Pastors' Conf. speakers exhort faithfulness
HOUSTON (BP) -- Pastors received encouragement and challenge to remain strong in ministry and to champion the Gospel during the Southern Baptist Pastors' Conference June 9-10 in Houston.
SBPC President Gregg Matte, pastor of Houston's First Baptist Church, invited speakers serving in churches from coast to coast and internationally. The annual two-day event concluded with a message from former Arkansas governor and current Fox News Channel host Mike Huckabee. (See separate Baptist Press story).
Bruce Frank, pastor of Biltmore Baptist Church in Arden, N.C., opened the conference on Sunday evening with a message on finishing well in ministry.
Frank, who later was elected as SBPC president, preached from 2 Timothy 4:9-18, in which the apostle Paul is ministering to a young and struggling Timothy. Speaking from his experiences with ministry struggles, Frank said, "I understand that you are going through many trials, pastor, but what is going to matter 10 years from now? The important thing to remember is to both finish -- and finish well -- in your service to Christ and others."
Noting that many clergy are burned out or stressed in their ministry, Frank reminded conference attendees always to be aware of the obvious obstacles and to confront them.
"You are going to be lonely, tired, angry and impatient at times," Frank said. "I have a question for you, though: 'Is ministry still worship for you?'
"From this passage in 2 Timothy, you see Paul fired up about his love for Jesus. So, are you in awe of Jesus and are you allowing God's message of salvation to change you daily? When Paul looks in the mirror, he sees not a pastor or a church planter, but who Christ is and what Christ has done in his life."
Noting how this passage applies to pastors today, Frank said they, like Paul, must focus on both their ministry and their devotion to Christ.
"Nobody will do ministry on behalf of you," Frank said. "God has called you to be servants for the church, and we should not expect to get any applause for this servitude.
"And your relationship must remain preeminently focused on Jesus and then we can properly give credit where credit is due."
John Bisagno, pastor emeritus at Houston's First Baptist Church, told pastors that, in the words of baseball legend Jackie Robinson, they are "built to last." He urged ministers to finish the task to which God has called them and for which He has equipped them.
Many who enter the ministry do not last, Bisagno said. He said hundreds of ministers from various Christian denominations leave the ministry every month and that only a minority of seminary graduates will remain in the ministry eight years after graduation.
"I know ministry can be a battle," Bisagno said. "Some win. Sadly, some lose."
Those who quit the battle or find themselves disqualified, he said, subject America and the world to an ever-quickening spiritual decline -- a decline that he said has led Islam, Mormonism and the occult to become the first, second and third fastest growing religions in the United States, respectively.
The decline of Christianity and the disappearance of those once committed to the ministry do not have to continue, Bisagno said. He offered four areas of focus: moral issues, money, people and a realistic understanding of success in ministry.
As for moral issues, Bisagno told ministers to guard their eyes, love their wives and maintain correctly ordered priorities. Concerning money, he said to follow Matthew 6:33 in seeking first the Kingdom of the Lord before anything else. Specifically, he told them not to touch church money, to have no "shady" dealings with the church credit card, and never to discuss the amount of an honorarium or salary.
Discussing people, Bisagno challenged pastors to be wary of the legalists, the faithless, the doubtful and the "self-appointed church bosses." He counseled pastors to remember their commonality, avoid their discouragement and not to respond combatively. Instead, listen closely and lead wisely, he said.
Through it all ministers must finish the fight and finish it well, Bisagno said.
"Go back to basic training," Bisagno said. "Go back to the Cross. Get some guts. Pay the price. Get with it. The ship is sinking. Get back in the battle. It's a day for heroes. It's a day for leaders. It's a day for change. It's a day for victory. God built you to last."
Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, told pastors that Southern Baptist churches must reclaim salt-and-light ministries and churches.
"Christians are called to be salt and light and to live in such a way that makes us distinct from the world but also impacts the world," Stetzer said.
Stetzer, who also is lead pastor of Grace Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., explained the biblical concepts of salt and light and why they are important.
Preaching from Matthew 5, Stetzer observed things about salt that he said would take churches and ministries to "a higher level." For the former, Stetzer claimed that salt "preserves," "creates thirst" and "needs to stay salty."
Citing statistics that indicate a decline in total membership of the Southern Baptist Convention over a 50-year period and the lowest baptism rate since 1948, Stetzer warned pastors that the Southern Baptist Convention runs the risk of losing its saltiness.
"What this convention needs to be about, what this day needs to be about is our people in God's church saying to King Jesus, 'Lord, our hearts are broken. Revive us, Jesus. Send us again on Your mission. Help us to live out as salt and light.'"
Calling Matthew 5 the "most important sermon preached by the most important person," Stetzer said it presents light as the visible dimension of a faithful Christian life.
"I believe there has never been a more important time for us to be salt and light in our lifetime than right now."
In an age of shifting demographics, churches must focus on uniting believers from different cultures into one family of God, said Rodney Woo, pastor of International Baptist Church in Singapore. During the Monday morning session, Woo pointed to the church at Rome in the books of Acts and Romans as such a model.
"I believe that many of our churches are going to actually identify more with the church at Rome than almost any other church in the New Testament because of the shifting times in the United States, and especially among Southern Baptists," Woo said.
Woo noted the demographic changes experienced by the church: It started with mostly Jews, who had returned after the filling of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The church then became entirely Gentile after Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. Finally, after Claudius died and Jews began to return, the church settled into an uneasy ethnic split as majority Gentile/minority Jew.
"We get some indicators from the apostle Paul that there were some elements of tension between the minority Jews and the majority Gentiles," Woo said. "The ones who used to be in charge now are no longer in charge."
