If I Were to Preach at a Pastors’ Conference (by Scott Slayton)

Scott Slayton blogs at the eponymous “Scottslayton.net.” He offered me this post a while back (well, November) and being forgetful, I forgot to post it. I thought it was good. So, here it is, three months late.  I’ve often thought of what I might say if asked to speak at a Pastor’s Conference. this would make a good start. Scott is a pastor in Alabama, but we will not hold that against him.

This post has been stirring in my heart for a couple of years.  It’s not in response to any sermons that I have heard lately, but rather is something that has been eating at me since a sermon I heard at a Pastors’ Conference two years ago.  Allow me to summarize the sermon for you, “Things stink in America right now.  Things in America stink because the church stinks and doesn’t do enough to reach people.  In particular, your church stinks and isn’t doing enough to reach people, and your church stinks because you stink and aren’t trying hard enough.  However, if all of you would repent and be like me and my church then your church wouldn’t stink so bad.”

The preceding paragraph did not represent any actual quotes from the sermon, but it did capture the spirit of it.  As this Pastor was yelling at us that our lost neighbors condemned us and represented our cold hearts, I found myself saying out loud, “I am not condemned.  Because of Jesus, I am not condemned.”  This experience changed the way that I thought about Pastors’ Conferences and how I would preach at one if I had the opportunity.

For most of my ministry, I assumed that preaching to Pastors meant telling them all of the things that they needed to do better.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Most Pastors are men who are trying to follow Jesus, love their families, visit the sick, lead the church, read their neighbors, preach God’s word, and keep it all together.  They spend their weeks getting feedback from people about how their preaching needs to change.  They should work harder to make it more practical.  They should work harder to make it more theological.  They need to get the music more contemporary. They need to keep the music more traditional.  They need to reach younger people.  They need to make sure that they are not neglecting the older people.  They need to visit more. (But remember that they are also supposed to be working harder on their sermons.) They need to lead the church better, but not be overbearing. You get the point. Everywhere the Pastor turns he hears what he should be doing better.

So this would be my Pastors’ Conference sermon today:

“Pastor, you spend your days comparing and thinking about how you are not measuring up.  You constantly hear voices in your head telling you all of the things that you should be doing differently.  You are thinking today about how you need to pray more, visit more, study harder, and lead better; all while not neglecting your family.  Pastor, hear the words of Jesus today, ‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’  Pastor, rest in Jesus and who He is for you.  Find your righteousness in Him and not in the ministry.  Know that He does not condemn you and that you can cast all of your care and anxieties on Him because He cares for you.  By all means, work hard for the glory of God, but do not work out of guilt or because of the voices in your head.  Work hard because your labor in the Lord is not in vain.  And work hard, not in the strength of your flesh, but in the strength that He supplies.  Rest in Jesus, spend time in prayer, have fun with your wife and kids, study to preach, visit the sick, have your neighbors over for dinner, and then go to bed.  Sleep deeply, knowing that God’s Spirit is at work even when you are not.”

Comments

  1. Dave Miller says

    Great ideas.

    One nice thing is that our willingness to speak at a Pastors’ Conference can remain a theoretical thing. I’m not likely to be asked anytime soon!

    But I think your thoughts about the condemnation we sometimes receive are well taken.

    • says

      I’ve taught at Pastor’s Conferences in India. (Not that I’m particularly qualified. The Indian pastors at the conferences were simply considerably less qualified than myself.) The conferences there are not so much encouragement and admonition for pastors as they are training for untrained pastors. That’s encouragement enough: It’s amazing to see how excited the pastors get to have a better grasp on how to understand the Bible better and turn it into a sermon their people need.

    • Dave Miller says

      Which one? Scott’s?

      Or maybe you needed someone to beat you up and call you names? I can do that in a private Facebook message if you’d like.

      • Dale Pugh says

        No! I had myself to do that this morning! I needed Scott’s sermon. Your abuse I can get any time I want………or don’t want. Haha!

          • Dale Pugh says

            One of several at which you excel, I’m sure!

