my life, I’ve realized that God’s primary call on my life is not ministry,” said Pitman, pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas. “It’s intimacy.”
Calling attention to Luke 4:42, Pitman noted that Jesus “walked away from ministry to pursue intimacy with the Father.”
“Some of us are too busy with ministry to pursue intimacy,” he said, warning that such a lapse in intimacy may come with dangerous consequences.
“Every man that had an affair in the ministry first had an affair with the ministry that took him away from intimacy with Jesus,” Pitman said.
But intimacy with Christ overflows with ministry, he added. According to Mark 3:13-14, Christ called the 12 apostles first to “be with Him” and then “to preach.”
“Out of the overflow of being with them,” Pitman said, “He was going to make His life public through them.”
Christ’s increase in a minister’s life, Pitman said, means that they are called not only to a church, but to a city. Ministers who gain a heart for the city “develop a passion to multiply the church” and “a passion for multicultural expressions of the Gospel,” he said, which in turn connects the pastor with God’s global Kingdom work.
Pastors should take peace in the presence of Christ rather than be troubled by the distractions of technology and conflict, Virginia pastor Drew Landry said.
“Peace is so hard to maintain in our lives as servants and followers of Jesus Christ because we’re easily distracted,” said Landry, treasurer of the SBC Pastors’ Conference and senior pastor of Spotswood Baptist Church in Fredericksburg.
“For some of us, if we’re honest, technology has become our master. Technology is a great servant but a horrible master.”
Preaching from John 14:27 in which Jesus encouraged His disciples to find peace in times of trouble, Landry shared from personal experience about the sabbatical he took in late 2014, his first in nearly 30 years of pastoral ministry. Landry said he noticed how difficult it was for him to rest because of the distractions of technology that result in exhaustion and loneliness.
“Every now and then we need to stop and disconnect from busyness and reconnect to our Savior Jesus Christ and see the significance of what is right in front of us so that Jesus can increase and we can decrease,” Landry said.
Landry encouraged pastors to take breaks from technology and remember the saving work of Jesus in their lives during time of stress.
“Peace is what Jesus gives because peace is what Jesus is,” Landry said. “Give your best time to Jesus and not technology, so that He may increase and you may decrease. Before you hear a message from anybody, hear a message from God.”
Landry filled in for pastor and author Paul David Tripp, who was scheduled to speak at the conference but was prevented due to weather conditions from Philadelphia to Columbus.
David Uth, pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., urged conference participants to turn from casual Christianity to a willingness to die for the cause of Christ.
Citing 2 Timothy 4:6, Uth noted that the apostle Paul, in his last days, spoke of having been “poured out like a drink offering” for the cause of Christ, referring to the Old Testament practice when a priest pours a sacrifice on the altar until the last drop from the container was gone.
Uth cautioned against pouring one’s life on the altar of one’s ministry or the altar of the denomination, noting only one altar is worthy — “pour every drop you’ve got on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Uth introduced Rifqa Bary, a young Sri Lankan woman who drew international attention when at age 16 she ran away from her Columbus, Ohio, home, turning her back on 150 generations of her parents’ Muslim faith to profess Christ as her Lord and Savior.
Even after surviving numerous foster homes and a diagnosis of terminal cancer, the young woman is a prayer warrior, Uth said. She tells her story in the book, “Hiding in the Light: Why I Risked Everything to Leave Islam and Follow Jesus.”
“If Jesus is going to increase,” Uth said, “We have to decrease by pouring everything out on the altar for Christ.”