Woo reminded pastors that the present century has its own lines of demarcation, and for those in the minority status, who feel different and ostracized, those lines matter.
"And so I want you to get into the skin of a person who may not be a majority, and they're coming to your church," Woo said.
Paul did not ignore the real ethnic differences within the church, Woo said, but rather emphasized that there was no distinction in God's sight between Jew and Gentile, that all are one in Christ.
"We as the recipients of the Gospel of God's grace, of the power of God -- God has called us to reach across lines," Woo said. "In the church at Rome, there was not a Jewish church and there was not a Gentile church. It was Christ's church."
Matt Carter, pastor at Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas, challenged pastors to love their wives and family well.
"We want to be known as men who are not only making an impact in our ministries," Carter said, "but we want to be known as great husbands and great fathers."
Carter preached from Ephesians 5, emphasizing Jesus' love for the church. Using his own personal story as an example, he confessed that earlier in his ministry, if someone pulled back the veil on his life, it would be evident he was not a great husband.
Several years ago, after Carter's wife said she did not feel pursued or cherished by him, he realized his passion for the church had eclipsed his primary call to love his wife. Carter said he turned to Ephesians 5 to seek guidance from God as he sought to win back the heart of his wife. Although familiar, He pointed out in Ephesians 5:23-25 that Jesus not only loved the church but He loved her first.
"Find out, men, the way your wife receives love and then love her that way," Carter said, "and do it first regardless of what she's doing."
Carter said he works hard to love his wife by being a "one-woman man." He never travels alone, has protective software on both his computer and phone, and has given access to his email, phone, social media and financial records over to his wife.
Carter also encouraged pastors to lead first in the arena of conflict: "In the midst of conflict, you take the initiative to bring peace."
Finally, Carter said that besides the Holy Spirit, God has called husbands to take an active part in their wives' sanctification. A husband should regularly ask his wife about her spiritual life and encourage her to utilize her spiritual gifts in the body of Christ.
"I believe there are way too many wives out there that are widows spiritually," Carter said, "and we as pastors are ministering to everyone around us but her.
"Who among us at our death would not desire for our wife to be able to write to our children and say, 'Oh, what a legacy my husband and your father has left'? By the grace of Jesus and by His power, let's live in such a way where they can say that."
Greg Laurie, senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., spoke from Acts 17 to challenge believers to be faithful in preaching the Gospel.
"I came to the Lord through the preaching of the Gospel," Laurie said. "I'm as passionate about preaching the Gospel as I have ever been. I'll take it a step further: I'm more passionate."
Laurie came to faith in Jesus Christ at age 17 when he heard the Gospel preached on his high school campus. Two years later, he began a Bible study of about 30 people that eventually grew into Harvest Christian Fellowship and more than 15,000 church members.
At age 60, Laurie remains devoted to preaching the Gospel that transformed his life. More than 371,000 professions of faith have been recorded during Laurie's evangelistic Harvest Crusades.
Laurie shared with Pastors' Conference attendees that the Gospel carried him through the darkest valleys, including his oldest son's death in 2008.
"It tested my faith. If the Gospel did not come through for me in my hour of need, I would have given up preaching," Laurie said. "Everything we go through in life is preparation for something else. With the comfort God has given me, I want to comfort others. We should never waste our pain."
Laurie urged pastors to preach biblical messages that do not overlook the cross and return of Christ.
"Focus on Jesus Christ crucified and risen," Laurie said. "If you want your message to have authority, you have to speak of Him crucified."
Although the Day of Judgment is one of the hardest things to preach, Laurie said, "to leave it out is not to declare the whole Gospel."
Laurie reminded believers that the command is to preach and to share the Gospel, but the results are in God's hands.
"One day, before we know it, we're going to stand before God," Laurie said. "When you stand before Jesus, He's not going to say, 'Well done, my good and successful servant.' He's going to say, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant.' Our job is to be faithful to the end."
Tim McKenzie, president and founder of On Every Word Ministries, brought a message from God's Word that was just that: God's Word.
McKenzie put a twist on the most basic of sermons as he wove passages from both the Old and New Testaments in a 37-minute memorized recitation that drew from 19 books of the Bible. He began in Genesis, walking through the seven days of creation and jumping periodically to Romans 1 and other passages to view "His eternal power and divine nature." McKenzie paired each day of the creation account with a corresponding biblical truth about the God who lights the world, feeds the birds of the air and offers rest to the weary.
"The earth was formless and empty," McKenzie quoted. "And darkness was over the surface of the deep. The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters and God said, 'Let there be light.' And there was light. And God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness.
"And the people living in darkness have seen a great light," he continued. "On those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned. O send forth Your light and Your truth and let them guide me; let them bring me to Your holy mountain, into the place that You dwell.
"And Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path, and the unfolding of Thy words is light," McKenzie said.
"This is the message that we heard from Jesus and declare to you: that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all."
Gary Rosberg, an author, radio host and marriage conference speaker, was scheduled to speak at Pastors' Conference, but medical reasons prevented him from speaking. Matte led the conference attendees in a time of prayer for Rosberg.
In addition to Frank's election as president, Clint Pressley, senior pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., was elected as vice president of the Pastors' Conference for 2014 and Alex Himaya, pastor of theChurch.at in Tulsa, Okla., as treasurer.
Compiled by Keith Collier, with reporting by Michael McEwen, Sharayah Colter, Aaron Cline Hanbury, Jon Evans, Tim Sweetman, Melissa Lilley and Brian Koonce.