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Seek God's vision of people, pastors urged

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
PHOENIX (BP)--Hearing passionate pleas to view the people of the world as God sees them, attendees of the 2011 Southern Baptist Pastors' Conference were challenged to take action.

Following the conference's theme of "Aspire: Yearning to join God's Kingdom Activity," speakers on Monday afternoon and evening, June 13, said now is the time to reach the nations with the Gospel of Christ and not keep the Good News to themselves.

Addressing the conference were:


Afshin Ziafat, lead pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas, told pastors that a "proper understanding of the Gospel will be the greatest fuel for missions." In contrast, he said, "When our appreciation and understanding of the Gospel -- the grace that we've received -- wanes, then our heart for missions suffers."

The Iranian-American pastor preached from Jonah 4, warning pastors to heed God's words to the prophet and to see people as God sees them. Ziafat said the Gospel reminds Christians that prior to Christ saving them, they were once enemies of God, spiritually blind and separated from God. This recognition, he said, should fuel compassion for those who do not know Christ.

"Do you understand that it's by mercy and grace that you even know the truth of Jesus?" Ziafat asked. "If you understand that, I say to you that entitlement goes out the door, your rights will go out the door, and you will lay your life down so that others who don't know will know."

Ziafat, who came to Christ as a teenager after he read a Bible given to him by an English tutor, understands what clinging to the Gospel costs. His father disowned him for his faith. Additionally, he now trains Iranian pastors who have experienced imprisonment and persecution daily for their faith.

Still, Ziafat challenged pastors to recognize the sending nature of the Gospel: "The Gospel didn't come into our hearts to terminate with us. If you have really grabbed hold of the Gospel, it will send you out to others who do not know."


Ken Whitten, pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla., encouraged Pastors' Conference attendees to look beyond the outward appearance of people and seek what God sees -- the internal need for salvation in Him.


"What you see is what you'll be," Whitten said. "What you know is where you go. Your care will be your prayer, and your hands will always follow your heart. So, what do you see? ... efore we can begin to see outside of ourselves, we need to see what the Lord sees."

One of the things God sees, the Tampa pastor said, is a selfish culture, including the matter of money. Whitten showed a breakdown of how the dollar is spent by Americans: 24 percent on housing, 19 percent on health care, 22 percent on recreation/personal needs, 15 percent on food and 17 percent on automobiles. This totals 97-percent. "What do we have left to help the person who needs to be going on the mission field?" Whitten asked. "What do we have left to help the nations and help the people who are starving and need Gospel...? The real question is: What are we going to do with the rest?"

Whitten answered his own question with an example of the things Idlewild Baptist Church is doing for the Kingdom. These include world missions, adopting an inner-city elementary school and working with foster care children. "When you do things like that, you realize that all of a sudden God is doing something in your heart and it's going to cost. It needs to cost me, and I want it to cost me even more. Why? Because of the selfishness of our culture."

Whitten noted that when people study the Gospel, they are changed, gain courage and attain compassion and conviction. Using Acts 20:24 as his basis, Whitten said that when it comes to preaching the Gospel, even in dangerous places, "I've still gotta go."

"May we see not only the selfishness of our culture, and may we see the greatness of the calling of God, but may we see the lostness in our cities," he said. "Southern Baptists, let's embrace the ends of earth to the end of the age."


Pastors must be radically God-centered for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of God's name and for the sake of the nations, John Piper told pastors on Monday afternoon.


Piper, pastor for preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, used the first petition from the Lord's Prayer, "hallowed be your name," as the encouragement to pastors to be passionate about God's glory. The hallowing and treasuring of God's name, he said, is the ultimate purpose of all things.

"In eternity, we will not hallow the name of God so that anything happens," Piper said. "We will not hallow God's name as a means to anything. It's the end. When you have arrived at millions upon millions of people hallowing the name of God, you've reached the end. They don't do that for something. They do everything for that."

In the age to come, Piper said, God will give 10,000 gifts to His children, and none of those gifts will honor the Lord unless they are received by hearts that are treasuring Him more than the gifts He gives. Such treasuring and esteeming of God's name, he said, should be the supreme goal of every pastor's ministry.

Piper said his challenge to pastors to be radically God-centered was for spreading the Gospel -- the Good News about Christ's infinite sacrifice repairing an infinite injustice done to God's infinite holiness.

"Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came into the world to vindicate the infinite worth of God's holiness, which had been desecrated by our sin," Piper said. "In the Gospel, more clearly than anywhere else in the universe, God's name was hallowed. The infinite worth of God's holy name was infinitely treasured by the obedient Son of God."


David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., issued a passionate plea Monday evening for the pastors to seize the moment and seek to radically reach the nations with the Gospel.

Platt mentioned a trip he took to Egypt recently, encouraging and strengthening pastors there. Throughout the Muslim world, revolutions like the one in Egypt are springing up, filling Christians with the hope of greater freedom and opportunity to openly preach the Gospel.


"In all these different countries, there are opportunities in the midst of it for the spread of the Gospel, and that's really been what this conference in Phoenix, Ariz., has been all about," Platt said.

