ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–Churches and pastors must rally around the cry for God — not themselves — to accomplish great things across the country and around the world, speakers said during the 2010 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference, June 13-14 in Orlando, Fla.
Under the conference banner of “Greater Things,” speakers during the Sunday evening and Monday morning sessions challenged pastors to honestly evaluate themselves, their churches and the denomination with humility and repentance.
LEAVING A LEGACY
“If we as Southern Baptists don’t know where we are, then we sure don’t know where we’re going,” said David Uth, pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, during the conference’s opening session. Knowing where we’re going is crucial in leaving the next generation “a convention that is committed to the Great Commission,” Uth added.
Using the Apostle Paul’s farewell to the Ephesians in Acts 20:19, Uth said humility, brokenness and suffering are the ingredients required in leaving a legacy.
“One of the things that breaks my heart is when I hear a church talking about their ministries and all they’ve done,” Uth said. “Let me tell you something, if you’ve done anything worthwhile, you didn’t do it. Your Father granted it from heaven. Give Him the glory. God gives grace to the humble.”
In addition to recognizing that God is the source of great accomplishments in churches, Uth exhorted pastors to be broken for and weep over those who do not know Christ, as well as prove themselves faithful amid trials.
‘PORTRAIT OF A DYING CHURCH’
Preaching from Revelation 3:1-6, Steve Gaines, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., presented a “Portrait of a Dying Church.”
Gaines told the story of a grandfather who caught a snapping turtle while fishing. He had to cut its head off to get it off the fishing line. Tossing the shell aside, his grandson saw it begin to move. He asked his grandfather if the turtle was still alive even though it did not have a head. The grandfather replied, “No, it is dead. It just doesn’t know it.”
“That’s funny if you are talking about a turtle,” Gaines said. “It is not funny if a Christian or a church is dying and doesn’t know it. It is not funny if a denomination is dying and doesn’t know it.”
Churches are not excited about their ministry like they once were and members “dabble instead of do,” Gaines observed. It is time for churches and the Southern Baptist Convention to wake up, Gaines said. “There are still people who need to hear the Gospel.”
Gaines mentioned that while he supports the proposals of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, what is really needed is “a red-hot, Holy Ghost revival from God.”
FAITH THAT ENDURES
Ravi Zacharias, known for his work in comparative religions, cults and philosophy, brought a message from Genesis using examples from the life of Joseph to encourage pastors to be men of all seasons.
The India-born scholar mixed personal anecdotes and humor as he urged attendees to avoid temptation, endure through difficult times, refrain from abusing the power of their position and display a testimony of character.
“If you violate God’s law, you will end up in disillusionment, disfigurement and destruction because the seduction of the lie is that it distorts reality while it is disfiguring the soul,” Zacharias said. “What is the grounding of your belief in your resistance to temptation? Is it the fear of other things, or is it because of the deep conviction that you know only in serving God is your ultimate fulfillment as you’re one of His in thought, in word, and in deed.”
The biblical character Joseph showed the testimony of his character while living in a contradictory culture, Zacharias noted. He added that unless others see the Gospel in believers, it will not be heard.
“The testimony you and I carry is a testimony that reflects from the very character of God,” Zacharias said. “I plead with you, as we look at opportunities around us, it is the endurance of faith that triumphs over the day.”
‘BECOME KINGDOM PEOPLE’
Like a team of referees in a football game, the church of Jesus Christ on earth is not here to take sides between earthly teams but to represent the interests of heaven, Tony Evans, pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, reminded pastors in the closing message June 13.
Instead, with few exceptions, churches have been “drawn in to take sides” and “missed the Kingdom,” Evans said, thereby perpetuating divisions caused by such things as race and politics.
For example, most Southern Baptists would vote Republican based on rightly placed concerns about certain moral issues, Evans said, but most of those at the National Baptist Convention, a historically African American group, would lean to the Democrat Party because they perceive that it values social justice issues.
Depending on the issue, sometimes Christians will necessarily come down on one political side or another, but the Kingdom’s agenda must always dictate one’s loyalties, Evans said.
Noting that “the church of Jesus Christ is supposed to be a little bit of heaven, a long way from home” in the same way an American embassy represents the United States abroad, Evans said the church’s influence has been nullified because it has misunderstood its calling.
Citing Matthew 16, where Jesus told Peter that he would build His church on Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ, Evans said the best exegesis of the text connotes a collection of stones “hewn together.” In the same way, the church must be hewn together around “a common cause, a common impact.” If that were to a happen, Evans contended, there wouldn’t be both Southern Baptist and National Baptist conventions. Communities would be transformed, he said.
Christian convictions, not culture, must define God’s people, he said. “It is high time we become Kingdom people,” representing the “King’s kids on the field of play.”
CHANGE OF PERSPECTIVE
Speakers Monday morning charged pastors with keeping their focus on Christ and the Gospel as they humbly serve their congregations. In the opening session, David Landrith challenged pastors not to “lose sight of greater things.”
