The June 12-13 gathering, held in Phoenix prior to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in the Phoenix Convention Center, is intended to help pastors see "the big picture of what God is doing in the world" and rise above preoccupations with temporary issues, said Pastors' Conference President Vance Pitman, church planter and lead pastor of Hope Baptist Church in Las Vegas.
The conference also will underscore the planting of churches in North America and taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
Pitman said he is praying 1,000 churches will commit themselves during the conference to plant churches in "pioneer areas" of North America. Also, part of the annual offering taken during the gathering will be used to finish translating the "JESUS" film into the language of an unreached people group in the Arabian Peninsula.
The remainder of the offering will be used to conduct pastors' conferences on two continents that will use national leadership to assist church leaders in about 20 countries, Pitman said.
"We are currently living in some of the greatest days in the history of Christianity. There are more people right now coming to faith in Christ on a daily basis globally than any other time in human history," Pitman said. "I grew up in a traditional mindset where the focus was about the church, but I came to understand that the reality is all churches are temporary. There's only one thing that is eternal, and that is the Kingdom of God.
"When we understand that, we realize the church has been born to be a local gathering place ... and a launching pad for the expansion of God's Kingdom to the ends of the earth," Pitman said. "If every Southern Baptist church could understand the big picture of what God is doing in the world, it would change the discussions we are having in our fellowship. We wouldn't care anymore about the style of the dress, the style of the music, the start time of the service -- the stuff we spend so much time on. We wouldn't care about it if we realized the big picture of what God's doing in the world."
The Pastors' Conference program is designed to help participants see that bigger picture of God's Kingdom through a diverse lineup of speakers who nevertheless have one thing in common, Pitman said.
"It's not philosophy, style or methodology that unites Southern Baptists. There's some core theology, but really what brought Southern Baptists together was the mission, joining together in the big picture of what God is doing locally and globally," Pitman said. "We believe we can do more together than we can do by ourselves.
"If you look at our list of speakers, obviously, from a methodological and theological standpoint, we've got a pretty diverse group of people," Pitman added. "But the thread is that every speaker at our conference is a practitioner when it comes to planting churches and working globally around the world. Every one of them is engaged in the mission of joining in God's Kingdom activity."
The conference website, www.sbcpc.net, lists the event's speakers as including Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.; Ken Whitten of Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla.; Afshin Ziafat of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas; Louie Giglio of Passion City Church in Atlanta; Bob Roberts of Northwood Church in Keller, Texas; Peter Ndhlovu of Bible Gospel Church in Africa in Lusaka, Zambia; Paul Gotthardt of Life Baptist Church in Las Vegas; Darrin Patrick of The Journey Church in St. Louis; Gregg Matte of First Baptist Church in Houston; evangelist Bob Pitman of Muscle Shoals, Ala.; and Johnny Hunt of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga.
"If you look at every one of these guys, their theology and methodology has not become an obstacle for them in engaging the nations with the Gospel," Pitman said. "Every one of them is engaged in multiplying the church and working among the nations, recognizing that is the big picture of what God is doing."
The diversity of the speakers goes further, Pitman said.
"The other highlight for me is it's not all big church guys. Two of our preachers at this year's conference, their churches run less than 500 people in weekend attendance," Pitman said. "You don't have to pastor a mega-church to join in God's activity in the world. Both of these guys are working among the nations in different parts of the world.
"We've also got some racial diversity, which is very exciting for me. In our church in Las Vegas, we're about 55 percent white, we're probably 30 percent black, the rest are Asian, Hispanic, Polynesian," Pitman said. "We're not a white church, a black church, an Asian church or a Hispanic church; we're a Kingdom church. Our church looks like what heaven is going to look like.
"This year, the Pastors' Conference platform is going to look like what heaven is going to look like." When a church is connected to "the big picture of God's Kingdom in the world," Pittman added, "we're investing in something the Book of Revelation says is going to be around forever. The degree to which we are making Kingdom disciples and engaging in Kingdom activity, we're investing in something that's going to last forever."
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor and senior writer for Baptist Press. To learn more about the SBC Pastors' Conference program, visit www.sbcpc.net.
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