            Seriously, I rarely attend conferences anymore. Years ago I took in as many as I could, hoping to glean any information that might increase my effectiveness. I’ve come to the conclusion that many of these conferences are simply venues for the big names to sell books to those of us who wish we could have the “success” in ministry that so seldom occurs. I got tired of listening to people who couldn’t even remotely relate to me and my church settings tell me what I needed to do. The guys who never do weddings or funerals, the guys who never do hospital visits, the guys who only open their office doors to their friends, golf buddies, and the more financially prominent members of their churches, the guys who are “called” to study and teach and let other people get their hands dirty on a daily basis–they have nothing in common with most of the rest of us. Personally, that isn’t the work of ministry I see in the Bible.

            I get weary sometimes (like this morning). The weariness comes for different reasons. Some days it’s professional, other times (like this morning) it’s personal. I went to church, got real with people AND God, and received some healing ministry and care.

          • Dave Miller says

            Ok, Dale, forgive me for picking on you here, but I’ve had other conversations in recent months with people who are struggling, hurting and experiencing some of the issues you describe. Don’t want to call it bitterness, but I don’t really have a good word for it. A sense of frustration? Not sure.

            But I wish there was a way that we could get together in our weakness instead of putting on the facade of success.

            Again, sorry to piggyback on your comment to make this point. But I’ve seen enough of that to realize it is a real problem among Christians and Christian leaders.

          • Dale Pugh says

            No offense at all. I understood and appreciated the humor. I completely understand what you’re saying. Total agreement with you.

  2. William Thornton says

    “Things in America stink because the church stinks and doesn’t do enough to reach people. In particular, your church stinks and isn’t doing enough to reach people, and your church stinks because you stink and aren’t trying hard enough. However, if all of you would repent and be like me and my church then your church wouldn’t stink so bad.”

    Brilliant summary. Glad you were mature and sensible enough to see it for what it was.

  3. Truth Unites... and Divides says

    “Things in America stink because the church stinks and doesn’t do enough to reach people. In particular, your church stinks and isn’t doing enough to reach people, and your church stinks because you stink and aren’t trying hard enough. However, if all of you would repent and be like me and my church then your church wouldn’t stink so bad.”

    Sounds like a derivative from the Book of Revelations about the seven churches. Something about losing a first love, or other matters, like tolerating and condoning sin.

    Or should pastors tell the flock, “Touch not the Lord’s Anointed.”?

    • Dave Miller says

      Did you take your cranky pills this morning?

      Seriously, Scott was not saying that at all, and your caricature is grossly unfair and mean-spirited.

      I’ve been to conferences and heard just about precisely the sermons he was referencing, and I agree they were not helpful.

      Let’s discuss the topic – there is no need to get combative.

      • Truth Unites... and Divides says

        Some pastors are “comfortable.”

        Aphorism: “Afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted.”

        And some pastors are afflicted. A pastors conference should address both.

        Don’t be so cranky Dave. Just praise God the Seahawks won. :-)

  4. says

    Thanks for this post. I’ve just about written off all ministry conferences for this reason. They generally just tell me how bad I’m doing. I don’t need a hotshot preacher to tell me that. My family is already pretty good at it.

  5. Dean Stewart says

    Junior Hill is one of the great harvesters of souls that the SBC has ever had. Many people are not aware of how many people have been born again, for God’s glory, through his preaching. About 20 years ago he became the speaker most sought after for pastor conferences, evangelism conferences, etc… The main reason why is he encourages pastors. As wonderful as a soul winner he may be, I have often said his greatest gift is encouraging pastors. I pray his ministry years will be extended and others with his gift will increase.

    • Nick Horton says

      Amen on Junior Hill. He is aging fast. I am thankful I have been able to sit under that man of God for two years at the Jacksonville Pastor’s Conference. Such a heart for the downtrodden Pastor. Actually, the JaxPC is a great conference for encouraging Pastor’s. It continues to decline in popularity as far as I can tell, but the last two years have been fantastic. Ligon Duncan’s message this year was especially touching. they had a diverse crew; from Al Mohler to Jerry Vines, Russell Moore to Richard Owen Roberts, David Allen to Ligon Duncan, Ronnie Floyd to Eric Mason. Add in the fiery preaching of H.B. Charlies Jr, it’s an encouraging time. (Robert Smith Jr. preached as well! Heck of a conference this year)

      For you men who struggle with discouragement and burnout, whatever your theological persuasion, try it out. Their stated goal is to encourage the discouraged pastor.

