ORLANDO (FBW)—Relying on God’s power rather than their own is the only way for pastors to be effective in ministry, said speakers during the 2012 Florida Baptist Pastors’ Conference Nov. 11-12 at First Baptist Church in Orlando.
Attendees heard messages from Florida Baptist pastors Mac Brunson, Jim Henry and Ted Traylor—and from other speakers Dennis Swanberg, Roc Collins, Adam Dooley, Kevin Cosby and Anthony George.
Conference President Stephen Rummage, pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, organized the conference and led the business session. The new officers elected were Michael Lewis, pastor, First Baptist Church, Plant City, president for 2014; Benny Keck, pastor, First Baptist Church, Dover, first-vice president; and Jose Abella, pastor and church planter, Providence Road Church, Miami, second-vice president. Brad White, pastor, LifePoint, Tampa, is president for the 2013 Florida Baptist Pastors’ Conference in Jacksonville.
Musicians from Bell Shoals led worship.
Swanberg, a humorist widely known as “America’s minister of encouragement,” told pastors to remember their calling from God when circumstances cause discouragement.
“I don’t care if you get fired or if you get pushed out or shoved out or influenced out or they create hell for you to where you finally get out of the kitchen. When you’re called, you’re called,” he said. “… Be a minister. If you’re selling cars or insurance or cutting grass, you’re a minister.”
Swanberg mixed encouragement with jokes and voice impersonations, including that of Billy Graham, Jimmy Stewart, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. He also discussed his experience as a pastor before entering the fulltime speaking ministry 18 years ago.
Pastors in the local church are his heroes, Swanberg said, because they meet the needs of the same flock every day and persevere through trials.
“Don’t be afraid of what they can do to you,” he said of congregations. “Be in awe of what God wants you to do and how He wants you to live.”
God’s love is a powerful motivation to faithfulness, according to Swanberg.
“He knows where you are when you’re scared and you’re wondering what’s going to happen to you,” he said.
Reflecting on his own experiences, Swanberg told ministers that God will always take care of them. When he first launched into fulltime speaking, Swanberg had very few engagements on his calendar, he said, but providentially James Dobson played some of his material on the radio and jumpstarted his ministry. God also intervened at important points along the journey, he said, as when He provided encouragement after Swanberg received a critical letter from a pastor.
“I want to encourage you with your one life to make it count,” he said. “And go for it. And when you do, have a good time doing it.”
Brunson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, said thanksgiving can help turn despair into joy and hope—sentiments that are desperately needed today.
“I don’t know that I ever remember a time in my life, and certainly in my ministry, when people seemed to be in more despair than they are right now,” he said. “And I don’t mean people in the world. I’m talking about people in the church.”
Preaching from Hebrews 12, he listed two things for which believers should be thankful. First, we should be thankful for the God of a new covenant.
The author of Hebrews contrasts the way Israel came to God at Mount Sinai with the way Christians come to Him through Jesus, according to Brunson. Under the new covenant, coming to Jesus results in a multitude of blessings such as knowing God the Father personally, joining a company of believers that includes great Old Testament saints, and receiving the benefits of Jesus’ shed blood, he said.
One of the greatest new covenant blessings is heaven, Brunson said, adding that he has a deeper longing for heaven after burying his father, his mother, and his best friend during the past year.
“Heaven means something to me at this point in my life that it has never meant before,” Brunson said. “When I came to Jesus Christ, I got heaven. I don’t know all that heaven is, but I know this: I’m excited.”
Second, we should be thankful for the God of an unshakable Kingdom.
The author of Hebrews speaks about a day when God will shake all created matter until only unshakable things remain, Brunson said. On that day only those who have trusted Jesus for salvation will survive God’s judgment, he said.
That reality should comfort believers in a time when many feel unsteady, according to Brunson.
“We’ve got a God of a new covenant and a God of a Kingdom that cannot be shaken,” he said. “And what God’s people ought to do is get on their face and be thankful. And when you do, let me tell you something—it changes your despair and your hopelessness into a joy.”
Henry, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church in Orlando, reminded pastors their main duty is to preach the Bible every week. Preaching was central to Jesus’ ministry, is central to changing people’s lives, and is central to changing society, he said.
