SAN ANTONIO (BP)–Southern Baptist pastors and other speakers prescribed renewed confidence in the power of the Gospel, abiding in Christ and personal holiness as remedies to the decline in baptisms across the Southern Baptist Convention during the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference June 10-11 in San Antonio.
James MacDonald, senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, Ill., reminded Christians they are the recipients of a Gospel of power, which they should proclaim boldly.
“The power of the Gospel is in the proclamation [of the message], not in persuasion. I want to stir within you the belief that the power is in the message itself,” MacDonald said. “We don’t need to lose our confidence in the Gospel or the Word of God because Jesus conquers stubborn unbelief.”
Citing a decrease of 7,000 baptisms in Southern Baptist churches from 2005 to 2006, Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., challenged pastors to recommit themselves to reaching people with the Gospel.
“The greatest need in the Southern Baptist Convention is not in the pew, it’s in the pulpit,” Hunt said. “If we’re giving more money and making less impact, then something is wrong in the pulpits of America.”
Hunt said Southern Baptists have no excuse when 22,000 churches failed to baptize anyone between the ages of 12 and 17 in 2005.
Michael Catt, senior pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., said individuals, local churches and the Southern Baptist Convention will be able to bear fruit if they abide in Christ.
“Jesus invited us to three experiences: come to me, follow me and abide in me,” Catt said. “Abide is not a passive word, it is an active word. It was the magnificent obsession of the early church to be in Christ. We can do more if we learn that the source of our power comes from abiding in Christ.”
Dwayne Mercer, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Oviedo, Fla., focused on the importance of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
“All these things are good, but I wonder sometimes if we are not accentuating the human side of the equation while neglecting the spiritual,” Mercer said. “I don’t ever want to be caught wrapped up in my personal ambition. I don’t ever want to be caught up in the things -— even the good things -— of this world so that I cannot pay attention to the Holy Spirit of God in my life.”
James 4 teaches that idolatrous desires in pastors’ hearts can prevent their prayers for the salvation of sinners from being answered, said J.D. Greear, senior pastor of Summit Church in Durham, N.C.
“There are two things that I try to hear God saying to me each morning,” Greear said. “First, I try to hear God saying you are my son in Christ. Second, I try to remind myself that I don’t need the world because I have everything I need in Christ.”
A lack of holiness is the cause of an anemic Christianity more concerned about a person’s physical appearance than their spiritual condition, said James Merritt, senior pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga.
Merritt, a former president of the SBC, said many churches are too concerned with “extra-biblical standards” about “what we think church should be like.”
“We should be consumed with a holy love,” Merritt said. “We ought to be holy because we’ve been converted by God.”
James T. Draper Jr., president emeritus of LifeWay Christian Resources, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources, shared personal testimonies about Christ’s victory in different aspects of their lives.
Sharing about Christ’s victory in spite of temptation, Draper said he learned his presumed strength was actually one of his greatest weaknesses.
“I was confident that I would never be immoral with another woman,” Draper said. “However, a young woman in my church began to take a special interest in me. I was her counselor and I was flattered at her interest. I thought I was not capable of being immoral. Then, one day God opened my heart and let me see what He saw. As I reflected about the state of my heart, I saw a disgusting, black reality and God showed me that I was capable of committing every sin. That was a life-transforming moment for me.”
Mohler discussed Christ’s victory in spite of pain in light of his recent life-threatening bout with blood clots in his lungs. Mohler shared several lessons he learned through his own bodily pain during his recent hospitalization.
“Our body reminds us of an incredible, sovereign God who made us,” Mohler said. “We also have a body that reminds us of the effects of sin and our need for grace. Lastly, we have a body that reminds us of eternity. Pain reminds us that we are not to be satisfied here. Our bodies are yearning for the glorification that will come [for believers] when Christ returns.”
Addressing Christ’s victory in spite of affliction, Hawkins talked about his grandson Jackson’s tragic eye accident last summer. Jackson, now 4, has undergone three surgeries after injuring his eye with a letter-opener.
Hawkins said pain can do what joy cannot. Although it initially leaves people in confusion, it ultimately brings them through confidence to comfort, he said.
Following Mohler’s testimony, Hayes Wicker, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Naples, Fla., and president of the 2007 Pastors’ Conference, set aside a time of encouragement and prayer for those in the audience suffering through trials, especially physical trials.
At the Pastor’s Conference prayer gathering in the morning, author and speaker T.W. Hunt of Texas called on the people of the Southern Baptist Convention to pray for a return to God-centeredness.
Elected as Pastors’ Conference officers for 2008 were Michael Catt, senior pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., president; Steve Dighton, senior pastor of Lenexa Baptist Church in Lenexa, Kan., vice president; and Roy Crowe, senior pastor of Highland Baptist Church in Laurel, Miss., secretary/treasurer.