The annual conference preceding the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting was held this year at the Phoenix Convention Center and focused on the theme, "Aspire: Yearning to Join God's Kingdom Activity."
Speakers in the Sunday evening and Monday morning sessions included:
Speaking from his experience of planting churches on Africa, Peter Ndhlovu, bishop of the Bible Gospel Church in Zambia, challenged attendees to join him in reaching the nations with the Gospel of Christ.
Ndhlovu, whose church has planted 286 churches in 13 African countries, preached from Matthew 24:12-14, urging pastors to fulfill the purpose God has called the church to accomplish -- making disciples of all the nations.
"We have a mission, and we have to accomplish it," Ndhlovu said. "We have to do it; now is the time, not tomorrow. We have no time to play games. We have no time to play church. We have to fulfill that which God has sent us to do."
That mission, Ndhlovu noted, is the heartbeat of the church. He added that the Kingdom of God is bigger than individual denominations, and it is time to set aside differences and focus on the purpose of accomplishing the Great Commission.
"I believe that if together we can bury our denomination boundaries, we can bury our doctrinal problem, we can only concentrate on the Kingdom, we can win this world for Jesus because He's about to come," Ndhlovu said. "Today is the time. We need to declare the message of hope. People need somebody to preach the Word."
Church planting is at the heart of Southern Baptist missions today, and that endeavor begins with individual churches, said Bob Pitman, longtime preacher and evangelist from Muscle Shoals, Ala.
Pitman tied that endeavor directly to the leadership of pastors.
"Denominations do not plant churches," Pitman said. "Churches plant churches, and churches that plant churches are churches that are led to plant churches by their pastors."
A major part of that leadership is preaching, Pitman said. Speaking from 2 Corinthians 4:1-5, Pitman pointed to the pastor's mandate to preach.
"We do not have to apologize for being preachers, because that is our foremost and primary responsibility," Pitman said. "When God calls you to be a pastor, He calls you to be a preacher."
Pitman called on pastors to preach the Gospel as servant leaders with pure motives.
"God is not interested in any personal agendas that we may push," he said. "God is not impressed as we climb the ladder in the denomination. The only thing that really impresses God is when we live for Jesus' sake."
Pastors must first get their own lives in order and live "the Kingdom life" before they can hope to influence the lives of their church members, Johnny Hunt, immediate past president of the SBC, said in his Sunday evening address.
Hunt, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., said that only when pastors have their lives properly ordered will the Southern Baptist Convention be successful in reaching people for Christ.
"We as the Southern Baptist Convention have had a blessed past," Hunt said. "But I personally sense that God desires to be with us in a more mighty way in the present and in the future if we are to touch this nation, which we're not touching as we ought, and the nations of the world."
To achieve this "Kingdom life," Hunt pointed to the Apostle Paul's example in 1 Corinthians 16. First and foremost, Hunt said Paul emulated the Kingdom life by being generous with his possessions.
"We need as much, if not more, emulation as we have exhortation," Hunt said. "We've learned how to say it; we've just got to learn how to do it. And we've got to do it by example and giving the people a way to follow."
Hunt challenged pastors to give liberally and to be willing to go to the places where God directed them. He also encouraged pastors to be willing to serve as mentors to younger pastors and to glorify Jesus Christ in all they do.
Bob Roberts, senior pastor of NorthWood Church in Keller, Texas, said Christianity is declining in the West while the developing world "is exploding" with a spiritual awakening. The church's challenge is "figuring out how to be a part of that."
"I don't want to just hear what He is doing in China and hear what He's doing in India and hear what He's doing in the Congo and hear what He's doing with college students in Iran -- I want to be a part of seeing God doing something massive here," Roberts said. "I don't want to miss out on that."
Reading from Colossians 4:2-6, in which Paul pleads for prayer so the Gospel may be preached and calls on his readers to walk in wisdom, Roberts said with global technology the Great Commission could be fulfilled in 10 years.
To do that, Roberts said several things are essential. Christians must "seize an open world," must connect with the global church and must be willing to befriend Muslims. For example, he told of his budding friendship with the imam of the largest mosque in Dallas-Fort Worth.
"I love that man," Roberts said. "I want him to know Jesus and I'm not going to give up."
As he was in the midst of planting a church in Las Vegas, Paul Gotthardt, lead and founding pastor of Life Baptist Church there, told how God laid it upon his heart to plant another church with a focus on the homeless. He said the area's homeless population was excited to have a church of their own.
