Jimmy Scroggins said he’s had conversations with several pastors lately who say that as soon as they can create an exit ramp to transition out of the ministry, they’re going to leave.
These days, it’s just too hard. Too divided. Too exhausting.
So in his message to the Alabama Baptist Pastors Conference on Nov. 16, he encouraged pastors to remember that the churches Paul invested in also faced problems both inside and outside the church.
“These kinds of things could make you cynical as a pastor or as a leader, or you could do what Paul is teaching us to do here — get some encouragement from Jesus,” said Scroggins, lead pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Preaching from Philippians 2:1–11, he urged them to choose humble love.
“Our churches should be little oases of love and harmony in the middle of a world that feels like it’s tearing itself apart,” Scroggins said.
Because of COVID-19, this year’s Pastors Conference was held virtually instead of at Taylor Road Baptist Church, Montgomery, as originally planned. During the conference, eight speakers, including Scroggins, unpacked passages on the theme of One Another.
Nathan Daniels, ABPC president and pastor of Bethany Baptist Church, Andalusia, said they are “powerful passages that have had a transforming effect on my life and my heart.”
Kevin L. Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, said they’re vital Scriptures, especially in the times Christians are living in right now. He said churches often tend to prioritize two of the three things that are weighty in the Christian life — the need to contend for the faith and the desire to live a godly life — and ignore the third: the command to strive for love and unity.
“I don’t think many Christians believe unity and loving one another is worthy of the same kind of energy as the other two,” Smith said. “We need to do a better job of forbearing with one another. The things we fall out over, the things we break relationships over, the things we will question someone’s Christianity over are horrible.”
Striving for unity brings God glory, he said.
Daven Watkins, pastor of First Baptist Church, Pelham, said that starts with serving others as Christ did.
Preaching from John 13:1–17, he talked about how Jesus modeled meaningful ministry in washing the disciples’ feet and how Christians can be empowered to serve in the same spirit by spending time with Him.
“Meaningful ministry is joyfully demonstrating the sacrificial love of Christ by serving others,” Watkins said. “Sometimes, friend, if we’re honest with ourselves, life, ministry, a pandemic, chaos, suffering — all of these things can rob us of our joy.”
But Jesus came to bring an unspeakable joy, he said. “It’s a joy that the world can’t waste away. It’s a joy that tragedy cannot topple. It’s a joy that cancer can’t cripple, that surroundings cannot stifle. It’s an everlasting joy, a joy that Jesus deposits in us. And as we minister to others, He pulls out of us His joy.”
Crawford Loritts, senior pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Roswell, Georgia, said Christians must actively choose to lean into Jesus and this kind of joy.
He shared Paul’s admonition to “rejoice always” from Philippians 4:4, noting that when Paul wrote that book, he himself didn’t have much to rejoice about — imprisonment was his reality.
“Our will must direct our emotions,” Loritts said, especially in a year where pastors more than ever are just one text message, email or phone call away from getting the wind knocked out of their sails. “Joy has to be independent of our circumstances.”
Draw near to Christ
Charlie Dates, pastor of Progressive Baptist Church, Chicago, Illinois, said pastors need to draw near to Christ and hold fast to the truth.
“Even when days are dark and grim, we hold on to what we believe,” he said, noting that they have that solid foundation in the all-sufficient ministry of Jesus Christ as found in Hebrews 10.
From that place of confidence, Christ’s followers can watch out for each other, Dates said. “Sometimes it’s the sharp edge of the Christian personality that prods another Christian toward love and good works,” he said.
In Scripture, it’s clear that “Christian character is seen in our concern for one another, that the demonstration of our real membership in the local fellowship is the way we take care of each other,” Dates said.
Ben Bowden, pastor of First Baptist Church, Enterprise, said sometimes caring for each other even involves church discipline. It’s biblical and loving, even though in recent years it’s become an unpopular topic, he said.
“When I came to know Christ, I started ferociously reading my Bible, and I saw some inconsistencies when I looked at the church,” he said. “In the Bible, I saw this idea of covenantal church membership and the idea of compassionate, gracious, loving church discipline. And I saw almost no churches faithfully living this out.”
The purpose of church discipline is to lovingly restore members who are in a covenantal relationship, Bowden said. In the Bible and in church history, congregations did this together for the purpose of helping each other stay true to Christ. But over the years, the church changed — it stopped prioritizing holding each other accountable inside the church and began focusing more on pointing fingers at the sinfulness of the culture.
Bowden encouraged churches to have a renewed commitment to the four steps of church discipline put forth in Matthew 18:15–17 — confront alone, then confront with others if needed, then tell it to the church if necessary, and finally excommunicate the members if they don’t respond to loving accountability.
“We need to ask the question, ‘what does it look like to actually carry this out faithfully?’ The way that Jesus demands, the way that history tells us, the way we ought to biblically and faithfully carry out covenantal church membership and compassionate church discipline,” Bowden said.
Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, said it’s important to keep the church body free of sin that hinders the Great Commission.
Preaching from 3 John, he said it’s important for pastors to encourage the spirit of men like Gaius and Demetrius — men who lived for God and for the sake of the gospel — and discourage the spirit of Diotrephes.
“Diotrephes was a man with a harmful agenda,” Akin said. “The presence of men like that is a death knell to the Great Commission in your church because they’re not looking up to the Lord Jesus Christ and His agenda but looking at their own selfish desires and their agenda.”
Juan Sanchez, pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, said one way to keep a church on the same page is to focus on cultivating a culture of prayer.
“Prayer is God glorifying. It admits our need and glorifies Him as a great Provider,” he said.
Preaching from James 5:13–16, Sanchez encouraged pastors to have churches marked by prayer.
“We need to model prayer in our gatherings,” he said.
An example, he said, might be praying Psalm 146 for someone who might be walking through a season of suffering.
“It is alarming that Christians can gather on a Sunday morning and all they do is hear a sermon and sing,” he said. “Those things are important, but there are more responses to who we are in Christ than just singing and preaching. Prayer is vital to our church’s life.”