Not because past Pastors’ Conferences have been bad. They haven’t. We’ve been blessed.
Not because mega-church pastors are power-hungry prima donnas who won’t share with the other kiddies. They aren’t, and if any of us think that way, we ought to examine our own hearts and make sure there aren’t bad, green-eyed things living in there. The men who have been leading our Pastors’ Conferences are (a) brothers of ours who have (b) sacrificed to do so (c) without getting anything to show for it because (d) we asked them to.
Spending a year watching this Pastors’ Conference be put on by pastors of average-sized churches is good for us because it confirms so many points of what we believe and what we do together. This 2017 event vindicates Southern Baptist thinking and practice in at least two important ways.
First, I hope that it will vindicate what we believe about the Bible. Some great communicators speak regularly at our Pastors’ Conferences, and I’m thankful for that. Nevertheless, I think it is a hallmark of today’s SBC that we believe that the power of preaching resides more in the text being preached and the Spirit empowering the preaching than in the man doing the communicating.
Or DO we believe that? This Phoenix Pastors’ Conference will be something of a litmus test in that regard. It will be a test for all of those who wind up preaching. These pastors will fall broadly into two categories: the terrified and the insane. That’s likely to be true no matter how much experience each one has or how much skill each one has, just because he has never done anything quite like this before. Each one of these men will have to reach down into himself and find a confidence in the Word of God, and then he’ll have to step forward and preach it with boldness, losing himself and his insecurities in the enormity of “Thus Saith the Lord.”
It will be a test for all of us who attend. There are going to be people who rooted for this project but who find themselves looking at a list of preachers in January and hearing a voice perched on their left shoulders saying, “Who ARE these people? I don’t recognize any of these names. Why would I go all the way to Phoenix to hear THEM!?” Each of us will need to remember that this Pastors’ Conference promises to base itself upon the bold exposition of the scriptures. Let us find our confidence in the proclaimed Word of God, not necessarily the proclaimer, and let us attend with hunger and expectation. I’ll bet that you’ll walk away saying, “Wow! How did I ever consider skipping this!?”
Second, I hope that this event will vindicate the work that we Southern Baptists do together in training men to preach the Word of God. If we only think that a handful of people in the country are any good at preaching the Word of God, then why do we spend millions of dollars to operate six seminaries? My friends, I believe that our seminaries are releasing upon the world each year dozens upon dozens of great preachers, skilled at exposition, ready to proclaim God’s message. Perhaps this will be the year when we will remember that fact. We are not a people of a FEW great preachers; we are a family of churches with hundreds of great preachers spanning the fruited plain.
In conclusion, Dave has been talking about this sort of thing for years, as have several other of my friends, some of whom are in Dave’s merry band and some of whom are in other quarters of the SBC. For years, I’ve been the one telling them that it couldn’t really be done. The budget is too high, I told them. The logistics are too difficult. Normal pastors cannot do this. I continued in that vein up until the ballot came in the way it did, surprising me very much.
I think I was wrong. I think the disease that this Pastors’ Conference will cure has nothing to do with the pastors who serve at larger churches. I think it is going to fix something that is all too often wrong with those of us serving in smaller locales.
Why is the 2017 Pastors’ Conference good for us? Because people like me have been thinking for too long that we can’t do something like this, betraying the doctrines I believe and the cooperation I practice. When we start to think that we can’t, we need a band of merry men to come along and straighten us out, not so that we can believe in ourselves, but so that we can believe again in an almighty God who uses shepherd boys and trumpet-warrior brigades and Damascus-blinded visionaries and maybe…just maybe…even Iowa pastors to remind us all that the battle belongs to the Lord.