Pastors, evangelists open their hearts to share passion for ministry
By EVA WOLEVER, REGINA HICKS & JONI B. HANNIGAN
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In keeping with the conference theme, “Pastor at Heart,” keynote speakers exhorted listeners to have a heart like Jesus, a heart for His people and a heart for the world.
McGregor’s Kayla Powell, daughter of Pastor Richard Powell, led worship along with the choir and orchestra from McGregor Baptist and Clyde Annadale, a dramatist from Atlanta, Ga. Kayla Powell is a student at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
In a business session, conferees elected officers for 2007 to assist President Thomas Vinson, First Baptist Church, Winter Park; first vice-president, David Cleveland, Broadway Baptist Church, Tampa; second vice-president, Wesley Green, Christway Baptist Church, Miramar; and president-elect for 2008, Tim Passmore, Woodland Baptist Church, Bradenton.
Illustrating how God should be welcome in His house, Richard Powell, senior pastor of McGregor Baptist Church in Fort Myers, spoke of how people tell unexpected visitors to make themselves at home, yet don’t want the visitor poking in any closets.
“The heart of this pastor is that I want to make sure that we are committing ourselves lock, stock and barrel to being a part of, to giving our lives to, to building and seeing God minister and grow in churches,” Powell said. “The key component of our churches in the Florida Baptist Convention, at the pastors’ conference of our churches, is all about having a church where God is completely welcome.”
Referring to the Jerusalem church after Pentecost in Acts 2:43-47, Powell said God expects His church to work diligently. People often join a church for the “goodies” it offers rather than how they can help in ministering, Powell said.
“We must be willing to roll up our sleeves and to go to work,” Powell said. “There is a lost world that needs people who love Jesus enough to sacrifice those meetings to go visit, to give up some overtime, because you need to be a part of what the Body of Christ is doing.”
The church is important, Powell said. Although people can experience God through devotions, golf, or holding a new grandchild, the church is the only place where God guarantees His presence, Powell continued.
“The great hope for our world, the great potential to transform our city, is not the government. People are saying we’re in trouble because the Democrats won. Last time I checked, the Republicans didn’t exactly bring revival,” Powell said as laughter rang around the sanctuary.
“I’m not worried about the Democrats being in power; God is on the throne,” Powell continued to the sound of loud applause.
God expects His church to preach powerfully, Powell said. The pastor and his church must have a heart to preach and teach God’s Word, he added. According to a poll by The Barna Group, the primary reason lost people who had placed their faith in Jesus chose one church over another was because the church taught the doctrines of Christ in a way that “met their need and fed their hungry soul,” Powell said.
“Any church that ever stops preaching the Bible by default stops being a church because the church is to be passionate about preaching the Word of God powerfully,” Powell added.
God expects his church to worship enthusiastically, Powell said.
“People are passionately dying to find a church that will worship Him in genuineness with enthusiasm,” Powell continued.
Reading from Ezra 3:10-11, in which the Levites praised the Lord with trumpets and cymbals and the people shouted in praise, Powell said biblical worship is loud and alive. The Bible speaks of singing, praising, lifting your voice, and “d-d-d-d-d-dance,” Powell said in a purposeful stutter amidst laughter.
“It’s right there in black and white,” Powell said. “And by the way, this is God’s black and white.”
Drawing from Ezra 8:23-“So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer”-Powell said God expects His church to pray sincerely.
Going back to Acts 2:47, Powell concluded saying God expects His church to witness convincingly.
“With the heart of a pastor and the heart of the people, would you celebrate a million dollars, a hundred members, or one soul who comes to Jesus Christ?” Powell continued. “I believe the heart of every true pastor and the heartbeat of every true New Testament church that God wants to show up at is the heart that says this: nothing is more important than the soul,” Powell ended in a whisper.
Rick Coram, a preacher from the age of 16, spoke of a bone yard revival at the pastors’ conference Nov. 12. The Jacksonville evangelist referred to Ezekial 37:1-12 in which God raised up a valley of bones, transforming the dry skeletons into a moving army and compared it to God reviving a dead body of believers.
