I wanted to write and give some clarity to why I am nominating a small church pastor to lead the Pastor’s Conference in 2017 and why I support the idea of a conference of small church preachers focused on biblical preaching. This article is meant to provide some clarity on my own thinking about why I will make a nomination on Monday to do something different in 2017.
Let me first affirm some of the ideas behind our past conferences (which I personally have benefitted from) and the rationale behind the status quo:
The Case for Christian Celebrity
The very word celebrity is based on the idea that we celebrate the gifts and talents of a person and their contribution to society, whether in the arts, the sciences, athletics, or in this case preaching and pastoral leadership. The reason we pastors admire and flock to hear particular preachers is because of their giftedness and service to the kingdom. I have come to the conclusion that these men are gifted by God in ways that I am not and that their gifts are being used in service for the church. That’s why I have no qualms about attending conferences with “Big Name” preachers. Not because I idolize these men, but because I recognize their ability to understand and explain the Scriptures and can learn from their leadership. There is a place for recognizing the contributions of those God has gifted in particular ways and celebrating, and learning from them. As a small-church pastor, I have greatly benefitted from these types of conferences and from hearing and reading these celebrated leaders.
The Case for a “Celebrity” Pastors Conference
I don’t believe it is a bad thing that our annual Pastor’s Conference is typically slated with well-known speakers, nor that a number of those speakers every year come from outside the SBC. For many pastors, the SBC pastor’s conference is the only such conference they will attend and it is their one opportunity to be fed. Why would you not want to be fed with some of the most gifted leaders and teachers in your field? I am reminded by Thabiti Anyawible’s remarks about a similar conference several years ago:
“I’m greatly indebted to many of the conference speakers I have the privilege of hearing. And I would gladly hear them any chance I get. But I’m not worshiping them. Nor am I denigrating the so-called “ordinary pastors” or unknown pastors that I also appreciate and regularly listen to. Like most of you, I could name several faithful pastors who have at one point or another shepherded my soul and fed me spiritually that no one else is likely to know. I love them all, respect them all, and gain much from them. There’s no “either/or” here. Love and respect all the faithful brothers the Lord blesses you with, whether well known or plowing the fields in relative anonymity.”
Indeed, if we want the Pastor’s Conference to be beneficial to those who attend, one effective model is to bring in well-known, respected, gifted leaders to lead it.
The Case against Celebrity-ism in the SBC
Celebrity is not the same as celebrity-ism. Celebrity merely means that we celebrate the giftedness, achievements, and contributions of certain persons and recognize them accordingly. Celebrity-ism behaves in such a way that those gifts and achievements give persons a higher status or importance and treats those who are not well-known as of less significance and importance. Celebrity-ism is a form of idolatry.
One danger is that an over-focus on celebrity may become celebrity-ism and communicate something about what we most value. Too often in SBC life, large and mega-church pastors are the only visible leaders in our Convention. If we truly value the contributions of small churches, we need checks against the idea that the only people of significance are mega-church pastors with superior speaking skills and well-known preaching and teaching ministries or that only mega-pastors and mega-leaders are capable of leading our denomination. To their credit, our most well-known and respected leaders are humble, godly men. They regularly give words of encouragement to small-church pastors and share of their own past experiences ministering in small churches. Their verbal affirmation and encouragement is one such check.
A more significant check would be to appoint small-church pastors and laymen to our trustee boards and committees, elect small-church leaders to leadership roles, and see a visible presence of small-church leaders on the Convention platform. That is why in our interviews with the current candidates for SBC President, we specifically asked “How can you help increase the involvement of smaller churches and their pastors in denominational leadership?” In our SBCVoices interviews, I felt that none of the candidates answered that question directly.
The nomination of Dave Miller is our small way of furthering that ideal. We propose a Pastor’s Conference focused on biblical preaching by small-church pastors and a small church Pastor, with the help of a band of other small church pastors, to lead it. Our modest proposal is one small check against Celebrity-ism and an opportunity to “celebrate” the significance of our diverse leaders and at the same time, center our focus on the preaching of the word itself.
The case for a Small Church Conference in 2017
What we’re proposing is to do something different in 2017. The idea is not a slam on well-known, gifted leaders. The idea is a check against celebrity-ism and an affirmation to the regular, small-church pastors in our convention that we recognize what really matters. Faithful pastors who preach the Word are of great value to God and are the life-blood of our Convention.
In Scripture, we find that the preaching of the Word in the power of the Holy Spirit is what matters and not the status of the preacher (Gal 2:6; 1 Cor 1:26-30; 2:1-5; 3:1-9; 2 Cor 4:5-7; 11:5-6; etc.). A “small-church” pastor’s conference led by a small-church preacher is an affirmation that we believe the Bible is right here.
That is why on Monday, I will nominate a small church pastor for Pastor’s Conference president. If you come and vote for Dave Miller, you really are not voting for a single pastor and his merits (though Miller is indeed a worthy candidate), but for an idea that small church pastors have something significant to contribute, that the diversity of leadership in our SBC churches is worth celebrating, and that the preaching of the Word and not the celebrity of it’s speakers is the most important element of any Pastor’s Conference.
I hope you will join me in electing Dave Miller for president of the 2017 Pastor’s Conference.