Monday, June 21, 2010

SBC 2010: Pastor's Conference

This was my second Southern Baptist Convention to attend, and just like the first, the highlight was the Pastor’s Conference preceding the annual business meeting. When I saw the speakers list my first thought was, “Wow, this is going to be great!” Tony Evans, Francis Chan, Andy Stanley and others would be speaking… those were the ones that caught my attention first.

In my humble opinion, Tony Evans is the greatest preacher on the planet and he did not disappoint. He spoke about the need for pastors to take the side of Kingdom and not the side of individuals or the church, something that needs to be heeded by all pastors in attendance. He stated that, “the church does not exist for the church, the church exists for the Kingdom… the authority is in the Kingdom not the church.” He was exegetical, direct, practical and challenging. He ended with a paraphrase of Jesus and why he came, “I did not come to take sides, I came to take over!” It was an awesome message.

The other speaker I’d like to discuss is Andy Stanley. His message was the most helpful for churches, and the one that received the most hostility. He did not preach a 3 point sermon with a poem or song from the Bible, in fact some said it was not a sermon at all… right or wrong, I will say that it was the most helpful for churches on an everyday practical level. Throughout the message he repeated that he believes that every person will spend eternity somewhere, so they strive to win people to Jesus. He also says he (his church) believes that heaven rejoices more over one lost person accepting Jesus than 99 righteous people being righteous – both points taken directly from Scripture.

His message had 3 main points: Evaluate Everything (you do as a church), Acknowledge what your replacement might do, and own up to why you are unwilling to do it yourself, and Identify and remove unnecessary obstacles to people coming to faith (his most quoted line on twitter was, “The Gospel is offensive, your parking lot does not need to be.”) In his first point, he quoted Howard Hendrix, “Experience does not make you better, experience only puts you in a rut… only evaluated experience makes you better.” In his second point he stated, “Some of you are married to Southern Baptist life and you flirt with the Great Commission. Your organization should be organized around the Great Commission. What would it look like to organize your organization around the Great Commission. If it is not about bringing people to faith, don’t do it.” In his final point he focused on Acts 15 and stated, “The gravitational pool of the local church is always towards the insider, not the outsider… You cannot afford to babysit things that are unimportant and ineffective. Embrace the value of reaching people, not just keeping people.

To me, this spoke to the nature of many pastors to coddle their members at the expense of effectiveness for the Kingdom. For instance, many pastors are far to concerned with whether or not Baptist Bob or Deacon Dave will be offended by doing something out of the ordinary, that they stay within their rut and are thus ineffective as pastors/churches to reach people for the Gospel. The point was to challenge those in attendance to focus on that which Jesus commissioned us to do instead of catering to the self-centered church members. Some took this as Andy saying not to worry at all about those who are members of your church – this is ridiculous and all you have to do is research his church to find out that is not what he believes or practices.

All in all, there was nothing unbiblical about his message, although some harbor on how he took Acts 15 out of context. Andy Stanley also said nothing immoral or illegal. His talk was focused on trying to get pastors to look at how they “do church” and focus on how they could improve their effectiveness for the Kingdom. He even said, “If you are not on a relentless pursuit to make your church better, you will be critical of those that are”… which is exactly what many pastors did to him and his message.

I was blown away by the response some had towards his talk. I am not sure if they were upset that they would not have an extra sermon to claim as their own – yes, many pastors are elated to head home with a handful of someone else’s sermons claiming them as a word they heard from the Lord, taking them as their own. I find this practice disgusting, immoral, and offensive. It is uninspired and represents a heart far from God, disconnected from personal spiritual growth, having a genuine walk with God or hearing from Him. To be fair, there are things to be gleaned and shared with your church family that come from others, but give credit where credit is due and do not claim it as your own.

Back to Stanley, a common theme was that he was just talking about “me, me, me and you, you, you,” which is inaccurate and unfair; those who said it did not pay attention to his message. Many pastors have a negative predisposition towards him because his church runs over 25,000 weekly, thus "Northpoint Community must be doing something wrong" – which is one of the most ignorant criticisms I have ever heard. Anyway, it is true that his message was not a biblical exegetical sermon, it was a practical message that would make pastors and their churches more effective if applied.

I know this was my own tangent on the bashing of someone I respect and admire (Andy also has one of, if not the, best children’s ministry and discipleship programs in the world). The Pastor’s Conference was fantastic, some said they best they have ever attended – I agree, but can only compare it to Indianapolis 2004. It would be great for the sermons to be made public online, but they are extremely difficult to obtain.


Coby and Sally said...

I kept up a little with what was going on and it is good to hear your take on it all!

Sally Allen

Mark Spence said...

When I was at SWBTS, Ed Young Jr. preached in chapel. He didn't preach exegetically and did not wear a suit.

From the reactions, you would have thought he killed a puppy on stage.

What he did preach was a very encouraging and challenging message on pastoral leadership. His sermon is one of two that I remember from dozens of chapels attended.

Jealousy often masks itself in criticism - I know this to be true of my own heart and see it frequently in the hearts of other preachers.

I'm glad Andy Stanley preached an uncomfortable sermon - hopefully many more were encouraged and convicted than those who criticized or ignored.