St. Louis, Mo.—Aimed at giving pastors a charge like the one the apostle Paul gave his son in the ministry, Timothy, in 2 Timothy 4:5-6, the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference kicked off at the America’s Center Convention Complex in St. Louis.
With the theme “Live this!”, the Sunday evening and Monday sessions focused on issues such as suffering, endurance, the Gospel, cross-cultural ministry and evangelism.
Ministers of the gospel should endure suffering for the glory of God, pastor Noah Oldham of August Gate Church in St. Louis said.
“Suffering goes hand-in-hand with our call, and God is calling us to embrace it for His glory and our joy,” said Oldham, who also serves as the North American Mission Board’s Send St. Louis coordinator.
Pointing his audience to 2 Timothy 4, Oldham read from Paul’s charge to Timothy: “Preach the Word.” Although this is “one of the most important imperatives in all of Scripture,” Oldham reminded his listeners that this “is not a solo command.”
Four times, Paul speaks of suffering, urging Timothy finally in 2 Timothy 4:5 to “endure suffering,” he noted. Indeed, Paul was merely reminding Timothy of a truth that he had earlier seen displayed in Paul’s life: namely, that following God’s call involves suffering.
Sharing the adversity he experienced early on as he sought to become a church planter, Oldham affirmed, following Jesus, living out God’s call, is worth the pain that will inevitably come. “Don’t give in to fear,” Oldham said, “but by the power of God, because of your calling, for the sake of the gospel, endure suffering.”
“Endurance is the funnel through which all Christian virtue flows,” James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, Ill., told attenders.
“If God can just get you to endure; if God can just get you to keep going; if God can just get you to remain under the pressure and not quit, and not give up, and not back up, and not shut up, but just keep going in His strength, for His glory, everything good is coming from that.”
Using Paul’s charge to Timothy to “endure hardship” as a jumping-off point, MacDonald warned pastors about five obstacles to endurance: loneliness, discomfort, conflict, rejection and exhaustion.
He shared advice he received when his church went through a particularly difficult conflict. “Get low and stay low,” MacDonald said. “Lean on the Lord as never before. Learn everything I can. Be loud about the things that God is teaching me, and silent about everything unfair, unkind and untrue. And then finally, and maybe most importantly, leave the rest with God.”
Opening the Monday morning session, David Platt said that from his seat as president of the International Mission Board, he sees missions agencies and missionaries around the world who are gospel-less and gospel-lite—and that’s because there are churches around the United States who are gospel-less and gospel-lite.
“The last thing the nations needs is the exportation of nominal Christianity from North America,” Platt said. “The last thing the nations need is a gospel-less, gospel-lite version of Christianity that minimizes the glory of God, the offense of sin, the sufficiency of Christ’s cross, and the necessity of man’s total surrender to Him. The nations need the gospel, which means the gospel must be clear in the church, which means the gospel must be clear among pastors.”
Platt presented an acrostic G-O-S-P-E-L based on Ephesians 2:1-10, to “bring clarity in your own heart regarding what is the gospel, and I hope might serve you as you equip your people to know and believe and proclaim the gospel,” he told pastors. The acrostic represents God’s character; the Offense of sin; the Sufficiency of Christ; Personal response; Eternal urgency; and Life transformation.
Platt said the gospel is not just information; it’s an invitation that demands a decision.
Pastor and former NFL linebacker Derwin Gray coached conference-goers on the work of an evangelist in uniting people across ethnic, class and generational boundaries.
“Jesus will do things in you and through your church for His glory,” said Gray, lead pastor of Transformation Church with two campuses in Charlotte, N.C. “He is looking for people who are crazy enough to trust Him to do the impossible so the impossible can show up.”
Churches must examine what they mean by the term “gospel,” Gray said, and question any message of salvation lacking a horizontal aspect of human reconciliation. Gray, who recently authored “The High Definition Leader: Building Multiethnic Churches in a Multiethnic World,” cited Transformation Church’s diverse leadership and outreach as illustrating the importance of church unity in reflecting the new heavens and new earth.
“We are not to be colorblind but color-blessed,” Gray said, expounding on Galatians 3:28. “People who say we should be colorblind are people whose color usually hasn’t been a disadvantage to them.”
West Texas pastor Byron McWilliams charged pastors to develop an intentional evangelism strategy for their churches. He shared from his own experience how the Lord has moved mightily at his church, First Baptist Church in Odessa, Texas.
McWilliams noted the pastor’s responsibility to lead out in evangelism, saying, “When the pastor lives the gospel, God is most glorified, … God’s church is most fortified, … God’s servant is most satisfied.”
Recognizing the rich evangelistic heritage of the SBC, McWilliams reflected on the current state of Southern Baptist churches and said, “We stink at evangelism … and it is our (pastors’) fault. It is not the fault of the Southern Baptist Convention’s top leadership; it is not the fault of the people who sit in the pews; … I am a pastor, and I point the finger at me if I pastor a church that does not preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
McWilliams told pastors that if they renew their commitment to evangelism, it will be a life filled with broken-heartedness over the lost in their community and the world. At the same time, though, it will invigorate their ministry.
