Conference focuses on building healthy churches
OSAGE BEACH – The theme of the Pastors’ Conference this year was “Building Healthy Churches.” Joe Braden, pastor, First Baptist Church, St. Peters and president of the conference invited men from 9Marks ministries to come to Missouri and preach on this theme. The result was a great day spent in profitable discussion about how we can best build the church on the foundation of the Gospel to the glory of God.
Matt Schmucker, executive director of 9Marks ministries, opened the conference by speaking on the topic of “Display God’s Gospel by Listening to His Word.”
Schmucker said that most church leaders are encouraged to ponder the question – “What will make your church more appealing to outsiders?” In response to this question, three models are currently being promoted – traditional, seeker, and missional.
However, the question, “How do we reach the world?” is actually the wrong question with which to begin. Schmucker said, “This should be a secondary question, not a primary one, and when a secondary question gets put in a primary position there will be negative consequences.”
He said that far too often, outsiders’ preferences begin to determine what the church does.
“How do we worship in our local churches?” is a better question from which to start the conversation. Such a question produces a model for church life that Schmucker calls “The Worshiping Church” or “The Godward Church.”
Schmucker then wove a beautiful tapestry of biblical theology – Creation, Fall, Israel, Christ, Church, and Glory – in order to show that the church should display the character, likeness, image, and glory of the Son and the Father.
“God intends to use the local church to accomplish His creation purposes, displaying His wise, holy, loving image for all the world to see. The church is to be marked off from the world,” said Schmucker.
“Do not aspire to be relevant. Aspire to be faithful, and assume that the most relevant thing you can do is to be faithful – listening and obeying the Word of God.”
The second session featured Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington D.C. and the founder of 9Marks ministries, who spoke on “Preaching and Biblical Theology.”
Dever spoke rapidly and passionately about the importance of a Word-centered ministry. He said, “If you are going to be God-centered, that effectively means you must be Word-centered.”
Dever said that ministers who say they stand on the Word of God should have ministries known for vibrant expositional preaching. He said the fundamental idea of such preaching is to make the point of your sermon be the actual point of the text.
Dever proceeded to pour out a great amount of practical advice for preaching. He closed his message by referring to Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones as a metaphor of preaching the Word of God in the power of God with the results being completely dependent on God’s action and initiative.
Jonathan Leeman, director of communications for 9Marks ministries, delivered the third session. He spoke with urgency on the topic of “Conversion and Evangelism.”
Leeman said, “Because as a Christian I know the hope that I have in Christ, and I want the lost to have that hope, I want to see conversions.”
Leeman urged us to have great confidence in God’s power to save through the Gospel. He said, “The temptation is to constantly turn over the question, ‘How can I best do evangelism,’ as if just the right method will get the right response.”
Drawing from material in Dever’s recent book on evangelism, Leeman said evangelism is fundamentally not about getting a decision, sharing testimonies, doing works of ministry, or apologetics. Instead, evangelism is about speaking words – words of good news.
Schmucker emphasized the radical internal change that takes place when God saves a person through the Gospel. He said, “When a church misunderstands the Bible’s teaching on conversion, it may be filled with lots of people who have made sincere pronouncements, but have not experienced the radical change.”
After a break for lunch, Schmucker returned to the podium to speak on “Membership & Discipline.” This was a theme that Jim Elliff brought to the Pastors’ Conference last year and one that is receiving much more attention throughout the SBC.
Schmucker opened with some historical perspective, noting that during the origins of the SBC, churches excommunicated two percent of their membership every year even while growing at incredible rates. However, as Baptists began practicing various societal reforms – temperance and Sabbatarian issues– the less they exerted themselves in the practice of church discipline.
Schmucker argued that three reasons for lack of church discipline in the modern church are Christian nominalism, consumerism, and the idolatry of numbers.
In contrast, Schmucker said, “Next to prayer and preaching God’s Word, we actually believe that one of the most important things you can do for healthy church life… is to practice biblical church discipline.”
The final session was on the topic of “Leadership,” presented by Dever. Speaking from Acts 6, Dever spoke about elders, deacons, and the congregation itself.
On the topic of elders, he urged pastors to do everything they can to safeguard their ability to be men of the Word and men of prayer. This has to take priority over all other things.
Dever presented a lot of wisdom in explaining how the three groups – elders, deacons, and congregation – should work together for healthy church life. While Scripture spells out some of these matters explicitly, some of the practical outworking just has to happen with prayer and humility in the context of the local church.
There was a question and answer session at the end of each session, and this gave plenty of opportunity for discussion about the topics presented. From the questions asked, it was obvious that the material presented by the 9Marks team was both helpful and challenging. They readily admitted that some of their ideas are not normal practice within current SBC life. However, they believe that a look at SBC history would reveal widespread practice for some of the things that they advocate.
After the close of the conference, pastors mingled in the hallways and lingered over dinner discussing what they had just heard. Many pastors said the conference had really fed them and given them many helpful ideas to consider applying in their own churches and ministries.