The 2017 Pastors’ Conference of the SBC was led by Dave Miller and his team who unapologetically structured this conference around twelve expositional preachers from average-sized churches. I had the privilege of being one of these twelve preachers. It was an incredible experience that I will never forget. To stand and preach where many of my heroes have stood and where much of the theology I believe was contended for was, in my estimation, a once in a lifetime opportunity.
A few weeks removed from this experience, here are five reflections. The model for the 2017 Pastors’ Conference…
1. Advocated a Helpful Aspirational Model of Ministry
While this conference was in no way a repudiation of mega churches, it did promote a model of ministry for which pastors can aspire: faithful expositional preaching in “average” sized churches. As others have noted, I believe some of the pastoral burnout we see can be attributed to a one-dimensional view of pastoral success tied to attaining the magical two thousand plus attendance figure. We give thanks for the brothers pastoring these mega churches but we also want the average pastors to know they can make a huge impact for the kingdom as well.
2. Featured the Bible as the Star
I had one of the more well-known passages from Philippians (3:12-16). Others had less well known passages that I guess they wouldn’t have otherwise selected as their first choice of a text to preach in front of thousands of pastors. Despite this, each preacher explained, illustrated and applied the word of God in compelling ways. This goes to prove, in my opinion, that the bad rap expositional preaching has gotten in some circles has more to do with boring preachers than with expositional preaching.
3. Revealed Variance within Expositional Preaching
I believe each preacher was himself in the pulpit at the Pastors’ Conference. This was encouraging to me because it put on display several different styles and approaches that may have resonated with a wide variety of pastors in attendance. It reminded us all that while there are fundamentals in expositional preaching, it doesn’t mean we must mimic or copy someone else’s style to be faithful.
4. Confirmed the Preference for Expositional Preaching in the SBC
In the conversations I had with pastors after the Pastors’ Conference, I discovered that many of the people who came weren’t as attracted to the “average preacher” element as they were the focus on expositional preaching. I don’t know the exact attendance numbers, but it seemed strong, especially for Phoenix. It is my belief that this had more to do with a desire to hear the book of Philippians than the preaching from the average pastors.
5. Displayed the Fruit of the Conservative Resurgence
Twelve expositional preachers from average sized churches of varied ethnicity all unapologetically committed to the inerrancy and authority of the Bible is in my opinion the fruit of the Conservative Resurgence. Doctrines that were once questioned are now foundational not only for our seminaries but also for churches of all sizes. Biblical inerrancy has informed a generation of preachers to the point that the committee selecting “average” preachers said they had enough quality preachers to host this conference for three years. I found it incredibly fitting for this display to happen at the Pastors’ Conference since this very forum was the place these doctrines were so passionately promoted and defended.
The SBC owes Dave Miller and his team an incredible debt of gratitude for tackling this conference in the manner they did. It is also encouraging to note that with H. B. Charles at the helm for 2018, we can expect a continued emphasis on expositional preaching. One could argue that Dave’s approach has set the stage well for another year with this kind of emphasis. Time will tell if this impact on the Pastors’ Conference will continue beyond 2018.
Dr. Spencer Plumlee serves as the pastor of Riverview Baptist Church in Osage Beach, MO, and was one of the speakers at the 2017 SBC Pastors’ Conference. You can see his message from Philippians 3:12-16 here.