Endurance, gospel-centrality spotlighted at Pastors' Conf.
ST. LOUIS (BP) -- 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 Sunday (June 12) at the America's Center Convention Complex in St. Louis.
With the theme "Live this!", the Sunday evening and Monday morning sessions focused on issues such as suffering, endurance, the Gospel, cross-cultural ministry and evangelism.
"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 famous charge to Timothy in verse 2: "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." In fact, writing from prison, Paul gives a charge to Timothy, his spiritual son, 25 times. Four times, he speaks of suffering, urging Timothy finally in 2 Timothy 4:5 to "endure suffering;" earlier in the letter, he addresses suffering in 2 Timothy 1:7-9, and 2:3-7, 8-10. 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.
Oldham discovered the painful reality of this truth in 2007, when he followed God's call on his life to plant churches. But on the same day he spoke to the church where he served as a youth minister about this new calling from God, a "year from hell" ensued. That night, he ended up in the hospital because of a heart condition caused by the stress of this transition.
During the course of the year, his church planting dreams ended in what he saw as complete failure; he and his family were forced to move out of their home in St. Louis to settle in with his wife's family in Florida, where they lived when he heard that his mother died after a long struggle with kidney disease.
"At the end of that year, I was a beat-up mess. Once a college athlete, I was fat and bald with a heart condition," Oldham said. "Married young with dreams of having a big family, I was told that I may never be able to produce children. Once with a heart full of dreams to plant a church to reach St. Louis, I was a thousand miles away serving as a youth pastor ashamed to talk to anybody from back home because they had sent me with prayers and faith, and I had let everyone down. And my mom -- my spiritual leader for most of my life, the woman who knew exactly what to say to encourage me to persevere -- she was gone. And I was destroyed.
"I felt like a complete failure," he added, "until I realized it was God who was tearing me apart so that He could put me back together. It wasn't a year from hell. It was a year straight from heaven."
Following Jesus, living out God's call, is worth the pain that will inevitably come, he said. "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."
"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."
At the end of his message, he asked those who felt led to recommit themselves to ministry to stand all around the room. As people stood in the crowded convention hall, MacDonald asked others to stand alongside them while he prayed.
"Forgive us for when we've been strong in our will, and strong in our pride, and strong in our independence, and strong in our determination," MacDonald prayed. "Oh God, teach us afresh what it is to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might."
"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. People can't personally respond to a message they've never heard, he noted, reporting there are close to 3 billion people in the world right now who've never heard this Gospel. And they won't hear it unless Christians tell it to them.
"Salvation is neither a casual determination nor a superficial declaration. One cannot merely say some words, raise their hands, and move on with life as it was before," Platt said. "For this reason, we must be careful in our work in the church here and on mission around the world to preach a Gospel that calls people to die -- to die to their sin, to die to themselves and to live in Christ as Savior and Lord and King ... and in this, to be careful in the numbers we report. Christ has not called us to count decisions; He has called us to make disciples. Let us be faithful to our task."
"Jesus will do things in you and through your church for His glory," said Gray, founding and 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."
Referencing his own conversion while playing for the Indianapolis Colts, Gray said the work of an evangelist unites the vertical and horizontal aspects of salvation and provides hope to the lost through personal stories of redemption.
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 not find true satisfaction in ministry until the Gospel becomes central in what you do," McWilliams said. "You will see no evidence of the power of God at work until the Gospel becomes central to what you do.
"God has promised His power to further His kingdom through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You want power in your ministry? You make the Gospel first and foremost, and what you'll see is the power of God will be unleashed in an incredible way."