BALTIMORE, Md. (BP) – The 2014 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference, themed “Show Us Your Glory,” concluded much as it began with speakers calling attendees to live passionately for Christ and to lead others to make disciples.
The June 8-9 sessions in the Baltimore Convention Center preceded the June 10-11 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.
“The greatest potential for the Kingdom of God is not in the pulpit, but in the congregation,” said J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C.
Greear focused on John 16:7, which reads, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” Greear also read John 14:12, in which Jesus told His disciples, “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”
Sharing the gospel with people and seeing lives changed from death to life is ultimately greater than Jesus’ earthly miracles, Greear said.
“When we preach the gospel and sinners believe, we are doing the greater work,” he said. “We are doing the thing all of Jesus’s miracles were trying to illustrate.”
Much of church growth, Greear said, is based on “shuffling existing Christians around” while reaching lost people accounts for just a small percentage of growing churches.
Greear called churches to be more concerned with spreading the glory of God on earth instead of their own glory.
“Sending capacity and not just seating capacity ought to be the measure of any Kingdom-minded church’s success,” he said.
Churches were called to sacrificially give away their best resources, leaders and opportunities in order to grow for God’s glory.
“Jesus’ promises about the greatness of His church are tied to sending,” Greear said.
The surprise speaker of the Pastors’ Conference was Alex Himaya, pastor of theChurch.at in Tulsa, Okla. Bad weather prevented Tony Evans, the originally scheduled speaker, from flying out of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
In lieu of recapping statistics describing the poor state of the church in America, Himaya simply called pastors and everyday believers alike to share their redemption story with those around them as a way to call people to faith in Christ.
Himaya’s message focused on Rev. 12:11, which reads, “And they overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”
Himaya said he fears Christians today have overcomplicated the gospel. The essentials, he said, are the blood of Jesus shed for sinners and Christians’ testimony of transformation, as described in Rev. 12:11.
With that in mind, Himaya shared his personal testimony of growing up as the son of an Egyptian father and a mother from North Carolina. Both he and his brother came to faith at youth camps and later led their parents to Christ. He closed his message by calling attendees to pause for prayer, asking God to show them their testimony, help them organize it and write it down, lead them to practice it and give them opportunities to share it.
“He wants to use us to take the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony and share it with those who desperately need it … it’s good news,” Himaya said. “[W]e are taking the greatest news on the planet to the world that Jesus wants to save and died and gave His blood for. That’s as simple as it is.”
Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., spoke Monday evening about suffering. His message came a little more than a year after his son Matthew committed suicide.
Warren kept his remarks brief, saying that, though he had prepared a full message on suffering, a whisper from the Holy Spirit guided him in another direction during his flight to Baltimore.
“The Holy Spirit whispered to me, ‘The people and the pastors need your prayers more than they need your sermon,’” Warren said.
After speaking for about 15 minutes about suffering, Warren called for those who were in the midst of suffering to walk to the front, where he knelt and prayed for them. Warren asked the Lord to use the suffering in their lives to make them more like Christ and to better enable them to minister and witness. Many in the crowd came forward.
Before the prayer, Warren told the attendees that suffering, though entwined with sorrow and grief, can be and is used by God to accomplish His purposes. He said he has learned from his own experience that, after asking “why questions” – questions that even Jesus asked – Christians must realize that God allows suffering to direct, inspect, correct, protect and perfect them.
“If you study church history, you will discover that behind every publicly successful ministry, there is private pain,” Warren said, adding later that in his worst year, Saddleback had its best year.
“Pain is God’s megaphone,” he said. “There is no testimony without a test. There is no message without a mess. There is no impact without criticism. It is not by accident that the most blessed ministries are also the most attacked ministries.”
Warren also offered five specific ways people can use suffering when it comes, telling them to use it to draw closer to God, to draw closer to people, to become more like Jesus, to help others and to witness to the world.
“God’s number one purpose in your life is to make you more like Christ,” Warren said. “If God’s going to make you like Jesus, He’s going to take you through the things that Jesus went through.”
James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Church in Chicago, and Francis Chan, author, speaker and former pastor of Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, Calif., also addressed the pastors.