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‘What if?’ theme focuses 2009 Pastors Conference on Great Commission

MOBILE, Ala. (BP)–Ed Litton believes that in a time of seismic cultural changes and economic uncertainty, Southern Baptists face both danger and opportunity. The danger, he says, is that churches will retreat into a safe place, while the opportunity is to trust God and see Him move powerfully to change people’s hearts and transform society.

As president of the SBC’s Pastors’ Conference, Litton is crafting a program for the annual meeting in Louisville, Ky., that he hopes will spark the latter. And he is challenging pastors to exert unusual effort to help that happen.

“We’re in a time of seismic change in our culture. There are huge shifts taking place,” said Litton, who is pastor of First Baptist North Mobile in Saraland, Ala. “And people are feeling a lot of economic pressure today. There’s a palpable fear and, I sense, a withdrawing. That’s dangerous. The danger is that we’re going to kind of lock up and ride this thing out when we have a great opportunity to trust God, to believe God, and to reach out more during this crisis than ever before.”

The dramatic political and social changes occurring in America — from the rise of aggressive atheism to the shooting of a pastor in the pulpit — should drive Christians to evaluate their priorities in light of their mission, Litton said.

“I would love to see a passionate revival to the Great Commission. I think the Great Commission solves a lot of those problems for us because ultimately it’s the transformation of people’s hearts that matters,” he said. “We need to come back to the Great Commission and say, ‘This is what we’re here to do.’

“It could help us streamline when we go budget cutting and having to deal with difficult things,” Litton added. “What really is mission essential here? What can we afford to get rid of and what can we never afford to get rid of? Those kinds of questions are being dealt with every day by pastors all over this country.”

As he consulted with SBC President Johnny Hunt about the need for a “Great Commission resurgence” among Southern Baptists, Litton found himself reminded of Philippians 2:2 — “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” (NASB)

He said he found himself wondering how things would be different if all Southern Baptists truly had the mind, love, spirit and purpose of Christ.

“We came up with the idea of asking the simple question, ‘What if?'” Litton said. “It’s a counter-factual. If we answer that question correctly as God’s people, I am convinced we will experience a resurgence of the Great Commission in Southern Baptist life. It will help us focus in very difficult times in this country and throughout the world.”

Organized under the “What if?” theme, the 2009 Pastors’ Conference, set for June 21-22 in Louisville, will bring pastors together to seek a transforming revival of passion for the Great Commission.

Litton said the program will feature a widely varied slate of speakers:

— J.D. Greear, Summit Church in Durham, N.C.;

— Mac Brunson, First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla.;

— Chuck Colson, Prison Fellowship;

— Mike Landry, Sarasota (Fla.) Baptist Church;

— Ed Stetzer, LifeWay Research;

— Francis Chan, Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, Calif.

— Tom Elliff, International Mission Board;

— Michael Catt, Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga.;

— Fred Luter Jr., Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, La.;

— Johnny Hunt, First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga.;

— David Platt, Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala.

The program also includes former Southern Baptist pastor and 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

A key influence in shaping the program was the fact that so few young pastors participated in the 2008 annual meeting in Indianapolis, Litton said.

“Some of our lineup is designed to include younger people who have a message and a voice that fits the theme we are presenting, who demonstrate in their ministry and their life a commitment to the Great Commission,” Litton said. “I want to appeal to pastors to bring a younger pastor with them.”

Another difference this year is that Litton is issuing a broad appeal for donations to support the conference, which could cost as much as $140,000. The Pastors’ Conference must raise the entire cost of the conference each year.

“We are asking churches, large and small, to consider giving something to support the Pastors’ Conference. Raising those funds is a large part of what I have been doing since I was elected,” Litton said. “We’ve had several people be very generous. My pastor brothers of the largest have been absolutely, powerfully, wonderfully supportive. But we still have a ways to go on that.”

Many years, Pastors’ Conference presidents lead megachurches that can underwrite the majority of the expense, Litton said. The current economic situation, however, has created a need for a broader range of participation in financial support. The website for the Pastors’ Conference, sbcpc.net, now has a donation page to make that easier, he said.

Litton said he believes that when Southern Baptists are challenged, they will rally to a need, whether it’s about a “Great Commission resurgence” or getting more involved in supporting the Pastors’ Conference.

“This is a time for us to walk by faith and to live out our faith and to believe God. I think that’s happening all over the convention. Churches are going to rally,” he said. “We went through Hurricane Katrina here in Mobile, and it was amazing how Southern Baptists rallied. I’ve never been more proud to be a Southern Baptist.

“I think this is our hour to do that, even economically, in this country.”
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. For information about the Pastors’ Conference program during the 2009 SBC annual meeting, visit sbcpc.net.

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  • Mark Kelly