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Pastors focus on missions, adoption

ORLANDO (BP)–Under the banner of “Greater Things,” speakers during the June 14 afternoon and evening sessions of the 2010 Pastors’ Conference — held at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla. — focused on the Great Commission and the launch of a national campaign to help pastors adopt children.


Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., urged the assembly to fix their eyes on Jesus and follow His example. He used the example of a marathon, echoing the author of Hebrews, to teach on the necessity of focus and endurance to finish the life of faith.

Teaching from the text of Hebrews 12:1-3, Akin said, “The Christian life is not the life of a sprinter, but a long-distance race requiring steadfastness and endurance.”

The text teaches believers to find encouragement as they run the race, to focus on the essentials as they run the race and to follow the example of Christ Jesus as they run, Akin said.

Southern Baptists are called to increase the great cloud of witnesses spoken of in Hebrews 12:1, Akin said.

“I believe God calls us to add to this great hall of faith,” Akin said. “I believe what we’re doing as Southern Baptists, focusing on the Great Commission, is about adding to the hall of faith people of every tribe, tongue and nation, that we might be about expanding the business of God and growing this great hall of faith.”

Receiving encouragement from other believers, however, is not enough to enable believers to run the race well, Akin said. They also must focus on the essentials, ridding themselves of encumbrances and running confidently and with endurance.

Most importantly, Akin said believers must follow Jesus, who “for the joy set before him, endured the cross.”

“The race is not over and the finish line has not been crossed,” Akin said. “We must guide our people to fix their eyes on Jesus and to run with endurance and without hindrance that race God has put before us -– that is, adding to the great hall of faith people of every tribe and every tongue, for the glory of King Jesus.”


Francis Chan, author of “Crazy Love” and former pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, Calif., shared his desire for a deeper experience in his walk with Christ.

He confessed that he missed those days when he just read the Bible, just spoke to God and just looked people in the eye and shared with them about Jesus.

“I am losing some of this intimacy and I don’t want to,” said Chan, adding, “I don’t want to be Francis Chan, the guy who wrote, ‘Crazy Love.’… I actually want everything of Jesus, even the suffering.”

Chan, who recently left his pastorate to pursue a deeper intimacy with Christ, shared about 23 Korean missionaries who were imprisoned by the Taliban. Facing death, the Koreans experienced a deep level of intimacy with Jesus. After their release, those who survived confessed they wished they could go back.

This type of fellowship is only found in the midst of suffering, Chan said. Even the Apostle Paul, in Philippians 3, longed to know the power of Christ’s suffering and resurrection, he noted.

“I just want to go back to that simplicity of following Christ. I just want to experience His power,” Chan said.


No matter how orthodox one’s theology or how favorable his opinion of Jesus, unless one is converted from a self-centered life of sin to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, he will not receive salvation, said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

Addressing the imperative, mystery and theology of conversion, Mohler cited the story of Nicodemus in John 3 to demonstrate the centrality of conversion in Scripture.

“We come to understand that conversion is so central to our theology that it must be in every sermon,” Mohler said. “It must be in every church. It must be always the confession of the church, that we are not the ones born merely, but twice born by the promise and power of God and by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Mohler noted that while Jesus had many conversations with theological liberals, Nicodemus, as a Pharisee, was a world-class conservative. Although Nicodemus was positively disposed to Jesus, he quickly learned that was not sufficient to be saved, Mohler said.

“I want you to notice something about the New Testament: Jesus turns out not to be favorably disposed toward those who are favorably disposed to Him,” he said. “Being favorably disposed to Jesus is simply not enough.”


David Platt, senior pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., shared four reasons he believes why Southern Baptists are obligated to sacrifice their lives, churches and convention for the 6,000-plus people groups who have yet to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“Every unreached person on this planet has knowledge of God … even if they haven’t heard the Gospel, they have seen His nature,” Platt said, focusing on Romans 1:18, which says God reveals Himself so people are without excuse for refusing to acknowledge Him as God and give thanks.

Platt posed the often-asked question about the innocent guy in Africa who had not heard the Gospel: Would he make it to heaven? “My confident answer to you, based on the authority of God’s Word, would be, ‘I believe he will undoubtedly go to heaven,'” Platt said. “The problem is that this guy does not exist! If he were innocent, he would have no need for heaven. There are guilty people all over Asia and Africa, and they need the Gospel.

“If people go to heaven precisely because they never had the opportunity to hear about Jesus, then the worst thing we could do for their eternal state would be to go them and tell them about Jesus,” Platt said.

God’s plans warrant the sacrifices of His people, Platt added.

