Pastors Conference encourages church leaders to finish course, keep faith

By Grace Thornton and Maggie Walsh
The Alabama Baptist

J.D. Greear said that if Peter were to share the high point and low point of his day in Matthew 16, those points would’ve been pretty polarized.

The high would’ve been when Peter told Jesus he believed he was the Christ and Jesus said He would build His Church on that confession.

But the low would’ve been not too long after that when Jesus called Peter “Satan.”

“Jesus ties all of His power to the confession of the apostles,” said Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. “But when Peter tried to reshape Jesus to meet his expectations, Jesus responded with the strongest rebuke of the Bible — ‘Get behind Me, Satan.’”

Distortions of Jesus still happen today, Greear said — people try to make Him fit who they want Him to be. “The truth of the gospel is not that if you follow Jesus, He will make all your dreams come true. It’s that He’s better than 10,000 dreams come true and is worth laying them all down and picking up a cross instead.”

Cling to Jesus

That was Greear’s message for the crowd gathered at the evening session of the Alabama Baptist Pastors Conference (ABPC), held Nov. 13 at Whitesburg Baptist Church, Huntsville.

If Christians will cling to Jesus — the real Jesus — and know Him for who He really is, they will see great things happen in the Church in the midst of very dark days, Greear said. “I believe the greatest movements of God are still in front of us, not behind us.”

Running strong into the future was the message of the conference, which was based on the theme “Finish!” from 2 Timothy 4:7, which says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”

Rob Jackson, pastor of Central Baptist Church, Decatur, and president of the ABPC, said many of the messages centered on long-term discipleship and pursuing God passionately for the rest of one’s life and ministry.

“I think the overall theme of discipleship really spoke to people and really ministered to those here,” he said. The messages were complemented by worship led by Clint Kimmel, associate minister of music and worship at Central Baptist.

Into the headwind

David Uth, pastor of First Baptist Church, Orlando, Florida, urged pastors to do the thing that God has called them to do, even if there’s resistance.

Preaching from Acts 27, he talked about how Paul felt called to Rome and headed there even though there was a headwind.

“Everybody has a Rome in their life, that place you want to go or that ministry you’d really love to start that God has put in your heart and you can’t get rid of,” Uth said.

He encouraged them to lean into the call of God on their life and to make use of the resources He provides — including shelters from the wind where they can find rest.

“Ninety percent of pastors are discouraged. Some say, ‘I’d rather burn out than rust out.’ Isn’t there another option? We’ve got to get out of the wind. We’ve got to find time to rest.”

Teman Knight, pastor of Heritage Baptist Church, Montgomery, encouraged pastors to wholly follow God like Joshua and Caleb in Numbers 13–14.

When the other 10 spies saw obstacles, Joshua and Caleb said, “It’s just like God told us, what are we waiting for — let’s go,” Knight said. “When God wants you to do something, He’s going to provide what’s needed to get the job done. Dare to be different. Quit making excuses.”

In addition to obstacles, shame can be a deterrent in following God well into the future, Phil Waldrep said. Shame can be “one of the greatest deterrents in the life of believers today,” he said.

But shame doesn’t have to have a foothold in your heart and life, said Waldrep, founder and president of Phil Waldrep Ministries. You have to “acknowledge its presence in your life,” “be willing to be transparent” and “be willing to accept the approval and the affirmation and the healing.”

When your identity is in Christ, He equips you to step out of the darkness of shame and into the light of one of His redeemed.

“Shame tells you to go and hide, but grace tells you to come out and play,” Waldrep said. “Shame tells you you’re nothing, but grace tells you you’re a child of the King.”

Living in that kind of freedom prepares believers to preach in the way that Jimmy Jackson, pastor of Whitesburg Baptist Church, Huntsville, encouraged pastors.

He told participants that God called Jeremiah to tear down the institutions, businesses and philosophy of his day so He could build them back up. And that’s exactly what we have to do in our country, Jackson said.

Jeremiah’s message was never popular but he was a man who cared for his people.

“In order to really minister to people you have to love them,” Jackson said, noting that showing real love in relationships is growing more and more rare with the increase of technology and prevalence of surface-level relationships.

Billie Hanks Jr., founder of the ministry Becoming a Disciple-Maker, agreed that deep, long-term discipling relationships are what’s needed in Baptist churches.

“We have the best pulpits in the land, but preaching and teaching alone won’t cut it,” he said. “We’ve got to get training back in the lives of our churches.”

Discipleship is a process not an event, he said.

“Every single person who prays to receive Christ in Alabama should be discipled. No exceptions,” Hanks said.
Scott Guffin said he too has seen the need for discipleship in order to prepare the next generation for the future.

His new role as executive director of Samford University’s Christian Ministries Degree Program has him thinking differently about “finishing well” than he did a few months ago.

Because of this role, he’s been doing a kind of informal survey asking those in academia what they think his focus should be in teaching students.

Teaching the Bible

“You know what they say? To teach them the Bible because we’re getting students in the seminary who know doctrine but they don’t know the Bible,” Guffin said to a surprised audience. “Maybe we’ve emphasized ‘watch your doctrine’ too closely, so this morning I want to put the emphasis on ‘watch your life closely.’”

Based on 1 Timothy 4:16, his message encouraged participants to watch their lives closely in three ways: by keeping pride in its place, by keeping relationships healthy and by keeping the world as our mission field.

“Do not love the world or the things of the world,” he warned. “The world’s not our playground. It’s not our battleground. The world is our missions field.”