The first key to revival is recognizing the problem, Coram said.
“That’s the tragedy-folks that are dead, churches that are dry,” Coram said. “Someone says the reason more folks don’t go to church is because they’ve been there. And they’ve seen the condition of our churches. … We need churches with passion and purpose and power … Because more than ever we’ve got a nation that has great need, a nation that has lost its moorings, a nation that needs the touch of God.”
Coram referred to the steadily decreasing percentage of people born after 1965 who hold Bible-based convictions. Coram said the generation of people born between 1946 and 1965, 35 percent have Bible-based convictions. He made the point that if this generation legalized abortion, took steps to allow “gay marriage,” and witnessed the advent of morally corrupt television and internet pornography, he wondered what will the following generations of even fewer convictions do.
“The day may come that they would mock the fact that one day we had ‘under God’ in our pledge. They may mock the fact that we had ‘IN GOD WE TRUST’ on our money,” Coram said, his voice getting louder. “These are days for Christians to wake up, churches to rise up, preachers to speak up, and the Body of Christ to stand up. These are days to run and repent to the God of our fathers. Holy Ghost revival is the only hope for our nation.”
Reading Ezekial 37:3, Coram said God is the only solution to the problem.
“Revival is a sovereign, supernatural act of God and it’s not manmade; it is God-ordained,” Coram said. “It cannot be manufactured by a musician, orchestrated by an evangelist or constructed by a choir.”
For revival to occur, there must be a return to preaching, Coram said. Reading verse four in which God tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones speaking the Word of the Lord, Coram said God is saying to speak the truth. The Word of the Lord is plain and not always easy to hear, Coram said.
“Sometimes it makes you say, ‘Oh, me’ instead of ‘Amen,'” Coram said.
Ezekiel’s message to Israel was not pleasant, Coram said. Israel was “whoring” with idols and disobedient. Their disobedience led to distance from God and spiritual dryness, Coram added. America is flooded with gospel music and television evangelists, but people and churches are spiritually flat because there are idols in the way, Coram said. An idol is anything-money, football, or a number of things-that takes the place of God in a person’s life, Coram continued.
Ezekial didn’t preach a message on “how to be a happy skeleton” or a sensitive sermon on “it’s ok to be skinny,” Coram said. Referring to a quote from R.G. Lee that he would rather “preach a message that hurts and then heals than a message that comforts and then kills,” Coram said he would rather have a preacher tell him what he needs to hear than a “sweet, syrupy communicator” tell him something he wants to hear.
“There’s miracles when you preach the Book,” Coram said reading from verse seven when God knits the bones together, adding flesh and tendons to the skeletal frames. “I’ve been in dead churches and preached this Book and seen them come alive. I’ve been in hurting churches and seen them healed, discouraged churches and seen them be encouraged. Jeremiah said it’s a hammer, boys. Just keep preaching,” Coram said as he waved his Bible and jumped up and down.
Pastors can preach the Gospel all day long, but it won’t make a difference without the Spirit of God. God’s people must request His power, Coram said. Without His Spirit, the message and the people are dry and useless.
People are dry when they have nothing to say in prayer, when “worship is no longer a wonder,” when a preacher is more concerned with time than text, when ministry is more of a job than a joy.
“O, Holy Spirit, breathe on me,” Coram said. “Revival in the church, men of God, it begins with us.”
Leading the attendees in prayer for the dryness of the nation, leaders, and the church, Coram asked pastors to pray for God to hydrate them and for laymen to commit to pray for their pastors and their pastors’ families. As the praise chorus “Breathe” played, people filled the aisles holding hands in unified prayer at Coram’s urging.
Fred Wolfe, Founder of the Barnabas Ministries, Canton, Ga., brought a message from Luke 15 on lessons learned from the Prodigal Son.