“You will see no evidence of the power of God at work until the gospel becomes central to what you do,” he said.
Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, urged attendees to fulfill their ministry calling, to be faithful, to be fruitful in their efforts, and to finish well. They way to accomplish these tasks is to “do the work of an evangelist,” Graham said.
Basing his message from 2 Timothy 4:5-8, Graham offered 10 principle ways to create an evangelistic environment and culture within the local church, including: evangelism begins with the pastor; an invitational culture should be encouraged and developed within a church; authenticity is critical; the power of the gospel must be trusted; do whatever it takes to reach people for Christ; train believers to share their faith; give a public invitation; baptize believers as often as you can; engage in event evangelism, and participate in mission trips and church planting.
Graham noted evangelism should permeate the atmosphere of a church. The ideology of it is more caught than taught, he said, so a high expectation should be set for church members to be invitational. “It all starts with us—with our attitude, our holy ambitions, and the enthusiasm, eagerness and passion to preach the Word and to do the work of an evangelist,” he said
When it comes to evangelism being carried out in the local church, Graham exhorted the group: “You gotta finish. Live this! (Evangelism) is our life; it is our legacy. I’m not interested in leaving a legacy; I’m interested in living a legacy and doing what God has called me to do.”
Southern Baptist churches should develop new strategies for evangelism to reach an unbelieving world, said Ed Stetzer, who was appointed in May as executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill.
“Brothers and sisters, Jesus’ last words have to be our first priority,” Stetzer said of the Great Commission, the biblical mandate to evangelize unbelievers. “And yet, our evangelism effectiveness continues to decline.”
The church has become increasingly ineffective despite an unchurched community that is largely willing to listen to the Christian message, he said. “We have a nation with open hearts and a church with closed mouths,” he said.
Southern Baptist churches need to reevaluate how they “do church,” Stetzer said, or risk losing their place in God’s plan for the universal church.
Jimmy Scroggins, pastor of Family Church (formerly First Baptist) in West Palm Beach, Fla., drew a sharp contrast between his previous ministry in Kentucky and that in South Florida, “way below the Bible Belt.”
The “multicultural, multigenerational and multi-campus church” is “seeing people saved” and has been identified as the ninth fastest growing church in the United States, Scroggins said.
“Yet we are not making a dent in the millions and millions of lost people in South Florida,” he said. “And as a Southern Baptist family, we are not making a dent in millions and millions of lost persons in the world.”
Citing 2 Timothy 4:6, Scroggins urged Southern Baptists to pour themselves into gospel conversations, gospel congregations and gospel prayers. Millions of Southern Baptists must have millions of gospel conversations, he said.
Preaching on “Enthusiastically Reaching My Journey’s End” from 2 Timothy 4:6, Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., declared, “If I’m still alive, then God’s not through with me.”
In 2 Timothy, the apostle Paul, knowing he was in his final season of life, wrote to Timothy that his life was “being poured out as a drink offering,” the final act in the Old Testament sacrificial ceremony outlined in Numbers 15. Paul wanted to encourage Timothy “in what he already knew” about continuing in obedience to God, Hunt said.
“It’s not the truth we know that changes us; it’s the truth we obey,” Hunt said, adding that Christians should desire to hear God tell them, “well done,” rather than “well known,” when appearing before God’s judgment seat.
“It’s a long way from here to where God wants to take you,” he said.
A strong call for revival was Greg Laurie’s message in his keynote address, saying that believers want to see an awakening in America, but that revival must first start in the church and among church leaders.
Laurie is senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., and recently led what is reported to be the largest single presentation of the gospel in American history in Dallas. According to Harvest America, the event drew more than 350,000 people to the live event and related webcasts, and more than 25,000 professions of faith were recorded.
“God is giving our country some wake-up calls,” Laurie told pastors. “Are we going to wake up and pay attention?”
Laurie said that we often use the words “awakening” and “revival” interchangeably. He noted, however there is a difference between the two, saying that awakening happens in a church, and revival happens to a nation.
Laurie noted that the church never “defaults to quality, always to mediocrity,” and challenged pastors to recognize that the church, and pastors in particular, have fallen asleep. “Revival is waking up from sleep. And when you are sleeping, you don’t even recognize that you are asleep,” he said. “But nothing can happen through you until it happens to you. We must ourselves be revived.”
He encouraged pastors to recommit themselves to preaching the gospel and giving clear, concise, public invitations. “It will excite your people when they see people walking forward and accepting Christ,” Laurie said. “We can evangelize or we can fossilize.”
Dave Miller, senior pastor of Southern Hill Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa, was elected president of the 2017 Pastors’ Conference in Phoenix. (BP)