Not only have pastors and other believers at the Pastors' Conference heard passionate pleas to be active in taking the Gospel to the nations, but they had the chance to give to make that happen in two key ways.

Pastors' Conference leaders hope to raise $100,000 to engage an unreached people group in the Arabian Peninsula with the Gospel through a translation project and humanitarian relief. The second objective for the Pastors' Conference offering will be to fund similar pastors' conferences in Africa, India and Asia.

Platt again referenced his recent trip to Egypt, during which pastors told him of the many hardships and persecutions that Christians there have endured. Platt said he encouraged those pastors, saying that they weren't experiencing that persecution alone.

"I had the opportunity to gather around this pastor and each of those other pastors and to pray for them and tell them they are not alone, that we are with them, that when one part of the body hurts the whole body hurts," he recounted.

Sponsoring similar conferences around the world, Platt said, will ensure that the 2011 Pastors' Conference is "not just for our benefit but for the good of other brothers serving in the pastorate all over the world."


Christians must experience a Trinitarian revolution of the heart, Louie Giglio, lead pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, said.

"God is always at work, and He's always wanting to do more than just the collective horsepower of some good people together can do," Giglio said. "He's always going to show up in a way -- to move in a way -- that makes it clear to everyone that these people did not do this on their own. When that happens, glory comes to God in the church."


Giglio admitted that most Southern Baptists have misconceptions and fears regarding the role of the Holy Spirit. Wanting to avoid emotional excesses seen in churches that claim to have the Holy Spirit, some believers ignore the Spirit's role in the purposes of God. According to John 14, the Holy Spirit never brings attention to Himself but always points to the truth, testifies to Jesus and empowers believers.

"God always accomplishes His purposes through the person of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit," Giglio said. "Nobody can do what God has purposed for them to do unless they do it through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit."

Preaching on the account of Pentecost from Acts 2, Giglio explained what it looks like when the Holy Spirit evidences Himself in churches.

"When comes, there's not going to be more messages on the mission, because when the Spirit comes, people get going," Giglio said.

Giglio challenged pastors to live for Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and to lead their people to do the same. Then, he said, the world will know that what happens is truly from God and not from man.


Rick Warren, lead pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., ended the Pastors' Conference with a plea for church planting and a challenge to reach the world's 3,800 remaining unengaged people groups with the Gospel in the next decade. Warren called for pastors to either plant a church or have their church be a parent church for a new church plant in America and one among an unreached people group.

"For the Southern Baptist Convention to turn around, we're going to have to change the way we keep score," Warren said. "For the last 30 years, we have rewarded attendance. If you have big attendance, you get invited to speak. Friends, I have more respect for a church of 100 that's planting churches than a church of 1,000 that hasn't planted any. What we need to reward is not attendance but reproduction ... not size, but sending capacity."


Warren said it takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people, and all kinds of people to plant all kinds of churches. The defining mark of a mature church, he said, is whether it reproduces.

"All of the doomsday predictions of the SBC would turn around if everybody would start having babies," Warren told Baptist Press in an interview. "God blesses the unselfish church that thinks about more than its own church."

During his Pastors' Conference message, Warren described the PEACE Plan, an outreach strategy based on Jesus' ministry that nearly 15,000 Saddleback members have implemented to plant churches in all 195 nations around the world. PEACE stands for: Plant churches, Equip leaders, Assist the poor, Care for the sick and Educate the next generation.

At the end of the session, scores of pastors laid response cards on the main stage, committing to be part of planting churches in America and reaching the world's 3,800 unengaged people groups, in sync with initiatives of the North American and International Mission boards. Cards will be shared with the two boards for follow-up and strategic planning.

Saddleback, which has planted churches every year since its inception in 1980, has committed to provide training and will be launching a church planting academy this fall. The academy will take 100 church planting interns, provide housing and training for one year, and then send the interns back to their home churches to be sent out as church planters in the United States and around the world. Saddleback also will provide curriculum for churches that want to become church planting academies.

IMB President Tom Elliff shared the vision for the 3,800 unengaged people groups when he was elected to lead the IMB in May. Warren's plea comes alongside this vision.

Warren, in speaking with Baptist Press, said he wanted to demonstrate a "DNA of unselfishness" and pass along what Saddleback has learned to other churches.


"A great commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission will grow a great church," Warren said. "I'm just assuming responsibility to say, 'I don't want to go another decade .'"


Nominations were made for the positions of president, vice president and treasurer of the 2012 Pastors' Conference in New Orleans prior to the SBC's June 19-20 annual meeting. Only one nomination for each position was made.

Grant Ethridge, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Hampton, Va., was nominated for president by Fred Luter, senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans who noted Ethridge's leadership in evangelism and missions.

Archie Mason, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ark., was nominated for vice president by Wes George, pastor of First Baptist Church in Rodgers, Ark., while Philip Burdin, pastor of Cropwell Baptist Church in Pell City, Ala., was nominated for treasurer by Wayne Robertson, pastor of Morningside Baptist Church in Valdosta, Ga.

Compiled by T. Patrick Hudson, with reporting by Keith Collier, Tim Ellsworth and Frank Michael McCormack.

Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press

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