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Strong family themes resound at annual SBC Pastors’ Conference

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–Calls for families to seek Christ and turn away from worldly desires were issued by a bevy of Southern Baptist pastors and evangelists during the June 11-12 Pastors’ Conference at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.

In conjunction with the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Cooperative Program, the Pastors’ Conference adopted the CP theme, “Partners in the Harvest.”

Pastors and evangelists delivered messages based on themes relating to a harvest in personal lives, homes, churches and the world.

Jerry Sutton, pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church, Nashville, Tenn., and president of the conference, said, “We wanted to create a family atmosphere at the conference. This was like a good, old-fashioned revival, and the spirit of the Lord moved through the place.”

Along with a host of special musical guests, speakers included Ken Freeman, Rodney Gage, Jim Henry, Johnny Hunt, James Merritt, Adrian Rogers, Jay Strack, Jerry Vines, Ken Whitten and Hayes Wicker.

Ken Whitten, pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church, Tampa, Fla., delivered a strong defense of families, arguing that Christians have compromised their beliefs.

“We no longer believe in the sufficiency of Scriptures,” Whitten said. “Our problem is that we have not built a counter culture. We have built a parallel culture. The world has its rock music. We have Christian rock. … Where is the line in dating? Where is the line in movies? Where is the line?

“I’m not looking for a line,” Whitten continued. “I’m looking for a gap, a place where we aren’t going to compromise God’s Word.”

James Merritt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Snellville, Ga., and the only announced nominee in this year’s SBC presidential election, reiterated the theme of family ties by urging pastors and laymen to take responsibility for the welfare of their families.

“God knew what he was doing when he put man at the head of the house,” Merritt said. “Our greatest problem is not in the White House. Our greatest problem is in our house. We’ve got a problem in the home … fathers who abdicated authority to be the spiritual leader of the home.”

God said to “fortify the family,” Merritt said. “The way you do that is by faithful followers. If we don’t have godly fathers living godly lives, building godly homes, rearing godly children, it won’t matter who rules this nation.”

Merritt said the number one responsibility for fathers and grandfathers is to see that their children and grandchildren establish a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Jim Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church, Orlando, welcomed pastors to his city before encouraging believers to involve themselves in a “harvest of souls.”

He said a harvest of souls requires personal holiness among Christians. Preaching from 1 Peter 1:13-21, he said he wants to become more like Jesus and less like Jim Henry.

“The Word of God calls God’s people to be identified with the world,” Henry said. “Our holy God calls for us as a holy people to engage our society so that they might see the difference between night and day.”

Henry called materialism and lust two big problems for pastors.

“It’s very important that we have a code of conduct etched in our hearts so when we’re tempted we do not fall into that temptation,” Henry said. “The safest place in the universe is to have our arms around the neck of God. The holiness of God should drive us to him.”

Evangelist Rodney Gage of Fort Worth, Texas, urged parents to reach the next generation by reaching their teenagers. “The secret to reaching the next generation, I am totally convinced, rests in the hands of their parents. Without question, parents are the single most powerful influence in the lives of their children. “We need to put back the broken pieces of our families. Jesus Christ is the only hope the next generation has to put the pieces back together again,” Gage said. “It’s up to both parents and grandparents.”

Evangelist Ken Freeman of San Antonio, Texas, said churches today are losing battles because they have lost their passion for bringing people to Jesus. Passion is a mission that always produces either hate and darkness or love and light, he said.

“The Columbine High School massacre, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Wedgwood Baptist Church shooting, they were all because of a passion for hate,” Freeman said. “But Rachel Joy Scott [one of the students who died at Columbine] is a hero of the faith because she was passionate for Jesus in her school and passionate for the Word and for fellowship.”

Reading John 9:35-36, Freeman pointed out that Jesus felt compassion when he saw how distressed and dispirited the people were.

“When you see people the way Jesus sees them, you’re going to feel what he feels and you’re going to take action,” Freeman told the pastors. “And while passion for Jesus isn’t always going to please everybody, people will follow passionate leaders.”

Adrian Rogers, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, Tenn., sounded a similar theme in his message on leadership for pastors.

“God’s shepherd is called an elder; second, he is called to feed the flock; and he is a bishop,” Rogers said. “If you are a man of God, God-called, God-anointed, God-appointed, I’ll tell you what you are: You are an elder and you are a shepherd and you are a bishop.”

Rogers noted, “Our leadership model is the Lord Jesus Christ. … “I tell young pastors to ask God to make them mature men.”

Evangelist Jay Strack of Orlando, Fla., emphasized the importance of vision and a biblical foundation.

“I believe that 22 years ago, we [conservatives] made a historic stand. I would even suggest we made a heroic stand to say we believe in the Bible, we believe God’s Word and we stand right here,” Strack declared. “That’s who we are. We have declared where we stand and what we believe in a day and age when many denominations are putting their finger in the air to see exactly what they believe. We said we’re going to stand with the Bible.”

Strack challenged believers not to leave the conference without seeking a personal vision. “No idea that you or I could humanly conceive could ever out-shape the plan and vision that God has divinely created for you and me,” Strack said.

Hayes Wicker, pastor of First Baptist Church, Naples, Fla., and chairman of the Resolutions Committee at this year’s SBC annual meeting, charged the conference to shift from the prevalent postmodern view of the world to a Christian worldview.

A “worldview,” Wicker said, is one’s method of critical thinking that “examines everything in this world system.”

He described the postmodern worldview as “nothing matters” in contrast to the Christian worldview of “God is who matters.”

The Christian worldview also addresses the issue of evil, Wicker said. “Right and wrong are determined by a holy God and not Mother Earth.”

Johnny Hunt, pastor of Woodstock Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta, challenged pastors to join in a missions effort to reach the world for Christ. “God has allowed us to join him locally and globally,” Hunt said.

Preaching from 1 Corinthians 16, Hunt said, “We’re never more like Jesus than when we are giving.”

Other Pastors’ Conference speakers included Jerry Vines, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fla.; Chuck McAlister, senior pastor, Second Baptist Church, Hot Springs, Ark.; Curt Dodd, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Merritt Island, Fla.; Steve Gaines, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Gardendale, Ala.; Al Meredith, senior pastor, Wedgwood Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas; and Fred Wolfe, evangelist, Mobile, Ala.

Karen W. Willoughby, Shannon Baker, Bryan McAnally, John Boquist, Jennifer Davis Rash, James Dotson & Mark Kelly contributed to this article.

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  • Todd Starnes