PHOENIX (BP) — The 2017 SBC Pastors’ Conference proved historic on many levels including the unanimous election of H.B. Charles Jr., pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., as the conference’s first black president.
The election took place during the afternoon session of the conference at the Phoenix Convention Center, June 12. In addition to the historic nature of the officer elections, this year’s lineup of speakers included pastors of smaller to average-size Southern Baptist churches preaching through the book of Philippians.
Charles was nominated by Ken Whitten, pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Fla., who said, “I want to be real clear about one thing — I am not nominating H.B. Charles because of the color of his skin. I’m suggesting that he be the conference president because of the character of his soul and the convictions of his spirit.”
Whitten shared about Charles’ pastoral ministry experience and commitments to the inerrancy of Scripture and expositional preaching, adding, “All of this has given H.B. a vision of what every Southern Baptist pulpit can look like, when we make Jesus Christ the central figure of our preaching and the cross the central factor of our preaching.”
There were no other nominees, so current conference president Dave Miller asked the crowd to vote by standing and cheering, and the entire auditorium erupted in applause.
Steve Swofford, pastor of First Baptist Church in Rockwall, Texas, was nominated by Bart Barber of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, vice president for the 2018 Pastors’ Conference, and was elected unopposed. There were no nominees for secretary, so Miller explained that per the rules of the conference, Charles would be able to appoint one.
Monday afternoon and evening Pastors’ Conference sermons follow:
Speaking on Philippians 2:19-30, Jamar Andrews, lead pastor of Word Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ark., highlighted Timothy and Epaphroditus as examples of Christians who lived lives worthy of the Gospel.
Andrews said that in the passage that the apostle Paul uses the lives of Timothy and Epaphroditus as illustrations of how followers of Christ should live.
“When we think about what Christ has called us to, we must make sure that our agendas match His and that our interests match His,” Andrews said.
“Timothy had a mind, attitude and disposition that kept Jesus Christ and His interests first.”
Andrews said character is “one of the most important assets we have as a messenger of the Gospel…. We want people to see that the message that we share is also the message that we live.”
Every person has three tongues, Andrews said — one in our mouth and one on each foot.
“The reality is that when we think about character, the one that’s in our mouth must be saying the same thing as the ones that are on our shoes,” Andrews said.
“Whenever we preach the Gospel we want to make sure that we don’t unsay with our lives what we say with our lips,” he said.
Andrews said the ministry of Timothy and Epaphroditus shows that God remembers even small things done in His name. It also shows us that ministry can be costly, as it almost cost Epaphroditus his life.
“Even though ministry is costly and ministry is difficult, God’s mercies are new every day,” Andrews said.
Preaching from Philippians 3:1-11, Jose Abella, pastor of Providence Road Baptist Church in Miami, exhorted attendees, saying, “We must be a people that pursue gospel clarity.”
The son of Cuban immigrants, Abella described the first time he visited Cuba in 2013 and saw a river that flowed through the rural farming community where his parents had lived.
“What I saw amazed me. The clarity of the water,” he said, “was truly a sight to see.” Three years later when he returned with his wife, however, the water was “murky and full of debris.”
“I wonder if the river of the Gospel that runs through our churches and convention flows with such beauty and clarity,” Abella said. “I wonder if there’s any debris of legalism, antinomianism and everything in between blurring Gospel waters.”
We are always one generation away from losing the Gospel, he warned. Therefore, “it is of vital importance that we get the Gospel right,” Abella said.
“If we’re not careful, we can fall into the trap of assuming the gospel instead of pursuing the gospel,” Abella preached.
“If the Gospel is not before us, it most definitely will be behind us,” he said. “And if it ends up behind us, we will end up with a diluted gospel that is no gospel at all. If the Gospel loses its clarity, it will lose its redemptive beauty and power.”
Gospel clarity, he said, “protects us against heresy, grounds our confidence in Christ alone and saves sinners and exalts the Savior.”
Spencer Plumlee, pastor of Riverview Baptist Church in Osage Beach, Mo., continued in Philippians 3, working through verses 12-16, where Paul discusses striving toward the ultimate goal of eternal fellowship with God in Heaven: “forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.”
“Conversion is not the finish line,” Plumlee said. “Conversion is the starting line in this race.”
Plumlee said the passage calls believers to an urgency in their work, an urgency to live each day as if it is their last.
“Pastor, is that the Gospel you’re presenting to your church?” he asked.
“Are you presenting a Gospel that calls them to victorious urgency? My fear is that we stop at conversion and talk about people’s future without addressing the present life God has called us to live now. This victorious urgency is not just for the super spiritual; it’s not just for the pastor or missionary; it’s for each and every one of us.”
“There is an obsession these days with leadership and not followership,” said Michael Allen, pastor of Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago, Ill.