      • Tarheel says

        Stating that as a goal, might not help attendance in that many (most?) of us pastors do not want to let people know where and how we struggle….going to conference that screams “I’m discouraged” just might not be high on the list of to dos…LOL

        But man that does sound like a good and diverse and likely very helpful lineup. I am aware that the attendance down there (Jax) has been dwindling down and down further for many years….Its good to hear that their lineup was so stellar this time…perhaps attendance will stop falling and start increasing so that more pastors may receive encouragement and be taught at that conference.

        • Nick Horton says

          I’m not sure what they can do, or why attendance has been falling. Maybe the “brand” (perish the thought) of JaxPC is too old and folks are looking to other newer conferences. I don’t know. I know that I have been greatly encouraged the two times I have been; last year and this. I thought going in to it that it would be of a particular theological persuasion given the host church and Jerry Vines/David Allen etc being on the docket. But, it’s not about that at all, and man is that ever refreshing and encouraging. They really do a good job of sharing the podium. Lest I forget, Paige Patterson was there this year. It was a great time. Good for all the men who went from my church, Pastor and deacons.

        • Nick Horton says

          One additional thought, the conference theme was not on discouragement but; “Feed My Sheep.” After the book by the same name. It centered on preaching. However, Mac Brunson’s goal, I think, is to encourage brother pastors.

  6. Mark Mitchell says

    I am pretty sure I was at that pastors conference. When did pastors conferences go from trying to encourage pastors to GCR propganda. I sat at the pastors conference at the national convention and could not believe my ears. One of the things I look forward to is pastors conferences. It seems the new young whipper snappers heading these things up are more concerned about raising percentages than anything else.

    Bring back old time guys like Junior Hill, Jerry Vines, Bailey Smith and the like. These new young guys could learn a thing or two.

    • Ole path says

      AMEN, Mark!!

      Need some ole guys back in the saddle at these conferences! Last decent conference I attended was full of older guys preaching, that’s where the encouragement comes from!

      Couple more guys to add to the list are Herb reavis & Phil Hoskins!

      • Dave Miller says

        I don’t think the solution is old pastors or young pastors. C’mon – we can’t drive by simply looking in the rearview mirror.

        But I think that some of these conferences need to get some guys who have experienced the struggles that some of us have gone through – not just the superstars with the spiritual Midas touch.

    • Scott says

      What I look for in a conference sermon is something that is challenging, encouraging, and helpful. I’ve heard this from both young men and old men. You mentioned Junior Hill and I’ve heard him many times at conferences here in Alabama. He’s never failed to both convict and encourage me.

      • Tarheel says

        I tend to enjoy Junior Hill too. He is both encouraging and convicting.

        I enjoy most of the sermons I hear at conferences…in fact I think I can count on one hand the times I have heard a sermon that failed to encourage, admonish, teach, and or convict me at a pastors conference. However, two of the sermons that comes to mind that were totally useless was preached by two speakers who have been mentioned here – but I will refrain from further identification. I have never and plan to never go back to that conference.

        I think some of you are just going to bad conferences…LOL.

  7. Tarheel says

    Might I humbly submit that instead of throwing out the baby with the bath water and forsaking all conferences…perhaps selecting better ones to attend might be the ticket.

    As far as conferences … Ive been to crappy ones, and I’ve been to great ones. Ive heard crappy sermons at a largely good and beneficial conference and I’ve heard good and beneficial sermons at an overall crappy conference.

    • says

      Tarheel,

      Excellent comment.

      I actually know laypeople who kept going to church even though they were discouraged by what they heard or saw from the pulpit. They prayed for the pastor too. I appreciate their faithfulness.

  8. Truth Unites... and Divides says

    Layperson: So this would be my sermon if I was a pastor:

    “Beloved, you spend your days comparing and thinking about how you are not measuring up. You constantly hear voices in your head telling you all of the things that you should be doing differently. You are thinking today about how you need to pray more, practice the disciplines more, read the Bible more, and serve more; all while not neglecting your family. Beloved, hear the words of Jesus today, ‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ Beloved, rest in Jesus and who He is for you. Find your righteousness in Him and not in servanthood ministry. Know that He does not condemn you and that you can cast all of your care and anxieties on Him because He cares for you. By all means, work hard for the glory of God, but do not work out of guilt or because of the voices in your head. Work hard because your labor in the Lord is not in vain. And work hard, not in the strength of your flesh, but in the strength that He supplies. Rest in Jesus, spend time in prayer, have fun with your spouse and kids, study to love God, visit the sick, have your neighbors over for dinner, and then go to bed. Sleep deeply, knowing that God’s Spirit is at work even when you are not.”

