'Lest We Forget' amplified at SBC Pastors' Conference

ST. LOUIS (BP)--With an inspirational patriotic salute encompassing a 200-member student choir dressed in red, white and blue, and a musical tribute for each branch of the United States, the Southern Baptist Pastors' Conference concluded with an address by Lt. Col. Oliver North, USMC (Ret.).

With "Lest We Forget" as the theme of the June 9-10 meeting in St. Louis, special focus was placed on calling, children, church and country by such speakers as Jack Graham, Mac Brunson, Fred Luter, Adrian Rogers, John Sullivan, Jerry Vines, Kevin Cosby and John Marshall.

Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, who is expected to be elected as the next SBC president June 11, encouraged the audience to remember the call of obedience to the Lord. Using the illustration of Abraham's call in Genesis 12 as an example, Graham said greatness depends on surrender to the will of God.

"Abraham signed over a blank check to the will of God," Graham said. "He didn't know where he was going or how long it was going to take to get there, but he went by faith and in obedience."

Just as Abraham pitched his tents, "we need to get rid of anything and everything that would hold us back from becoming what God wants us to be," Graham said.

He was careful to caution that pastors today must guard against self-reliance. Abraham had compromised his faith by relying on his own resources when he was driven into Egypt by famine. Famine may also enter the pastor's life, Graham said.

"If God allows a famine into our lives, if he allows a crisis -- rather than running to the world for answers, we need to run to God in faith."

John Marshall, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo., noted the importance of pastors leading their churches in the call of missions. Second Baptist was recently selected by the International Mission Board as one of 15 mission centers around the country.

"The churches that change the world are the churches that pray, give and go," Marshall said. "Pastor, you are responsible for the missions level of your church. It is the responsibility of every member of the church -- and you are the key."

America also is in need of preachers who are convicted of their sinful nature but converted by the blood of Jesus and committed to the gospel, said Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans.

Preaching from Romans 12:1-2, Luter said the apostle Paul lists three things -- conviction, conversion and commitment -- that must happen in the life of every preacher, evangelist and pastor, "lest they walk worthy of their call."

"If there is any area that many of us in the body of Christ are lacking in our calling, it is in the area of commitment," Luter said. "Too many of us are committed to him on a part-time basis. When we're ill, we're committed. When our money is low, we're committed. When we're faced with major decisions and crossroads, we're committed."

God, however, doesn't want part-time commitment, Luter said. "God has said that if you give him your full commitment, he will reveal his perfect will. When you are committed to your calling, you won't forget what God has done in your life."

When it comes to children, Christians have a responsibility not to leave them to the world but to instruct them carefully and steadfastly in the ways of God, John Sullivan noted in his message.

"If the church is to salvage this generation of children ... the only hope we have is to teach our children and our grandchildren to trust Jesus Christ," said Sullivan, executive director of the Florida Baptist Convention. "If we cannot lead them to trust Jesus by show and tell, nothing else we give them will matter."

Parents should pass on to their children the mighty works of God in creation and redemption, and teach them that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation, he said.

"Every family has two things," Sullivan said. "They have a center and they have a circumference. When the center is Christ, the circumference is the law. The more we move from the center, the more we encounter the circumference."

Failure to instruct children in the ways of God will "forfeit our best offer to our world -- Jesus Christ," he said.

Kevin Cosby, pastor of St. Stephen Baptist Church, Louisville, challenged pastors and churches to "make room for the children." Reading from Matthew 8, Cosby pointed out that Jesus called a little child to him and set him in the midst, before the disciples and other adults there.

"Generations overlap and there is a blending and harmonizing," Cosby said. "The old must recognize the value of the new and the new must grow to appreciate the wisdom of the old."

Rallying Southern Baptists to return to the New Testament paradigm for the church, First Baptist Dallas pastor Mac Brunson, who was elected president of the conference for 2003, said the church needs to recover a passion for worship and ministry.

"We've tried to be everything that we don't need to be, except that which Jesus called us to be," Brunson said. "If we are to be more than little islands in this sea of sin, then we are going to have to recover a passion to be the church, under his lordship, filled with his spirit and under the authority of his Word."

Citing Acts 3, Brunson said recovering a New Testament passion can be accomplished by recapturing a dedication to relationships, illustrated in the close association of Peter and John.

"There should be a bond between us. The world should be able to look at us and say, 'See how they love each other,'" Brunson said. "A bond that is so strong that the fury of hell itself can't tear it apart, instead of a spiritualist elitist attitude. We are for each other."

Adrian Rogers, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church, underscored the need to live under kingdom authority.

"The future of this nation is in this room and in houses of worship all around America," Rogers said. "As the West goes, so goes the world. As America goes, so goes the West. As Christianity goes, so goes America. As evangelicals go, so goes Christianity. As Southern Baptists go, so goes evangelicals."

Baptists need the power of kingdom authority, Rogers said, noting, "The question isn't, 'Are we afraid of the devil?' The question is, 'Is the devil afraid of you?'"

Kingdom authority -- dominion over all the earth -- was given to Adam and Eve, but they gave it to the serpent, Rogers said. Kingdom authority was regained through Jesus' death and resurrection, but instead, Christians live in defeat, he said.

With the Great Commission, Rogers said Baptists have Jesus' unlimited power, his unchanging program of missions and his unfailing promise that all authority, all commandments are under him -- always.

Jerry Vines, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fla., spoke on warnings he took from the life of Jonathan as recounted in Judges 17 and the dangers of succumbing to religious materialism, pluralism and pragmatism.

When noting religious pluralism in American culture, Vines said that some "would have us believe that Islam is just as good as Christianity.... Christianity was founded by the virgin-born Son of God, Jesus Christ. Islam was founded by Mohammed, a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives, the last one of which was a 9-year-old girl."

With the entire cost of the conference completely paid for by Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla., the church of Pastors' Conference president Ken Whitten, all offerings taken were designated for the Southern Baptist Pastors' Retirement Fund through the Annuity Program. An initial $35,000 was given by Prestonwood Baptist Church, Plano, Texas, Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis, Second Baptist, Houston, and the Florida Baptist Convention. Silver pewter bracelets with the inscription "Lest We Forget" and Leviticus 19:32 were passed out during the opening session as a reminder to pray for retired pastors and widows of pastors. Packages also were distributed with the bracelets which included the name and address of a retired pastor or widow. Participants were asked to write a letter of encouragement to their individual in advance of Adopt-an-Annuitant Sunday later in June.

O.S. Hawkins, president of the Annuity Board, shared with the audience that many retired pastors or their widows receive $200 or less in benefits each month. As one retired pastor said in a video shared with the audience, the Annuity Board "has been a lifeline that provided when we couldn't provide for ourselves.... It's a different kind of love."

Elected as officers for the coming year are Mac Brunson of First Baptist Dallas, president; Lance Pitman, pastor of Hope Baptist Church, Las Vegas, vice president; and Hal Kitchings Jr. of Morrison Heights Baptist Church, Clinton, Miss., recording secretary.

Other conference speakers included Ken Davis, Junior Hill, Johnny Hunt, Bob Pitman, Jay Strack and Ted Traylor.


Contributing to this story were Tim Ellsworth, Greg Tomlin, Mark Kelly, Don Hinkle, Joni Hannigan, Melissa Deming, Stacey Hamby, Norm Miller and Jennifer Davis Rash.

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