The passage in reference to the Prodigal Son is and should be a foundational point for those committed to having a heart like Jesus, Wolfe said, and there is no passage in the Bible that reveals the heart of God greater than this story.
If churches want to see the heart of God, they should look at the father of the Prodigal and see how he treated the son who came home, Wolfe continued. Unfortunately, however, many in the church are suffering from offended spirits and are spiritually suffering, he noted.
Wolfe said examples of the Prodigal teach three characteristics of an offended spirit: anger, isolation and self pity, warning pastors of the pitfall of a wounded spirit.
“Pastor, if you don’t recognize and deal with an offended spirit, you will go through your ministry and not be effective,” Wolfe said. “An offended spirit will neutralize you and make you ineffective in the work of God.”
Referring to an offended spirit as producing bareness and joylessness, Wolfe said offense and joy cannot live in the same heart and it’s difficult for pastors today because so many people are living with offended spirits. Wolfe said God’s provision for the cure of an offended spirit comes from the promise found in verse 31 of Luke 15 that God is always near and all that He has is freely given.
“Have the spirit of Jacob,” Wolfe said. “Spend time in the Father’s presence and tell God you will not leave His presence until He delivers you from your offended spirit. If you allow yourself to operate and not deal with an offended spirit you won’t have a heart for the ministry.
“Get in the Father’s presence,” Wolfe continued. “Life is too short and Jesus is too important to live one minute with an offended spirit.”
James Merritt, pastor of Cross Point, The Church at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga., said the number one factor causing many to leave the ministry today is the same problem Moses dealt with in Exodus 18.
“There’s a pastor in this conference that feels if he doesn’t hear something from God today, he’s finished,” said Merritt. “We don’t get a great deal of encouragement from our churches and too many of us just don’t realize how much stress we are under.”
In Exodus 18:17, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, informed Moses that the work he was doing was too heavy for him. Moses could not handle it alone, Merritt recounted. Subsequently Moses was overworked and needed to understand he had reached his limit, said Merritt, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Merritt stressed that pastors should know their limitations.
“Stress is the demands that are placed on us in every day life,” he said. “I must know the difference between my ‘ought-to’ and my ‘can’t-do.’ We don’t need to work harder, we need to work smarter.”
Once pastors see their limitations, they can share the load. Merritt said.
“Don’t let yourself run down and don’t let others wind you up too tight,” Merritt continued. “You do what only you can and are called by God to do. Delegate the rest to somebody and leave the results to God.”
Merritt said Moses was spending too much time talking to the people about God and not enough time talking to God about the people. God used Jethro to encourage Moses to know his limits, delegate the mission and keep his focus on what God had set before him, Merritt concluded.
Darrell Robinson, founder of Total Church Life Ministries in The Woodlands, Texas, shared the passion of his heart from Colossians 1:18: “And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.”
“We must never forget who is what in the church. When we forget that, everything is dysfunctional,” said Robinson. “We need to come back to the New Testament and simply let the church be the church-the Body of Christ on mission for Jesus.”
Robinson said the size of a church is irrelevant. He told pastors it didn’t matter if they had 13 in their congregations or a mega-church and they should not allow themselves to feel second rate if they are called as bi-vocational pastors, volunteers or full-time ministers.
“Communities will be reached when people are willing to get with God and go with Him, making their own way, if necessary, to reach people for Christ. We are to be more like the Apostle Paul and plant churches,” continued Robinson.
Robinson said the focus of the Body of Christ should be the mission of exalting the Savior, equipping the saints and evangelizing the sinner. Robinson said every church has everything it needs to do everything God wants it to do, he continued, and the saints of the church are to carry out that plan by equipping every member.
“Sooner or later, every member of your congregation will have the opportunity to reach somebody in your Jerusalem,” Robinson said. “Pastors, we must win people to Jesus personally. We can’t do it alone, but we have an army to enlist to assist us. We can saturate our Jerusalems with the Gospel of Jesus.”
Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., referenced C.H. Spurgeon’s work and said that good men are promised tribulation in this world, and ministers may expect a larger share than others so that they may learn sympathy with the Lord’s suffering people and so be fitting shepherds of an ailing flock.
“God has providentially orchestrated difficulty into your lives in order to better fit you to care for your flocks,” Hunt said. “Anyone can go through times of discouragement and we all need encouragement. You don’t need to ‘throw in the towel’ or you won’t have anything to wave when God gives the victory.”
According to Hunt, the Scripture, saints of God and the Savior are three sources of encouragement in the work of the ministry. Hunt quoted Acts 18 in reference to the Apostle Paul’s example of encouragement in the lives of Priscilla and Aquila.
“Priscilla and Aquila are the greatest examples of lay ministers in the New Testament. They had hands that were devoted to His work, hearts to giving, and homes dedicated to service. It’s encouraging to a servant of God in the work of the ministry when God places companions in your life to help with the work of the Lord,” Hunt continued.
Hunt stressed that in addition to encouragement in the work, there will also be opposition. “Increased opportunities bring increased opposition. The enemy is angered when we invade his territory. Demonic opposition is a proof that God is at work,” said Hunt.
Pastors were encouraged to stay focused on the calling of the ministry and to take the example of Caleb to heart. “Caleb wanted-when he was getting ready to finish-what he wanted when he got started. I just pray that somehow we stay focused enough that we want near the end what we wanted when we started,” said Hunt.
Jim Henry, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church in Orlando and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, told pastors that after 45 years in the pulpit there were a few things he believes they must learn to either “take a dive, survive or thrive.”
Regardless of a church’s size or whatever stage in ministry a pastor is in, there are basics to being “a pastor at heart” and making it in the local church, he said, citing the story of Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12.
“Rehoboam failed and a lot of times I think pastors do because they don’t know the heart of their people,” Henry said. “You’ve got to know the DNA of your people. That’s what the Republicans missed on, I think, last week. They didn’t read the people. And if you don’t understand your people, you are not going to be able to survive in the local church.”
Henry told pastors to remember 13 truths:
1. Pastors fail because “they don’t know the heart of the people,” Henry said.
2. “Don’t do too much too soon,” Henry said. “You’ve got to be sure you earn your stripes, and it takes time to do it.”
3. “Leadership begins with a servant’s heart,” Henry said. “Our preaching arises from our pastoring and our pastoring brings reality to our preaching.”
4. “Listen to wise counsel,” Henry said. “Some of the things we do open us wide open for trouble in the church.”
5. “Humility is a badge of honor.”
6. “Plan for your successor to succeed whatever size church you are in,” Henry said. “Sudden changes are costly. It happens in kingdoms and governments. Every pastor is a departing pastor, the question is not ‘if,’ but ‘when.'”
7. “Do unto others,” Henry said. “Something that bothers me a great deal is these blogs. Blogs have their place, but when pastors and church people, laymen, get on the blog and start spilling their guts about everything so the world and the press and everybody else can get onto it, that, to me, is wrong.” Citing Paul in 2 Timothy 2:16 and Isaiah 54:17, Henry continued, “I don’t have to get on a blog to shout my side of the case or to get after somebody on their side of the case, … we don’t need to go there. I wouldn’t want somebody doing that to me and I’ll sure not do it to other people and for laymen and pastors alike, we need to be very careful how we use the technology to supposedly spread our case, or whatever.”
8. “Paint your own butter,” Henry said, citing J.D. Grey and Adrian Rogers. “That means that we are to be workmen in the study. We are to prepare our own sermons,” he continued, speaking of plagiarism. “All of us have struggled with that probably, because who but Baptists have to prepare three messages a week?” Listing two points he said:
a. “Don’t preach another man’s sermon unless you give him credit for it.”
b. “Don’t tell an experience that wasn’t yours as if it was yours.”
Developing a sermon requires prayer and study, and that requires “work, discipline and planning,” Henry said.