  9. Adam G. in NC says

    Let’s just go all-out and get Osteen to preach at the next pastor’s conference. I always feel better about myself after listening to that guy.

    • Christiane says

      or you could take this oft-forgotten advice:

      “”I do not fill my sermons with profound words and high-sounding ideas, for fear of diluting the mighty power there is in the simple message of the cross of Christ.”

      — St Paul (1 Corinthians 1:17)

      • Doug Hibbard says

        Seems like it would be almost too easy.

        I’m all for hearing honest men preach the honest truth. Exhortation to the Gospel, exhortation to obedience, encouragement in the work.

        If there’s a little extra skill-building, that’s fine. Usually I find my most encouraging times at conferences geared more toward study or skills than I do at preaching-type conferences. Give me 8-12 hours of digging deep down into the backgrounds, linguistics, and culture of a passage, and then another half-day on how to apply it.

        That kind of thing makes me happy :)

    • Dave Miller says

      I watched about a minute of his “show” last night. I looked at my son and said, “That may be the worst minute of preaching in history.” It was all about how God doesn’t want us to wait for eternity, or the future, to get our rewards (throw out that “treasures in heaven” thing, I guess) but that we should seek our rewards TODAY.

      He did not just ignore scripture, but he refuted and denied it.

      Pardon my french, but I wanted to puke.

        • Tarheel says

          I get a kick of how at the end of some of his shows when he says something like “I never wanna end this without giving you a chance to know more about Jesus.”

          I always think when I hear him say that….

          “who is that? I Haven’t heard you say much about him before.”

          • John Wylie says

            Osteen is terrible he never preaches the Gospel at all. In fact, I have never heard a rightly divided scripture expounded upon by him ever.

  10. Dave Miller says

    On the other side, back in the 80s I was a pastor in Virginia, and things were not going well. I was discouraged, possibly depressed, and seriously considering throwing in the towel on ministry.

    I traveled to the SBC (I think it was St. Louis, not sure) and sat through most of the Pastors’ Conference. Lo and behold, the theme was “Don’t give up.” It was one pastor after another who encouraged us to keep on keeping on and persevere through the hard times.

    It could not have been more encouraging for me and more perfect.

    • Tarheel says

      Yes, that’s the point I was getting after.

      Conferences, I think, are highly important (if not required) for pastors, IMO. We need to just set back sometimes and be preached to. We need to seek out opportunities to worship and be taught instead of being “the guy”.

      As pastors, I fear we too often get used to being the one doing the preaching and teaching and almost avoid sitting under those things ourselves.

      In fact, don’t we teach our people that church is not about us, our entertainment or simply meeting our felt needs, yet it seems here that some are expecting just that when we are being taught…

      I go to a conference every year. Most of the time it’s a highlight of my year…I’m sorry some of you guys posting here don’t seem to experience that. I truly am. I can recommend some conferences that have encouraged me greatly if anyone is interested.

      • John Wylie says

        I personally love pastor’s conferences. I especially like conferences on preaching, but ministry conferences are good as well.
        In so far as the subject of this article is concerned I probably take a middle of the road approach to these things. I mean I really don’t care to hear from a mega church pastor who all he ever did was climb an ecclesiastical ladder. But to be honest we do need to be accountable, we do need to be reminded that we have a responsibility, that we ought to be the best we can possibly be at what we do. Sometime pastor’s conferences can be very convicting and uplifting at the same time.

  11. says

    Jerry Vines, Junior Hill, Paige Patterson should have standing invitations to preach at any and all SBC Pastor’s Conferences.

    Every Pastor’s Conference should have at least one or two evangelists preaching.

    I would recommend all types of preaching at the conference: evangelistic, teaching, preaching to strengthen and encourage, pastoral preaching.

    I’d also say I’ve heard some great preaching at many of our Pastor’s Conferences.
    David R. Brumbelow