Over the next two years, this church plant saw 13 come to faith in Christ, a number of the homeless reunited with their families, and several others were able to get into a local mission outreach program. And then, just as quickly as God provided the opportunity, He suddenly ended it with the police clearing out the people and bulldozing the area.
"I thought at the time, 'Man, that was a great opportunity.' But when I look back right now, I see it was a favorable season," Gotthardt said. "It was open for just a specific period of time. It was a kairos moment. It was something that in that moment as I was in prayer with God, that God helped me to see a need and helped my heart to be alert."
Speaking from Ephesians 5:15-16, Gotthardt said it's important to be positioned correctly in ministry to be effective for Kingdom activity. Once those ministries are positioned, he noted that the best way to accomplish this is to walk in wisdom and make the most of one's time.
"Our walk is how we live from day-to-day," Gotthardt said. "We are to remain alert. We are not to be foolish and self-centered, but we are to walk as wise people who are acknowledging God. Whenever we're in the habit of remaining alert, and we're not living for self but we are acknowledging God in His purposes, we are strategically positioned at that moment to buy back some time for God and his purposes."
Biblical maturity leads to biblical mission and to aspirations to share the Gospel with others, according to Darrin Patrick, lead pastor of The Journey church in St. Louis, Mo., and vice president of the Acts 29 church planting network.
"God must work in us if he is to work through us. The preparation, the work, the battle is in the soil of your heart. It is a war for control."
Preaching from Galatians 5:16-26, Patrick explained Paul's use of fruit as a metaphor for how spiritual growth takes place. Fruit, Patrick said, grows holistically, internally, gradually and communally.
"You have to be a person that is willing to deal with their own sin as they are dealing with the sin of others," Patrick said. "Your sin is a bigger deal than their sin. You should be more worried about your sin than that sin."
Patrick said that only when pastors are more concerned about their own sin can they deal appropriately with the sin of others.
"When God is doing something in you, you cannot not tell somebody about it," Patrick said. "God must be at work in us if He is to work through us."
Just as dropped phone calls result from a lost connection to a service provider, so "drops" in Christian ministry result from a lost connection to God, Bartholomew Orr, senior pastor of Brown Missionary Baptist Church in Southaven, Miss., said.
"Too many pastors in too many churches have lost contact with the Master," Orr said. "They're still in business, but they're not doing His business: His gospel is not being preached and His truths are not being proclaimed."
In a sermon from Colossians 1:24-29, Orr said that pastors drop connection with God for three main reasons: "(inadvertent) hang-ups," "dead spots" and "shut-downs." Hang-ups happen when the preacher forgets that he is only a servant of God, that he possesses God's Word and that the cost of faithful ministry is suffering, Orr said.
Dead-spots happened, according to Orr, when the preacher is not in God's will -- and God's will for the pastor is to preach, warn and teach. Preaching Christ crucified is the central message of the church, and that includes warning listeners about God's wrath and then teaching them the implications of this message.
Shut-downs occur from an absence of power, Orr said. Just as a cell phone needs to maintain a charge from a power source, so the pastor's power comes from a source. Orr explained that the only way for a cell phone to hold a charge consistently is to remain plugged into the power source. Such is the case for pastor as well.
"The power is not from us, but the power is from God Almighty," Orr said. Just stay plugged in."
Preaching on Jesus' miracle of water made to wine from John 2, Greg Matte urged pastors to be servants drawing on God's power to turn proverbial water in their ministries to wine. Matte is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Houston.
Noting the crisis at the Cana wedding celebration when the wine ran out, Matte emphasized that servants, already tired from their duties, were tasked with the burden of filling six stone jars -- each holding 20 to 30 gallons.
Following Mary's command to "do whatever he tells you," the servants filled the water to the brim.
"When God asks you to do something, when Jesus asks you to do something, do you do 51 percent, or do you fill it to the brim?" Matte asked. He warned pastors against a 75-percent effort in their ministry when such effort can often carry them on their talent or giftedness.
In filling it to the brim, "your heart for God will shrink" if the pastor in his weariness doesn't rely on God to do the filling. Rely on God, Matte said, and He will enlarge the pastor's heart.
"Church planter, you'll never have enough money," Matte said. "It will always feel like water. You walk with God. Missionary, it will always feel like water. You walk with God. Pastor, the sermon should always feel like you don't have enough. You walk with God. Walk with God, and Jesus Christ will change water into wine and you'll look back and go 'Wow, look at what God's done. He's done something I could not have done. He's brought the change.'"
Compiled by Tim Ellsworth, with reporting by Jerry Pierce, T. Patrick Hudson, Frank Michael McCormack and Aaron Hanbury.
Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net