PHOENIX (BP) — Encouraging and edifying pastors via the preaching of expository messages from the book of Philippians, the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference kicked off Sunday (June 11) at the Phoenix Convention Center.
With the theme “Above Every Name,” the Sunday evening and Monday morning sessions focused on issues such as our dependence on Christ, hope and joy through adversity, finding identity in Christ, obedience, Christian unity, and beholding Christ’s name and example.
Leading worship throughout the Pastors’ Conference were Keith and Kristyn Getty.
In the opening message of the Pastors’ Conference, David Choi, pastor of the Church of the Beloved in Chicago, told the audience that he had been preaching for more than 20 years, beginning at the age of 19.
“My father was a perfectionist, so I tried to gain my father’s approval,” he said. “When I got to high school, I sought approval from classmates. When I became a Christian, I shifted that desire for approval to the church. I thought acceptance was connected to performance.”
Choi said that even when pastors seem like they’re godly from the outside, they all harbor sin.
“In those moments [that we sin], we are not godly, but He still proclaims us. God frees us to be honest about our sin and our hypocrisy. Your past does not define you. Christ’s past defines you. Because we are servants of Christ Jesus, we have peace that comes from Him.”
Preaching from Philippians 1:1-11, Choi said the Scriptures remind us that we can’t do anything on our own but that through God, we can accomplish anything.
“Every single day of my ministry I am reminded that I have [nothing] to set before my people, because we know that we can’t, but He can. When man works, man works, but when man prays, God works. It’s not about us.”
“The Gospel loves to advance down the avenue of adversity,” John Onwuchekwa, pastor of Cornerstone Church in Atlanta, told Pastors’ Conference attendees on Sunday evening.
With Philippians 1:12-26 as his Scripture, the pastor acknowledged that pastors are prone to despair because their suffering is “vigorous and vicarious.” He shared that as he set out to launch Cornerstone Church two-and-a-half years ago, several personal crises, including a failed adoption, the death of his brother and other challenges, propelled him toward despair.
“Despair,” he said, “doesn’t grow out of bad occurrences but out of a bad outlook.”
Through that adversity and the words of Scripture, he learned to tether his hope for joy to “the goodness of God,” much like the apostle Paul, who, in the midst of adversity, “didn’t pray for things to change circumstantially.”
Paul penned a joyful letter to the Philippians, stating that the adversity he was enduring actually served to advance the Gospel.
“You can’t stop the spread of the Gospel,” said Onwuchekwa, who explained that even as Paul was chained to a prison guard, he shared the Gospel.
While some people are “weary of living and fearful of dying,” Paul said, “Give me either, and I’m good.”
Circumstances in life are “inconsistent, unreliable and unpredictable,” while our Savior is “consistent, reliable and predictable,” Onwuchekwa said.
In spite of adversity, “You and I have every reason to rejoice,” he said.
Chris Davis, pastor of Groveton Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va., used Paul’s words in Philippians 1:27-30 to challenge Southern Baptists to see their main identity as citizens of heaven and not as citizens of the United States.
“If Christ’s lordship does not supersede our American concerns, we will lose our testimony and we will jettison our calling — our mission to make Christ-followers of all nations,” Davis said. “This is a call for a heightened awareness that we are citizens, first and foremost of heaven, and secondly, of America. This is a call for us to evaluate … whether we are living worthy of the Savior, who died and rose again, to purchase this citizenship for us.”
Davis said Paul identified two indicators of this worthy life: unity in the Gospel and courage through suffering.
As the culture becomes more intolerant of Christians, and as the political landscape becomes more unpredictable, Davis said, Christians must radically embrace their shared identity and shared mission in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
They must do so, he said, with a spirit of boldness and without cowering in the face of every threat. When Paul was in a Philippian jail, Davis said, the salvation of the jailer came not through a complaint about a loss of rights but through the praises sung to God.
“Let us turn up the volume of our oneness of those mercifully rescued by Jesus, and let us turn down the volume of our opinions about American politicians and policies, so that our agreement about the eternal is what is prominent about us as a convention instead of our legitimate disagreement about what is only temporal,” Davis said.
“And let us be a people of courage — not spooked by marginalization or slander or being the butt of the joke on ‘Saturday Night Live’ because Christ is our king, heaven is our home, and our eternal destiny is secure.”