“Yet, there are at least twice as many scriptural references to followership than there are to leadership.”
Preaching from Philippians 3:17–4:1, Allen said those verses show that there are two imperatives to followership: 1) In verse 17, Paul exhorts the people to join in — to become like him as he follows Christ. 2) In the same verse, Paul says to pay attention, or to scope out other saints who are already living according to the example of other saints.
“Paul is not talking about a program for your church,” he said. “He’s talking about following godly people. It’s not about borrowing a sermon or a song you got at a conference but by being influenced by those who are worthy of being imitated.”
Allen said that when he was called to preach 27 years ago, he was part of the college and career class taught by Susie Hawkins at First Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale. He asked the pastor, O.S. Hawkins, how he knew he was called to preach.
Hawkins looked him in the eye and said “Michael, if you can do anything else in the world and be happy, then do it. But if you can’t be happy unless you’re preaching, then it may very well be that God has called you to preach.”
Allen, who at the time worked as a field service computer technician, said he had listened to Hawkins for years exposit whole chapters of the Bible. He watched O.S. and Susie relate to each other, and he watched as they raised their daughters to be fine wives and mothers.
“He’s always left me with some kind of personal encouragement,” he said.
“So now, I always try to give a word or a touch of encouragement to others…. Be a Paul to someone else. No one becomes a great leader without first being a great follower.”
Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, delivered a message from Philippians 4:2-9, calling for God to raise up more peacemakers in Southern Baptist Churches.
Noting that the entire letter to the Philippians speaks to the value of gospel partnerships, Barber said, “There are two ways that you can lose partnership in the Gospel. One way is to lose the Gospel…. But even if you retain the truth of Scripture and the authority of Scripture and the reality of the Gospel, you can still lose a partnership for the Gospel if you fail to protect the spirit of partnership that enables people to cooperate for the cause of the Gospel.”
In this passage, Paul names people in the church who were causing problems, and he calls out the peacemakers in the church to bring reconciliation.
He explained that much of the conflict in Southern Baptist churches is not simply because of the presence of conflict but rather because of the absence of peacemakers.
Barber said if pastors are going to call people to be peacemakers in the church, then they are going to have to teach them how to do it effectively by training their manners, emotions and thinking.
“The lie straight from hell that plagues our churches is that we think if we’re going to be mannerly, we can’t make anybody’s business ours,” Barber said. “We see trouble in church, and we say, ‘Y’all take care of that. Good luck.'” But, he said, Paul challenges the church in Philippi to step in and help bring harmony in the body of Christ.
Peacemakers must also be prepared for the emotional difficulties that come with peacemaking, choosing to rejoice in the face of conflict, and to think well of all the parties involved.
Ultimately, Barber said, pastors must set the example of peacemaking.
“Oh, friends, our churches perish for a lack of peacemakers,” Barber pleaded. “Our marriages fall apart because Christians gather around, and instead of telling us to work things out, they tell us that we can just bust things up. Institutions struggle because of the problems we have with conflict.
“But the beauty of peacemaking is that it’s something that Christ has promised will receive a blessing — blessed are the peacemakers.”
The conference came to an emotional end as conference leaders gathered in prayer around Shane Hall, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Del City, Okla. Hall, who suffers from the relapse of an incurable strain of stomach cancer, closed the two-day study of Philippians from the benediction of Paul’s letter with the simple message, “All we need is Jesus.”
Hall said this closing passage contains one of the most often misused and misapplied verses of Scripture — “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). But the driving theme of this letter, and of Paul’s life, was a total reliance on the person and Godhood of Jesus, who makes everything in life, the good times and the bad, bearable. “For Paul, all he needed was Jesus.”
But the cancer-embattled pastor emphasized Paul’s contentment and total reliance in Jesus did not come without a price.
“How did Paul get there? How did he get to the place that Christ is enough?” Hall asked. The answer, he said, is found in the iconic verse 13.
“Paul learned it in the school of contentment,” he said. “That is not a school that we want. Why? Because in the school of contentment we learn that Christ is all we need — not when we have much, but when we have little. Not when we have everything, but when we have nothing. When things have been stripped from us and we are at life’s worst circumstances, that is when we learn to be content in Christ alone.”
“I don’t want to be in the school of contentment. I don’t like it,” Hall said. “I have to ask every day, is Christ enough for me? Can I truly say that all I need is Jesus?”
“My plans have been brought to utter ruin. What I thought I was going to do for His Kingdom are all gone at this point. I feel like all I am doing is trying to stay alive and survive so I don’t leave my wife and daughters.
“When God brings these things into your life — it is not coincidence, but providence. Life gets real simple real quick. It becomes Christ and Christ alone. The reality is this, all we need is Jesus.”