“There’s all kind of substitutes that come down the road,” Henry said. “But the greatest thing that you’ll ever do, the most fulfilling thing that you’ll ever do to fulfill your call before God, is to preach the Word.”
He drew from Paul’s last words to his young protégé Timothy in 2 Timothy 4 to explain the importance of biblical preaching. Just as Henry Ward Beecher’s preaching helped end slavery in America and Martin Luther King’s preaching helped end segregation, God uses preaching today to bring revival in people’s hearts and justice in society, according to Henry.
But effective preaching requires diligent study, he said.
“We cannot lose discipline,” Henry said. “You’ve got to get in that study. You’ve got to pray and fast and work. It’s not easy. After over 50 years I still every week would shine the backend of my britches sitting in that chair coming up with what’s God saying through His Word to feed the people next Sunday.”
When Paul said to be ready “in season and out of season,” he was reminding Timothy of his responsibility to preach even during inopportune seasons of life, Henry said. When the pastor faces criticism, experiences pain, or feels like God has left him, he is still required to preach on Sundays, he said.
That reality hit home for Henry in 1994 when some of his staff members knocked on his door before worship on a Sunday morning to tell him his father had died.
“But I had two groups of people in two services that had come to hear the Word of God,” he said. “It was out of season for me, but I knew that I had to preach the Word of God.”
Henry concluded preachers must “keep the main thing the main thing until God calls you home: preach the Word.”
Collins, pastor of Indian Springs Baptist Church in Kingsport, Tenn., said Jesus is worthy to be praised because of His glorious character.
“He’s eternally steadfast,” Collins said. “He’s immortally gracious. He’s imperially powerful. And He’s impartially merciful. Now I don’t know about you, but that’s some good reasons to praise Him.”
Preaching from 1 Timothy 2:1-8, he listed several characteristics of Jesus, beginning with His desire for all men to be saved.
“If I didn’t know that [from the Bible], I might be pulled and twisted and lean in the way that I would witness to folks. I mean, if I didn’t know better, I’d just set me a target group and I’d go after them and them alone because maybe that’s the only ones the Lord would save,” he said.
“But because He made it so clear that He desires all men to be saved, now I understand who it is that I’m supposed to witness to. If they breathe, they need to hear about Jesus because Jesus desires all men to be saved.”
Jesus is the one mediator between God and man, Collins said, explaining that a mediator is someone who works on another’s behalf. As the mediator, He made a payment on the cross that set His followers free from sin, he said.
Jesus is uniquely qualified to serve as the mediator because He is both God and man, according to Collins.
“He came as God fashioned as a man. He was the God-man,” he said. “… He is God and man at the same time.”
Pastors are not merely to know who Jesus is, but to preach Him, Collins said, declaring that He is crucified, resurrected and coming again.
“I can sure get a crowd by having a dog and pony show,” he said. “Anybody can. But when you preach the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ, lives are changed. Preach Jesus.”
Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, warned pastors not to drift from God at the end of their ministries and lose their spiritual power.
“The evil that turns a man’s heart from the Lord is both subtle, progressive and most of the time very slow,” he said. “If we’re not careful, that which we stood for at one season of our life, we can turn from it in our latter years and become unplugged from the power of God.”
Using the Old Testament example of Solomon, he gave ministers three warnings. First, beware of the “danger zone,” where the heart is set against the head.
Though Deuteronomy told Israel’s kings not to rely on material things for security and not to marry foreign wives, Solomon did what he knew was wrong,
Traylor said. He explained that ministers similarly can rely on money for security as they age.
“If you’re not careful … you’ll stop being a prophet for fear your check will not be what it used to be,” he said.
Second, beware of the “deception zone,” where the heart overrules the head.
Like Solomon built altars to his wives’ foreign gods, ministers can begin to accept the false religions of sensuality, destruction of infants and unjust military conquest, he said. A pastor who stops preaching against those things may be letting a wicked heart overrule his head, according to Traylor.
When the newspaper recently announced a homosexual wedding in the conservative community of Pensacola, it reminded Traylor that the secular cultural agenda affects every community in America and must be spoken against.
