ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–Bob Stith teared up when he looked around the room after a news conference at Exodus International’s 28th annual conference in Orlando. It is his ninth year to be directly involved in ministry to former homosexuals, and he regrets not having become involved earlier.
Stith, pastor of Carroll Baptist Church in Southlake, Texas, told the Florida Baptist Witness in an interview that he has made up for lost time. Two years ago, Stith made a motion at the Southern Baptist Convention that would generate what has become a meeting of minds of SBC leaders on the issue of homosexuality and how Southern Baptists can equip churches to minister in this area.
In June at the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix, an eight-member task force formed by LifeWay Christian Resources and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission urged the churches of the 16-million-member convention to “make themselves available to God’s leading” in beginning ministries to reach “all the precious men and women for whom Jesus died.”
In Orlando, preparing to lead conferences that help facilitate interaction between Exodus and church and pastoral ministries, Stith said he “felt good in some small way” that he has been able to help bridge bring together the SBC and Exodus.
In 2001, Stith said he thought he was “spitting into the wind” with his motion and even told others that. He was a small town pastor, convicted in the middle of a sermon years earlier that he was preaching on the issue with little regard for the redemption God offers.
“I asked myself, if someone who struggled with that heard me preach, would they come to me for help?” Stith recalled. “And I knew instantly that they wouldn’t, not if they were in their right mind.”
Convinced he didn’t know enough about the issue and burdened to find out more, Stith said he turned to Exodus for information and began to attend their conferences in 1995.
“I began to feel in my heart that this is going to be a watershed issue for the church and we weren’t prepared for it,” Stith said.
He said his wife believes he is “much more compassionate” after being involved in Exodus. He said he’s been “humbled” but also convicted that many pastors and church leaders who could be helped by Exodus in ministering to the community at large mistakenly think they must personally know someone struggling before they seek information.
After nine years, Stith said he is proud of the SBC’s providing a mechanism for the churches to “stand in compassion and truth.”
“I was so moved,” he said in describing the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix where the task force, of which he was invited to be a part, declared to the world that Southern Baptists were interested in ministry to homosexuals.
“I knew that it was God because basically I’m a nobody in the convention. I knew it was a God thing,” Stith said. “We were, through the task force, able to bring focus on what Exodus is doing.”
SBC entities’ cooperation with ministries like Exodus and Tim Wilkins’ Cross Ministries will prevent duplication of ministry efforts and provide for a forum in which leaders can learn from one another, Stith said. An example of that was Exodus’ presence in the exhibit area at the SBC in Phoenix. “It was a huge thrill to see this happen,” he said.
“I have just wanted to give back to them in some way,” Stith said of his role as facilitator between Exodus and the SBC.