"The first thing that I did was pray and say, 'Okay, Lord, You have given me this assignment, and I've just got to trust You to guide me through it and show me exactly who You want to preach,'" Ethridge, senior pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Hampton, Va., recounted. "Because it's really not my conference or even the convention's conference -- this is a time when God speaks to His servants."
Ethridge attended his first Pastors' Conference in 1984, led by Charles Stanley, pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta.
"I attended every session, heard every sermon, went early and stayed late," Ethridge said.
That conference began to prepare him for his election as president more than 25 years later, impacting his ideas and goals for this year's June 17-18 sessions in New Orleans to create an atmosphere of influence and enrichment for pastors' spiritual lives.
"I was like a spiritual sponge. I just couldn't get enough," Ethridge said of his first Pastors' Conference. "I think about the awesome opportunity we have to influence young pastors. And so, certainly, that's part of our goal."
The Pastors' Conference is about more than the spiritual development of pastors and church planters. To Ethridge, it's also centered on equipping pastors to bring renewal to their churches.
"So it's about church planting, yes, but it's also about church revitalization. And it's about unreached people groups around the world," Ethridge said.
The Southern Baptist Convention is moving in a good direction but challenges yet remain, Ethridge said.
"We needed a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR)," he noted. "Two things have caused us to reevaluate, and one is GCR, but the other is the economy and how we can do more with less and make some hard decisions -- of what do we keep doing, what do we stop doing -- so that we can put more resources, more energy on the main thing."
Although the Pastors' Conference is still months away, planning is in full swing.
"Already, I am so excited about the speakers coming because God has opened doors that we have been praying about for some time," Ethridge said. "We have confirmation, and these men of God have agreed to come, and I can't wait to reveal who they will be."
Ethridge said he is starting to announce some of the speakers and musicians -- David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala.; David Jeremiah, pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif.; worship leader Charles Billingsley; and the Sounds of Liberty music team from Liberty University. To find out the latest, go to www.sbcpc.net. To view a video of this interview, visit www.sbcv.org/aboutus/ethridge-preparing-for-pastors-conference.htm.
Brandon Pickett is the director of media services for the SBC of Virginia; Amanda Sullivan is a writer for Innovative Faith Resources in Lynchburg, Va.
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