“I’m here to tell you preacher, if we don’t lift our voice about that [homosexual ‘marriage’], we ought to turn in our papers, fold our Bible—if we don’t have a prophetic word,” Traylor said.
Finally, beware of the “destruction zone,” where a wise man becomes a fool by allowing his flesh to dominate his life.
“What God’s looking for is a pastor today whose head and heart are joined together,” Traylor said, “so that when God says, ‘Go,’ we say, ‘Lord, I’m yours.’”
Dooley, pastor of Dauphin Way Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala., said preachers must regain confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture. Though most Southern Baptists say they accept the Bible as God’s inerrant Word, too many rely on innovative programs and cultural fads rather than preaching to build their churches, he said.
Satan “is still around, but he’s got some new tools in his arsenal,” Dooley said. “Today he uses a hostile hammer to drive the nails of mockery as he whispers in our ear that the Scripture can’t possibly meet the needs of sophisticated, contemporary society. He has in his possession a secular saw by which he strips the Bible of its relevance as he convinces us that it may be true, but the Bible is just unnecessary for building a great church.”
Preaching from 1 Thessalonians, he said biblical preaching must be the centerpiece of all Gospel ministry and listed three ways in which the Bible is sufficient. First, it is sufficient to evangelize those separated from God.
“We continually decry declining baptisms in our denomination, and well we should,” Dooley said. “But I fear that much of the preaching that takes place in our pulpits does everything except point people to Jesus Christ.”
Second, the Bible is sufficient to exhort those who are sincere about God.
“The Bible also has a way of feeding the soul of the most mature Christian,” he said. “There is no dichotomy between using the Bible to reach the lost and feeding those who are saved. It is the Bible that takes us deeper in our relationship with God.”
Third, the Bible is sufficient to encourage those who are suffering for God.
Scripture supports believers through trials and at times is their only source of encouragement, Dooley said. He knows that firsthand because of his own experience when his son was diagnosed with leukemia last year.
“In the days the followed God drove me to the Scripture,” he said. “… I am happy to tell you this afternoon that my son is in remission. We are winning this battle against cancer. But I want to also say this to you: I am equally thankful that God has shown me His Word is sufficient even when we face difficulties.”
Cosby, pastor of St. Stephen Church in Louisville, Ky., raised questions among some conference attendees when he said in his sermon that Jesus was “xenophobic,” having an irrational fear of those who were different than Him. Later Cosby clarified that he believes Jesus was sinless and apologized for causing offense. He told Florida Baptist Witness he should have made explicit in the sermon that he believes Jesus was without sin. (For full story, see the Nov. 22 issue.)
George, senior associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga., said God uses pain and weakness to teach believers how to trust Him and to increase their effectiveness in ministry.
“If you could get close to some of the greatest men of God that you’ve heard about or you’ve listened to or you’ve read their writings—if you could get close to them, you would see some of them have more hang-ups than a walk-in closet,” he said.
“But do you know what God uses? He uses all those things in that closet to make them as powerfully effective as they are because those things represent weakness, and it’s through our weakness that His power flows the strongest. God’s sustaining grace is dispensed in direct proportion to my need.”
Preaching from 2 Corinthians 12, George explained that some trials in life are our own fault while others are the devil’s work. But ultimately God is responsible for allowing every trial and has a good purpose for them all.
The apostle Paul experienced an unnamed trial he called a “thorn in the flesh,” and God used it to ground him and increase his faith, George said.
“When we encounter thorns like Paul and problems and challenges, when we respond the right way, those things humble us,” he said. “And when we’re humble, we’re reminded that we really do need God. And when we’re reminded that we really do need God, we get on our faces and we cry out to God in desperation. And when we cry out to God in desperation, that’s when we’re best positioned to get the grace that we need.”
God alone knows our needs, George said, so at times He refuses to remove trials when we ask Him to. Pastors have a special need for trials to remind them that God is the source of power in ministry, not their own efforts or influence, he said.
“When I don’t need His grace because I’ve got what it takes, He won’t give me His grace,” he said. “But when I need it in double and triple doses, that’s when it comes in full measure. When I’m weak, then I’m strong. When I’m strong, that’s when I’m really weak.”
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