Jimmy Meek, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in El Dorado, Ark., opened the Monday morning session of the conference with a sermon titled “Unity in the Gospel.”
Continuing the conference’s study of Philippians, Meek preached on Philippians 2:1-4. Meek said that “People are inherently not unified,” and that “True unity comes through the Gospel.”
Christians have been reconciled to God, and it is the job of the Christian to help lost people become reconciled to God, Meeks said in reference to Paul’s words in Philippians.
“Yet, when unchurched people, when lost people look at our churches, many times they see people that can’t even be reconciled to each other,” Meeks said.
“We wonder sometimes why people aren’t flocking to our churches. It’s because people who are not reconciled to each other are not a very good advertisement of the Gospel,” he said.
Meek referenced the book “Tally Ho the Fox,” in which Herb Hodges describes the problems that occur when hunting dogs do not do the things “they are wired to do.” Like hunting dogs, Meek said churches encounter issues when they fail to find unity in the Gospel.
Meek said that when hunting dogs do things apart from what they were wired to do, they encounter the following issues: 1) They are lazy, 2) They form hierarchies that make no sense, 3) They fight about trivial things and, 4) They don’t want any new members in the pen.
Meek said that churches encounter the same issues as the hunting dogs when they do not have, “unity in the Gospel.”
“What if your church was doing what it is wired to do?” Meek inquired. “They’d no longer care about trivial things; they’d no longer be sleepy or lazy; they’d no longer have that unnecessary hierarchy; they’d no longer wish they had fewer members so they could be in charge.”
Turning our gaze upon Jesus’ incarnation, sacrifice on the cross, and exultation is the answer to a loss of focus in proclaiming the Gospel and for the selfishness that is pervading society and our churches, explained Nathan Rose, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Liberty, Mo., during the Monday morning session.
Teaching from Philippians 2:5-11, Rose noted that there is a dangerous trend of pride and self-absorption in our churches, and that it’s leading to personal and church self-destruction as well as the hindering of gospel advancement.
“How do we combat this? The biblical solution for fixing behavior always begins with fixing our gaze on Jesus Christ. The key to cultivating humility and selflessness is contemplating the person and work of Jesus Christ.”
The first area of contemplating Christ, Rose noted, is in His incarnation — the Son of God as a human servant. Rose showed how the apostle Paul exhorted believers to emulate Jesus’ example of selflessness and always placing others as more important than Himself.
“Jesus’ entire life was characterized by giving rather than getting…. This was the very essence of His life. Jesus did not come to show off His swagger; instead, He emptied Himself by becoming a human servant…. This is the mindset that we also ought to have. This is our paradigm for life and ministry,” Rose said.
Second, in noting that Jesus’ death on the cross was in utter obedience to the Father, Rose said it also proved His utter love for us.
“This reality proves that Jesus Christ loves you, cherishes you, accepts you … and none of this is dependent upon you, your efforts, or how successful your ministry may or may not appear. This is the good news of the Gospel.”
Rose wrapped up his message explaining that an important lesson is learned through Christ’s exaltation following His suffering: “The way to be honored and exalted by God is through the pursuit of humility and sacrificial service.” This is the key to greatness in the eyes of God.
Ryan Rice, pastor of Connect Church of Algiers in New Orleans, drew from Philippians 2:12-18 to encourage pastors to “live lives poured out for Jesus.”
Paul’s exhortation to the believers at Philippi to continue on in obedience to Christ is a call pastors must heed today, Rice said.
Acknowledging that ministry is difficult, Rice encouraged listeners not to give up but to press forward in “practical obedience” to God’s calling by staying focused on Christ.
“Keep plowing in the lane God has set you in,” Rice said. “Keep following wherever He has placed you. You can continue on if your eyes are set on Jesus.”
Pointing to verses 14-16, Rice said believers are called to a “shining obedience,” whereby a dark world can see Christ in their lives. Rice reminded listeners God sees and rewards faithfulness.
“Your identity is found in Christ, not in what you do for Christ,” Rice said.
Believers are called to “joyful obedience,” Rice said. He encouraged pastors to serve joyfully, as Christ served, and to remember that Jesus endured the cross.
Rice concluded by challenging listeners to follow Christ’s example and “run to the cross every morning” and “pour out your life for the Gospel.”