LUTZ– At the 2023 Florida Baptist Pastors’ Conference Nov. 12-13 at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida Baptist pastors were challenged by two panel discussions that guided them to understand diversity in the church and to engage a progressive culture.
Panel discussion: Diversity in the church
In an informative panel discussion, three pastors, led by Zelvis Applin, pastor of South Hills Church in Wimauma, provided insights on diversity in the church.
“One thing that unites us all is the gospel of Jesus Christ. When we focus on the gospel, God can do a great work,” Applin said.
Pastor Paul Purvis shared, “God did not call us to make diverse churches; we were called to make disciples.” Purvis pointed out that each community is different and encouraged pastors to be intentional about reflecting their communities.
Mission Hill Church in Temple Terrace, led by Purvis, welcomes people from more than 70 nations on a weekly basis. The church translates each message into three different languages and has an increasing Muslim population coming on campus weekly with many learning about Christ and making salvation decisions. “We are determined to do whatever it takes to reach our community,” added Purvis. “One day all nations will worship together and we are seeking to represent that in Temple Terrace.”
When Ricardo Moore became pastor of Saint Andrew Missionary Baptist Church in Opa Locka, he went in preaching the gospel of Jesus. He referenced Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.”
Moore said, “We need to know who we are, where we have been and where we are going, but ultimately accurately preaching the gospel will be more effective than anything else.”
Jose Abella, lead pastor of Providence Road Church in Miami, shared that the church produces all communications, emails, text messages and sermons in both English and Spanish to bring unity to the multigenerational families who have come to the U.S. with first-generation Spanish- speaking adults raising children speaking English in the United States. “We have a vision for the nations and keep everything gospel-centered and focused on Jesus,” said Abella.
Applin, who served as second vice president for the 2023 Pastors’ Conference, closed the panel with a challenge to pastors living in culturally diverse areas to pray for God to send someone to their church who can help lead and connect with community members from different backgrounds and languages.
Panel discussion: Engaging a Progressive Culture
In a panel discussion moderated by David Tarkington, pastor of First Baptist Church in Orange Park, three Florida Baptist leaders reflected on engaging progressive with the gospel.
“Times have changed,” said Jay Sanders, Baptist Campus Ministries director for the Tampa area. “The culture has rapidly redefined words. Gender has always been ‘male and female,’ and now we have ‘identify as.’ We can’t assume that because a student was raised in a Christ-centered home, the student has adopted gospel beliefs.”
Paul Sabino echoed the prevalence of gender fluidity and its impact on culture. “We have biblically illiterate Christians lacking in doctrinal truth, and a good starting point is Genesis,” said Sabino, pastor at Salt Church in Gainesville. “College age churchgoers are longing for the truth and very receptive to hearing it boldly told.”
Uth said, “We need to spend more time in the Scriptures than on social media where much has proven to be false. People are seeking something that is missing in their lives, they will go where they are loved.”
“We are all broke, busted and disgusted,” added Sanders, who works to make the campus ministry a safe place for questions with answers coming straight from God’s Word.
Tarkington, who served as first vice president for the 2023 Pastors’ Conference, wrapped up the panel by stating, “Love without affirmation works. We don’t have to agree with what someone does to show them God’s love.”
Photos by Michael Duncan.