Noting the progression of the proliferation of the Gospel in Romans 10:12, Platt said people will be saved when Christians share the Good News. In Revelation, multitudes from every tribe, nation, people and tongue are seen worshipping Jesus — even from the hardest people group on this planet. “That’s confidence worth risking one’s life for!” Platt said.

“It will take sacrifice” for 40,000-plus Southern Baptist churches, six seminaries, 1,200 associations and 41 state conventions to come together to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, Platt said. “We would have to throw aside our Christian spin on the American Dream,” he said.


The program also featured the launch of a national campaign to help pastors adopt children (www.sbcadoption.com). Ezell, who initiated the fund, hopes to raise a $1.5 million endowment in order to match the first $2,000 a pastor raises to adopt a child. Pastors’ Conference attendees gave a $26,000 offering toward the fund.

The first adoption grant was awarded during the June 14 afternoon session. Buff and Cissy McNickle, a Florida couple who adopted twin boys, appeared on stage. Buff is a minister at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Fla.

“Adoption is not God’s Plan B ever. Adoption is always God’s Plan A, if that’s what He’s called the family to,” Cissy McNickle said during a short video that told their adoption story.

Ezell, whose three adopted children are from China, Ethiopia and the Philippines, also presented the McNickles with an unexpected $10,000 check from the ministry partners who sponsored this year’s conference. The money will be used to offset the cost of adopting the twins.

An African choir, the Watoto Children’s Choir, helped bring awareness to the overwhelming number of orphaned children and vulnerable women in Uganda, whose lives have been ravaged by war and disease.

Russell D. Moore, dean of the school of theology and vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, called attendees to view adoption and orphan care not as a charitable effort, but as an extension of the Gospel characterizing churches that are serious about the mission of God.

Preaching from Romans 8:12-23, Moore said God’s adoption of spiritual orphans should be a life-shaping reality.

“God has said to us that every single one of us was isolated and alone and spiritually fatherless and we have a Father who rescued us from that and a Father who has given us a Gospel that is enough to say ‘whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved,'” Moore said. “If we believe that and if we have received that then we should picture and show that, including to the fatherless children of the world.”

Moore -– who has adopted two boys from Russia -– said the freedom believers have in Christ should cause them to groan for the lost in the world, including orphans.

“[The Apostle] Paul says ‘do you see the freedom here, do you see the promise of what you have waiting in glory?'” Moore said. “He says that, because of the glory that is to be revealed we groan, and we groan for the world, with the world. Paul is inviting Christians who have already received the Gospel … to receive others as they have been received.

“Adoption and orphan care is not charity; adoption and orphan care is not another denominational program,” Moore said. “Adoption and orphan care is spiritual warfare, because adoption and orphan care is about the Gospel and about mission.”


The Southern Baptist Convention membership is shrinking and aging, but there is hope for churches to change and engage in transformational ministry, said Ed Stetzer, research director of LifeWay Christian Resources.

At the request of the Pastors’ Conference leadership, Stetzer presented data from LifeWay’s Transformational Church research project.

In late 2008, LifeWay Research began gathering data that would form the basis for the Transformational Church initiative. Several rounds of quantitative and qualitative data-gathering from 7,000 Protestant churches revealed seven key elements commonly found in transformational churches.

“The discovery of everyday churches transforming lives gives us hope because they are on a mission we can all join,” Stetzer said. “And, make no mistake, it is critically important that we join.”

Stetzer presented research on two areas where Southern Baptists have expressed widespread concern: conversions and attendance. Although several elements of the Transformational Church process proved to be statistically correlated with higher conversions and attendance, Stetzer focused on “vibrant leadership,” saying, “You are the leaders, and you have to equip and model for our churches -– but you cannot lead what you do not live.”

Stetzer explained that the data are encouraging in that they show a connection between successful church ministry and the outcomes that could alter trends of decline in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Also during the Pastors’ Conference:

— Michael Catt, pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., the makers of “Fireproof” and “Facing the Giants” promoted the church’s next movie, “Courageous.”

The movie will tell the story of four police officers and their journey to be better fathers, Catt said. It will show the consequences of fatherless homes and what a home with a God-fearing father can look like.

— Officers were elected for 2011: Vance Pitman, president, senior pastor of Hope Baptist Church in Las Vegas; Dean Fulks, first vice president, lead pastor of Life Point Church in Columbus, Ohio; and Mike Holcomb, senior pastor of Iron City Baptist Church in Anniston, Ala., treasurer.
Compiled by Shannon Baker with additional reporting from Lauren Vanderburg, Garrett E. Wishall, Micah Carter and Brooklyn Noel Lowery.

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