Photo Above: Willie McLaurin of the SBC Executive Committee exhorts Florida Baptist pastors to keep the engine revving on their pastoral ministries.
Jim Locke, Pastors’ Conference president, acknowledged that many pastors today are “stressed out, wiped out, and many are on the verge of burnout.” He cited 1 Thessalonians 2:2 to encourage pastors to continue to preach the gospel, even as they experience opposition.
The senior pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Pensacola said that he wanted “this year’s conference to provide a time of spiritual refreshment and mutual encouragement where pastors are strengthened in their faith, inspired by the gospel, and encouraged to remain steadfast in their calling.”
Six pastors “who have stayed the course through the many seasonal changes of ministry” preached inspirational sermons during the conference.
Preaching from Genesis 22:1-19, Willie McLaurin, interim president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, encouraged pastors to keep the engine running. “Sacrifice moves the heart of God. Trust God and make the sacrifice,” challenged McLaurin. He explained that worshipping, witnessing and working for the Lord are the key areas of focus for engine-revving faith. McLaurin reminded pastors at the 2022 Florida Baptist Pastors’ Conference that determined and devoted trust in what God says and telling others about Jesus are the work they must continue in and that God equips them until the very end so that they will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Mac Brunson, senior pastor at Valleydale Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, exhorted pastors to “be encouraged.” During the 2022 Florida Baptist Pastors’ Conference, Brunson asked pastors, “Do you ever feel like you are one step ahead of the last explosion?” Preaching from 1 Thessalonians 4, he shared that Christians have hope in Jesus. When Christians’ focus is on Him, he said, “Fears will be eliminated, and circumstances will be evaporated.” Brunson’s emphatic message proclaimed that the majestic and triumphant second coming of Christ is our assurance, comfort and encouragement as believers. “We’re the only ones with the truth. Jesus Christ is coming back,” said Brunson.
Preaching from the book of Jude, Steven Kyle, senior pastor at Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, urged pastors to “keep on.” In a time when more than 250 pastors are leaving the ministry daily, Kyle asked pastors attending the 2022 Florida Baptist Pastors’ Conference, “Who are you to drop out?” He challenged them to “fight for the faith because you’ve got a God who doesn’t quit on you.” With a reminder that Christians have a reason to celebrate, Kyle encouraged pastors to keep cheering on the church and catching hold of the lost. With a strong structure built on daily time with Jesus, pastors receive the power necessary to keep on. “When you have power, work is not a chore,” he proclaimed.
Preaching from the life of Nehemiah and 1 Peter 2:4-5, Martin Vargas, pastor of Iglesia Real in Hollywood, encouraged pastors to continue to run the race with endurance by remembering who they are in Christ. Vargas challenged pastors to sit down and process difficulties, weep for their people and city, be on their knees in prayer, rest on Jesus, be humble leaders and, above all, build the kingdom of God. “If we want to impact the kingdom, we have to pray,” Vargas said. He encouraged pastors to keep a four-fold covenant–preach the word of God, protect purity, prioritize Sunday worship and rely on God alone to be their provider. “The calling of God is not for sale,” he said. “There will be difficulties, but we don’t quit and we don’t throw in the towel.”
Gary Smith, teaching pastor at Fielder Church in Arlington, Texas, shared statistics of a high percentage of pastors retiring early and “throwing in the towel” due to difficulties in ministry. Despite the discouraging numbers, Smith encouraged pastors from Philippians 3:7-11, saying, “When things in ministry get difficult, go back to the basics.” He provided pastors with three foundations for longevity in ministry: live life out of a growing intimacy with Christ (v. 8); see the evidence of and experience the power of Christ’s resurrection (v. 10); and share and embrace in Christ’s sufferings (v. 10). “If a growing intimacy with Christ is not a priority, but merely the crumbs of life, you are not going to have the courage to continue,” Smith said. “In the middle of ministry, numerous tasks, and everything God has called you to do, the intimacy of Christ will keep you from burnout.
“Don’t miss Christ in the midst of church ministry.”
Closing out the 2022 Florida Baptist Pastors’ Conference at Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola was Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive for 32 years. Preaching from 1 Peter 5:1-11, Traylor walked through a text-driven sermon titled, “Shepherds and Lions.” He encouraged pastors to be on guard from the “deceit of the lion” being lived out by “counterfeit” Christians, gospel, church and spirit. “The lion is faithful as he seeks to devour … but God has called us to be shepherds despite a liar being among us,” he said. Traylor encouraged pastors to “shepherd the sheep” faithfully and “shepherd with shepherds.” He urged young pastors to lead holy lives, guard against pride, and glean wisdom from older pastors. “Pastors are overseers of the souls of sheep,” he said. Traylor closed out the Pastors’ Conference by calling pastors and laymen and women to get on their knees in prayer and cast all their burdens on the Lord as they continue to shepherd faithfully and keep the faith.
Four leaders were featured in short videos of encouragement during the Pastors’ Conference.
Mike Orr, senior pastor, First Baptist Church in Chipley, encouraged pastors to preach sermons that “have come out of a closeness with God all week long” and to be faithful in their calling from God to preach the word of God. “I cannot not do that, or I will be unfaithful to Him,” he said.
James Ross, lead pastor, Church on Bayshore in Niceville, told pastors that recognizing that their first identity is as a son of God will help pastors to persevere in the ministry. He urged pastors to take safeguards against the three things that Satan will use to tear them down: sex, power and money.
Robert Smith, who serves as Charles T. Carter Baptist Chair of Divinity and professor of preaching at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama, encouraged pastors to have a trusted friend who can speak truth to them and pray for them as they live out their calling from God. “A calling is not something you take up. It’s something that takes you up,” he said.
Dean Inserra, lead pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, encouraged pastors not to quit. “Don’t give up. It’s OK to be weary and have doubts … but do not quit because we need able and qualified willing men … pastors who are sober-minded, who take God seriously and not themselves.” He added, “Every pastor should see themselves as two things: the unofficial mayor of your town and the lead missionary in your city.”
In addition to Locke, two other Florida Baptist pastors provided leadership for the 2022 Pastors’ Conference. Tim Coleman, senior pastor of The Point Church in Perdido, served as first vice president, and Jeremy Holley, senior pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Pace, served as second vice president.
To view the sermons in their entirety, go to flbaptist.org/state-convention later this week.
By Brooke Mannion and Jessica Pigg, Florida Baptist Writers’ Network