9. “Be careful about chasing the latest church fad,” Henry said. “You can be creative in your own little ways.” Referring to late-night television talk-show hosts Jay Leno and David Letterman, Henry said they “sit down or stand up and talk” on their shows without props. “God has given us the privilege to stand up and talk and His anointing on His Word and His Spirit through His preacher will connect with people. If we’re prayed up and and prepared, God will bless it.”
10. “Don’t make your family an icon, but keep the home fires burning,” Henry said. “Keep your family precious, your vows true, your children loved, but don’t make them an icon.”
11. “Be comfortable in your own skin,” Henry said. “Don’t try to be every other preacher … He gets glory through you.”
12. “Run from covetousness,” Henry said. “You practice tithing and generous giving yourself, and when you do that make plans for your later years as much as you can.”
13. “Make much of Jesus.” Henry said. “The heart of a pastor is the heart of Jesus Christ. … Have a pastor’s heart and you’ll be just like Jesus.”
Jerry Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., and chancellor of Liberty University, said pastors are the “only hope for the spiritual recovery of this and every other culture,” in his sermon, “Our Message, Our Mission, Our Vision.”
Citing a message he said has not changed for two millenniums, Falwell said without the right vision, nothing else applies.
“Pastors have always been and are yet the only hope for the spiritual recovery of this or any country,” Falwell said. “Godly, prophetic pastors who know what their message is-Jesus Christ sitting crucified, who know their mission-world evangelization in our generation, and have the right vision to answer the call into whatever phase of this ministry God has individually and respectively called each of us.”
Falwell told pastors he hoped they had the right message-and said he believed the message is found in the basic fundamentals Luke described.
“We’re supposed to believe in, among those things most surely believed, in the verbal inspiration and infallibility of Scripture, period and without modification. We’re supposed to believe in the deity of Jesus Christ. That He is co-equal with God the Father and God the Spirit in all attributes pertaining to deity.
“We’re supposed to believe that Jesus Christ died upon a cross, shed His blood, died vicariously for the salvation of all men, not just the elect, … no limited atonement, but Christ died for all men everywhere,” Falwell continued. “And we’re supposed to believe that on the third day He rose from the dead bodily, and finally, that He is coming again.”
Acknowledging differences in eschatology “without breaking fellowship,” Falwell said to laughter, “we won’t fight over that because you’ll get it straight in the Rapture.”
Citing the Great Commission, Falwell said “sometimes I think we get off message and we get off vision-and I think the more affluent our society and the more comfortable our people, particularly the pastors, the less committed we are to message and mission.”
Recalling starting Thomas Road Baptist 51 years ago when he was 22-years-old, Falwell, now 73, said he had a “burden” to win Lynchburg, Va., for the Lord and set out knocking on 100 doors a day.
“I learned early on in my ministry that contacting people and contacting people continuously was the only way to have evangelism successfully ministered in a congregation,” Falwell said. “People don’t come out to hear you bring some great oratorical address, they come to your church because you come to them first and you care about them and you’ve been in their home….”
Pastors who go “cold-turkey” and knock on a door to visit a family have an opportunity to “pray an audible prayer,” thus they have “broken the ice” in creating a personal relationship with that family. One day when their “Waterloo comes-because it always comes,” Falwell said they will telephone “one” pastor or church for help.
Referring to Thomas Road’s recent closure and new start in a new location with a 6,000-seat sanctuary after 50 years, Falwell said the church has 24,000 charter members and recently had an altar call where over 1,000 responded.
“We have seen evangelism as we haven’t known it in the first 50 years,” Falwell said.
Preaching from 1 Chron. 12:32, Falwell said the “hope” for America, for the world, is biblical preaching and “soul winning” pastors in local churches. Like the children of Isachar, Falwell said pastors should be men who have “an understanding of the times.”
Citing characteristics of the children of Isachar, he said they were “godly men with relevant information about the current culture;” they were “wise,” and they were “organized.”
