LUTZ–At the 2023 Florida Baptist Pastors’ Conference Nov. 12-13 at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida Baptist pastors were encouraged to see the lostness in their current ministry contexts and know that God has equipped them to reach those individuals with the good news of Jesus Christ.
James Ross, 2023 Pastors’ Conference president, introduced Here and Now as the conference theme and cited Acts 17:16 where the Apostle Paul recognized pervasive idolatry in Athens and chose to engage the culture with the gospel.
The lead pastor of The Church on Bayshore in Niceville acknowledged, “We live in a time and place that is much less Christian” than just a few years ago.
“We have seen the trends, and we have heard the predictions,” he said.
“Regardless of what others may be saying and what may be happening, we know what God has written in His Word.”
Ross encouraged pastors, “This is the time and place where God has placed us,” and the goal for the 2023 Pastors’ Conference gathering is “for you to leave encouraged that God has equipped and empowered you to live for Him Here and Now.”
With a focus on Here and Now, six pastors preached biblical sermons during the conference.
Trevin Wax: Looking around here and now
Preaching on the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10, Trevin Wax, vice president for research and development at the North American Mission Board, stated that the greatest challenge in our churches today is “functional universalism,” believing functionally that good people will go to heaven. As Wax challenged attendees to “see and engage people effectively,” he urged Christians first to “look around for the lost.” Rather than stereotyping lost people, believers should keep their “eyes open. … Don’t write anyone off. You never know where God is at work.”
Second, Wax urged attendees to “look beyond the sins.” Jesus saw the sinner before looking at the sin, and then He stayed with the sinner rather than separating from him. Wax stated that God is teaching His people “to look beyond the sin and to have the heart of God for the sinner.”
Third, Wax challenged pastors to “look up to the Savior. He is the only One who can change a sinner’s heart.” He concluded by stating, “Show people what Jesus is like by how you live, how you learn, how you love.”
Dean Inserra: Justification in the here and now
Focusing on Luke 18:9-14, Dean Inserra, pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, compared the Pharisee and the tax collector. Both men prayed, but the tax collector went home justified. Some believers today may, like the tax collector, appeal to the mercy of God, but yet become like a Pharisee who forgets that “our justification is in Christ Jesus.”
Pastors, he said, may become immersed in envy or tribalism. “In the here and now, we must see Jesus as our justification. If not, we will pray as if we were righteous.
“We must work out our theology with fear, trembling and joy. Then, the here and now is for the glory of God.
“Jesus is the name of our justification.”
Dwight Woods: Proclaiming the gospel here and now
Dwight Woods, senior pastor of Family of God Baptist Church in Panama City, opened the Monday morning session of the Florida Baptist Pastors’ Conference with a biblical message from Acts 13: 38-46.
“If I could encourage pastors today, I would say, keep on preaching,” he said.
First, he told Florida Baptist pastors gathered, the gospel must be proclaimed with clarity, purity and accountability.
“Sin has not changed. We all stand in the need of the gospel. Unfortunately, we get complicated in presenting the gospel. But we have to proclaim it with clarity: It is about the Savior who died on the cross. We must preach it so people could understand it.”
The gospel has power, he continued. The gospel has the power to draw people to Jesus, and it offers people hope.
“Florida Baptist pastors, proclaim the gospel, for His grace is sufficient,” he urged pastors gathered.
Woods ended his sermon reminding pastors that they would face opposition in preaching the gospel but the gospel also elevates determination to “keep on preaching.”
Jose Abella: Fulfill your ministry here and now
Preaching on 2 Timothy 4:1-5, Jose Abella, pastor of Providence Road Church in Miami, encouraged Florida Baptist pastors to preach the Word and fulfill their ministry—with a sense of urgency.
Reflecting on the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul, Abella walked through the sobering completion, satisfaction and joy that Paul had as he served God and fulfilled his ministry. Pastors were exhorted to feel the weight of the glorious realities surrounding them, to grasp the full mandate to minister God’s Word, and to expect resistance and persecution when they preach the Word.
“There is nothing more important for a pastor to do or a church to embrace than to preach the Word rightly,” Abella said. “Feast on God’s Word, delight in God’s Word, and submit to God’s Word.”
“Roll up your sleeves, pastor,” he said. “Life is fleeting. Time is short…let’s be faithful to where we can say we have lived our life to fulfill the ministry by which the Lord has charged upon us to fulfill in the here and now.”
Erik Cummings: Pastoral perseverance in the here and now
Erik Cummings, pastor at New Life Church in Carol City, preached from Jude 17-25 and exhorted pastors to go the distance and not be quick to throw in the towel. Acknowledging the extreme pressures and challenges that arise in pastoral ministry, Cummings urged pastors not to “prematurely look for exit doors” but to go the distance and finish well.
“We cannot afford to throw in the towel despite our legs being tired and the sweat on our brow,” he said.
Cummings also encouraged pastors to develop and keep a five-fold “battle strategy” in order to go the distance—remember what was predicted; stand by their commitment, character, and calling; hold firmly to a solid truth; pray fervently; and be a gentle shepherd.
In light of Jude 24, the Carol City pastor urged pastors to “stick, stay and stand” due to the insurmountable hope they can find in God. Referencing 2 Corinthians 4:7, Cummings reminded pastors that the inward treasure and power belong to God, sustaining them to go the distance when they’re weary and worried.
“The fight is already fixed,” he exclaimed. “When God has the final say, we can go the distance.
“I know you’re tired and I know you’re hurting, but go the distance. There is a commitment you must make and a commitment you must keep. Go the distance.”
David Uth: What really matters here and now?
Closing out the 2023 Florida Baptist Pastors’ Conference at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz was David Uth, pastor of First Baptist Church Orlando for 19 years. Preaching from 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1, laughter filled the room as Uth walked through a text-driven sermon which he titled, “What Really Matters?”
After sharing staggeringly low baptism statistics taking place in local churches across the nation, Uth encouraged pastors not to participate in “mission drift” but to only do what Jesus has asked His church to do by remembering the mission is not about us (v. 23-30), the mission is about Him [Jesus] (v. 31), and the mission is about them [people] (v. 32-33).
“We know what it takes to win this state to Christ; it’s not that complicated,” he said. “The gospel witness is the mission of the church.”
The longtime Florida Baptist pastor called on pastors and laymen and women to “take a knee”—simply doing what everyone knows the church should do—share the gospel.
“We’re not running the right play; we’re not winning the game, and we’re not taking a knee,” he continued. “This is not a new revelation, just a call to simply obey what we already know.”
“Our mission is still pretty simple—give people Jesus,” he said. “Take a knee.”
Watch the sermons in their entirety at here.
With reporting by Jessica Pigg and Teodosia Rivera. Photos by Michael Duncan.