Landrith, senior pastor of Long Hollow Baptist in Hendersonville, Tenn., noted it is easy to lose sight of greater things when one’s perspective is not where it needs to be.
Basing his message on Psalm 73, Landrith noted the psalmist was going through a difficult time in his life because he had an earthly perspective. When the psalmist went “into the sanctuary,” he gained a heavenly perspective. God did not change the psalmist’s situation; the psalmist’s perspective changed, Landrith said.
Landrith challenged pastors to keep in mind that the world is lost and that “our assignment is to get out the word that Jesus saves.” He encouraged pastors to meet God at a place of worship and to exchange “your earthly perspective for a heavenly perspective.”
‘NO SMALL CHURCHES’
Ken Whitten, pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla., cited King David’s unrealized dream of building a temple for God to encourage pastors when they feel discouraged.
As a member of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, Whitten said he and other members are often asked, “What are you doing for the smaller church?” He assured the pastors no one on the task force “looks at smaller or larger.”
“There are no small churches in God’s Kingdom,” Whitten said. “Compared to the lostness of America, every single pastor of the GCRTF pastors a small church, and none of us have the right to swagger or stick our noses in the air.”
Citing 2 Samuel 7, Whitten said people err in judging a man or ministry by “using the wrong measuring stick.” Questions about the number baptized, the amount given to the Cooperative Program, church attendance and staff size invites comparison and then covetousness and criticism, he said.
“Leadership is not just what is done with the hands, but also what is done with the heart,” he said, citing 2 Samuel 7:4. “God is the only master I know who pays as much for the ambitions of your heart as the achievements of your hands. God keeps the books and the hours.”
Matt Chandler, lead pastor of The Village Church in Highland Village, Texas, centered his message on the Gospel as presented in 1 Corinthians 15. Noting that many churches are “primarily evangelism-oriented and not depth-oriented,” Chandler said the Gospel affects not only one’s justification but sanctification as well.
Many churches and Christians have fallen into “moralistic deism,” which at its basic level points to behaviors that must be performed and/or avoided in order to receive the love of Christ, rather than to the atoning work of Christ on the cross, Chandler said.
Using D.A. Carson’s concept of “grace-driven effort,” Chandler explained there are two weapons found in God’s Word that grace provides: the blood of Christ, specifically described in Ephesians 2:13, and the promise of the New Covenant, found in Hebrews 9:13.
Grace-driven effort attacks the roots of sin in one’s life and not the branches, Chandler noted. “The heart is the issue, not the external actions,” he said.
Chandler also said the mark of maturity in a Christian is shown when a person runs to Christ — and not away from Him — when sin is revealed in his or her life.
After Chandler’s message, SBC Pastors’ Conference President Kevin Ezell asked Chandler to share about his recent experience of being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Originally given a prognosis of two to three years, Chandler said he believes God has already healed him. Presently, no evidence of new cancer cells can be found and rigorous chemotherapy is doing much to destroy the current cancer, Chandler said.
Likening his faith to that of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Chandler conceded: “If He can, He will, and if He doesn’t, I still win.”
Ezell ended in a time of prayer for Chandler and for others at the conference who were facing life-threatening illnesses.
‘PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR SOUL’
C.J. Mahaney, former pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md., cautioned pastors about losing the wonder and joy of pastoral ministry.
Pointing to 1 Peter 5, Mahaney, who now leads Sovereign Grace Ministries, cited the Apostle Peter’s exhortation to early church elders to serve one’s church willingly, rather than “under compulsion.”
“The weekly repetitive activity can wear down the once-willing preacher,” Mahaney said. He listed factors like minimal response to sermon after sermon, the lack of discernible difference in people’s lives, hospital visits and funerals and close friends who burn out and leave the ministry.
“You lose the wonder and joy of pastoral ministry,” Mahaney said. “You find yourself serving under compulsion, not willingly serving. You wonder what it would be like to do something different.”
Mahaney urged: “When there is diminished gladness, eagerness and willingness, I plead with you to pay particular attention to your soul.”
To maintain the joy, pastors “should purpose to please God in private” and “purpose to build a culture of joy in their church.” As the Scripture points to an “unfailing crown of glory,” pastors should live their lives in anticipation of their reward in heaven.
“What a day that will be!” Mahaney exclaimed.
Mahaney, who is not a Southern Baptist, also expressed his gratitude to Southern Baptists for being a people committed to the Gospel through their churches and seminaries. He noted the profound influence the denomination has had on him, including the faithful witness of a Southern Baptist friend that led him to Christ.
During the Sunday evening and Monday morning sessions, Pastors’ Conference attendees also heard brief challenges from SBC President Johnny Hunt and North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear, both representatives of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force.
Compiled by Keith Collier, with reporting by David Ettinger, Lonnie Wilkey, T. Patrick Hudson, Jerry Pierce, Carolyn Nichols and Shannon Baker.