Bemoaning the “wave of amorality” that has swept America, Falwell said he would never have dreamed that in the 21st century Americans are voting on marriage being between a man and a woman.
“[These are] things I would not have dreamed of when I started in the ministry,” Falwell said. “The barnyard would have known better.”
Referring to “a lack of courage” in the church, Falwell said he is also concerned about “a lack of vision” and “a lack of faith.”
“Today I’m constantly amazed at the deafening silence of America’s pulpits,” Falwell said. “A failure to speak out and speak up. If we for the last 50 years had been men of courage, all of us, crying out against the darkness, calling sin by its right names, being not only the light of the world, but the salt of the earth, we would not have a Supreme Court that legalized the murder of unborn children or that is considering legalizing same-sex marriage, etc.”
Falwell told pastors to “constantly write and rewrite” their vision for the ministry until they can fully express it to their congregations, and have specific and visionary goals.
“Reinventing our churches is something we need to do regularly,” Falwell said. “Tradition is only as good as it is successful and productive and fruitful.”
Ending his sermon on a lighter note, Falwell told how he continues to wear a black suit and red tie each day, even to ballgames at the 10,000-student Liberty University where the students chant, “Jerry, Jerry,” when they see him in the stands.
“I drive a Denali, a truck, and I’ll run over you if you get in the road in front of me,” Falwell joked about his relationship with his students. “And I speak to them every week at least once, and I talk to them about the importance of adjusting to the age.”
Georgia evangelist Bailey Smith preached “Tilted Toward Tragedy,” a sermon he said is aimed at helping pastors to stay the course in ministry.
Beginning with the story of Lot’s tragedy as outlined in Genesis 19:36, Smith told about how Lot, the nephew of Abraham, had impregnated his own daughters even after having once been part of great spiritual revivals and achievements.
“All he did was to pitch his tent toward Sodom, he leaned himself toward losing, he positioned himself for disaster,” Smith said.
Walking to the edge of the platform and positioning himself so that his toes hung just a bit over, Smith said probably a five-year-old could push him off since he had made himself vulnerable. Walking to the very back of the platform, Smith said he wasn’t even close to the edge.
“If I’m back here living my life it may take four or five strong men to get me to that orchestra pit,” Smith said, gesturing towards the front of the platform. “How close are you living to the edge?”
Recounting a counseling conversation with a couple, he said the husband and wife told him their story about how the woman began riding with a neighbor to work to save on gas. As they started crying, Smith said the man looked at him and said, “Brother Smith, we have a good strong marriage, but my wife and my neighbor, they’ve had an affair.”
Asking the man if he was surprised, Smith said he told them they shouldn’t be surprised.
“If you don’t intend to go into the house, stay off the front porch,” Smith said plainly. “Some of you are positioned for disaster.”
Speaking of the “ultimate conclusion” of such behavior, Smith said he recently read an article that said 600 bridges in America will collapse because of “existing problems.”
Speaking of the “horrible demise” of Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker, Smith spoke of the “horrible resignation” of Ted Haggard. “When a homosexual playboy confessed to having a tryst with this pastor, the front page was not enough for having a picture on the front, for when I opened the inside with quotation marks, the pastor saying, ‘I’ve been a liar and a deceiver.’ And now he’s ashamed and he’s lost his church, his integrity.
“My brothers and sisters, if we don’t have integrity, we have nothing,” Smith said. “An aroused man has no conscience.”
Noting several conditions which lead to being “tilted towards tragedy and leaning towards lunacy,” Smith said to beware of “a casualness about sin,” “a contempt for the saints,” and “a complacency with Scripture.”
“This Book will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from the Book,” Smith said of the Bible. “When you start playing fast and loose with this Book, be careful.”
Describing the need for humility in a minister’s life, Smith warned against “spiritual achievement” because it does not “make you immune to the temptations of this world.
“If somewhere you are coasting in service-if you are coasting-you are going down,” Smith warned.
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