HOUSTON (BP) – Pastors received encouragement and challenge to remain strong in ministry and champion the Gospel during the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference (SBCPC), June 9-10.
SBCPC President Gregg Matte, pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church and an alumnus of Southwestern, invited an array of speakers to this year’s conference, including pastors serving in churches from coast-to-coast as well as internationally. Of these speakers, four graduated from Southwestern Seminary, and three alumni participated in the roundtable discussions during the conference—Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas; Rodney Woo, pastor of International Baptist Church in Singapore; and Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in Springdale, Ark.
Bruce Frank, a Southwestern graduate who serves as 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 for 2014, 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.”
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. It 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 during the Monday afternoon session.
“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 the veil was pulled back on his life, it would be evident he was not a great husband.
Several years ago, after Carter’s wife revealed to him that 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 that in Ephesians 5:23-25, 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 husbands 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.”
The annual two-day event concluded with a message from former Arkansas governor and current Fox News Channel host Mike Huckabee. Huckabee, who was recognized with Southwestern’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2012, challenged pastors to stand strong against the moral slide of American culture.
Huckabee, host of the weekend show “Huckabee” on the Fox News Channel, said the pastorate once was “a wonderful, respected position, but not anymore” because people have contempt for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Despite the climate, Christians must do as Jesus encouraged the apostle Peter in John 21, where Jesus asked that, if the apostle loved Him, then Peter would feed the sheep, or take care of others who were Christ followers.
The single most important role for pastors is to feed and lead God's sheep, and be prepared to bleed for them, to make sacrifices for God's church, said Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor.
“Jesus is talking about good food, biblical food,” Huckabee noted, lamenting that “we are living in a time of biblical ignorance.”
“People who attend church, especially young people, have an extraordinary lack of biblical depth,” he said. “According to recent surveys, the kids who grow up in our evangelical churches do not really know the biblical definition of marriage, and that really does concern me.”
Citing veteran NBA center Jason Collins, who revealed his homosexuality on a sports website, Huckabee said the national media called Collins “a hero for announcing his sexual proclivities.”
Huckabee asked, where are the “accolades for Tim Tebow who announced that he follows Jesus? He was told to shut up.”
“It should concern us that we're living in a culture where a person announces a sexual preference and it's heroic” and another “announces he loves Jesus Christ, and he's told ... to keep that to yourself.”
“We need to understand what we're up against, and we've got to feed the sheep,” Huckabee said.
Clarifying that the hope of America is not in the next election, Huckabee said, “I would never suggest, ever, that you would turn your pulpit into some political podium. But I would urge that the pulpit would be a powerful, prophetic and purposeful punch in the gut to a culture that is ungodly and unholy.”
Regarding evangelicals' stance on social and moral issues, Huckabee said some in the Republican Party are saying “that maybe we need to dial it back a little bit when it comes to issues like the sanctity of life and the holiness of marriage, and maybe just ease off.”
The crowd erupted into sustained applause when Huckabee said, “Well, I've got a news flash for the GOP: I plan to take my last ride in life on a white horse, not on an elephant and not on a donkey. And I will stick with the Word of God. And if the party, any party, goes a different way, I stick with Jesus. I believe He is forever.”
“The greatest mission in the world is the mission God has entrusted to you to feed, to lead, and to sacrifice, and if necessary, to bleed for those sheep to whom he has entrusted [to you],” Huckabee concluded. “It is an honor. It is a privilege. And God bless you for doing it.”
Story compiled by Keith Collier, with reporting from Baptist Press by Michael McEwen, Jon Evans, Tim Sweetman and Norm Miller.