ANAHEIM, Calif. (BP) – Mark Clifton opened the 2022 SBC Pastors’ Conference by reminding shepherds of local congregations that there are no unimportant churches and no unimportant places.
With the theme “We Proclaim Him,” speakers walked through Colossians, a letter written by the apostle Paul to the church in Colossae, a small town, that could encourage any pastor wondering if his ministry matters.
Matt Henslee, president of the 2022 conference, said his hope was that the worship and sermons “help us to embrace endurance in the trenches of Gospel ministry.”
Clifton, replanting pastor at Linwood Baptist Church in Linwood, Kan., said many times the SBC has “forgotten all of those small, out-of-the-way places – places where God is still very much at work.”
“We have tens of thousands of churches in places like that,” Clifton said June 12 in Anaheim, Calif. “In fact, 33 million Americans live in rural America, and in many ways, it’s one of the most underreached parts of our country.”
Such places, as demonstrated in Colossians, are important to God.
“I don’t care where you serve, it matters to God, and so do you,” Clifton said, adding, “God knows where you are, and that’s all that matters.”
Omar Johnson, senior pastor of Temple Hills Baptist Church in Temple Hills, Md., said the perception of progress at churches is skewed “because we’re looking for the wrong things, evaluating our churches based on the wrong factors, perhaps holding up misguided or misplaced aims and ambitions for the congregations the Lord has given us to shepherd.”
The main idea of Colossians 1:9-14 can be summed up like this, Johnson said: “Gospel ministers should care about church growth – primarily the church’s spiritual growth.”
Because Epaphras was probably a protégé of Paul’s, he knew the kind of things that Paul wanted to hear about, Johnson said.
“Paul didn’t want to know how many members or attendees were present at the church of Colossae, nor was he curious how big their building or their budget was, neither was Paul interested in how many programs they put on,” Johnson said.
“What Paul was most concerned about was the church’s spiritual health, so the report that Epaphras relayed was that the church in Colossae was marked by faith in Christ Jesus and love for all the saints.”
Churches should grow in the knowledge of God and in living God-pleasing lives, Johnson explained from the text, noting, “Knowing God leads to living for God more faithfully.”
Hanley Lui, English lead pastor at First Chinese Baptist Church in Walnut, Calif., thanked the SBC for planting immigrant churches because he was saved through an English ministry of such a church.
From Colossians 1:15-20, Lui said Christ is supreme over His creation, and Christ is supreme over His new creation.
“This includes every single thing that has discouraged or divided the church in the past two and a half years,” Lui said. “Everything that has caused you, pastor, sleepless nights and stress, all of that falls under the sovereignty and the supremacy of Christ.”
Lui said he has felt pressure “to speak to everything under the sun,” but “that is not our task.”
“Our task, pastor brother, is to study the text, the Scriptures, diligently and to proclaim the text with clarity, and to apply the Scriptures with wisdom, pointing people to the ultimate wisdom of the Scriptures, which is Jesus Christ, and then we sit down. We sit down in the pew. We sit down under the throne,” Lui said.
“We must remember, pastor, our greatest encouragement is that we stand in the pulpit but Christ sits on the throne, and when we’re done with our message, we sit down, but Christ is still reigning. He’s the only one who can preach and speak to all things because all things were created by Him, through Him and for Him.”
Matthew Mueller, pastor of Valley Life Church North Peoria in Phoenix, said believers today find themselves in an interesting time.
“Society and culture have seemed to make truth subjective while elevating emotions to be the only objective in our culture, where emotions run supreme and truth is whatever you make it,” Mueller said. “That makes the Word of God, the truth we have in our hands, even more important.”
Through the Word of God, believers can be brought close to Jesus.
“Alienation from God will always result in self-centeredness and pride,” Mueller said. “When we alienate ourselves from God and from His Word, when we start to develop a hostility of mind, it will always end with evil, non-honoring, sinful actions.”
Believers have the cure to the malignancy of people’s souls, Mueller said. “How much do you have to hate someone to not share the Gospel with them?”
Clay Smith, senior pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., urged pastors to evaluate their own lives in terms of attitude, assignment, aim and agony in ministry.
“We aren’t celebrities,” Smith said. “We aren’t CEOs. We are under-shepherds of the flock of God, and this is our assignment from God, to be this servant that He’s called us to be, and let’s be honest. Ministry is tough. It’s hard. I tell our staff all the time ministry would be easy if it weren’t for people.”
Leadership is easy from the sidelines, Smith said. “Tweetership is not leadership. Leadership is getting in the trenches. Leadership is doing the hard work.”
God provided a way to make it, though.
“You will make it in Christ Jesus. You cannot do it in your own power, but you can do it in the power of Jesus,” Smith said.
Marcus Hayes, lead pastor of Crossroads Baptist Church in The Woodlands, Texas, said in cultural Christianity today, “we need to turn up the dial of agonizing and not antagonizing.” Embedded in this kind of agony is “care, concern and compassion” for people.
Hayes warned pastors not to try to come up with a different type of Jesus.
“Don’t try to fashion your Jesus on preference,” Hayes said. “Don’t fashion a Jesus in your own mind based on politics. Don’t fashion your understanding of Jesus based on power. Fashion your idea and your theology and your Christology on who Jesus is and how He has presented Himself in the Scriptures.”
P.J. Tibayan, pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Bellflower, Calif., said there are all kinds of bad ideas in the world today, but some of them sound reasonable and some are captivating. In the end, they “threaten our souls, our ministries, our churches and our witness.”
“Pastor brothers, I have good news for you this morning. God gave us Colossians 2:8-23 to equip us and strengthen us to continue in Christ and avoid being captivated by attractive, bad ideas, dangerous ideas,” Tibayan said.
“… The saints in Colossae were being tempted by these outside ideas, but it comes from actually a good desire. Their desire was they wanted to live a truly full and fulfilled life in Christ. … No harm there, but in valuing fulfillment, they were vulnerable to false ideas on how to live and experience that full life in Christ.”
The fulness of God dwells in Christ, Tibayan noted, so the filling of Christ is enough, Tibayan said.