For the Church: 'Our Only Hope' in a troubled culture
Keynote speakers Crawford Loritts, J.D. Greear, Tony Merida, Jason Allen, Owen Strachan and Jared Wilson preached messages revolving around the conference's "Our Only Hope" theme, while Shane & Shane led in praise and worship songs.
"We are privileged and consider it a significant stewardship to host the For the Church Conference each year," Midwestern President Jason Allen said. "What began as a dream five years ago has grown in momentum year by year into a major conference where we can encourage pastors and ministry leaders through the teaching of the Word and send them home refreshed and prepared to thrive in their gospel ministries."
Christ & Discipleship
Allen led the conference's first session, "Christ and Discipleship," basing his message on John 15:1-11.
Christian discipleship is a life or death proposition, Allen said, describing "flame outs" and "fizzle outs" among pastors as detrimental to the church. Thus, pastors must make priority number one in their lives to be faithful, fruitful and growing disciples of Christ.
The ability to do this comes through the power of Christ in one's life and obedience to His commands, Allen said. And the ultimate result of one's ministry is to glorify God.
"'My father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples,'" Allen said in a reference to John 15. "That's the basic goal of the Christian life. We were taught as kids … that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Ministers bear a particular stewardship for God's glory. The more visible the ministry, the greater the platform, the higher the pedestal from which we speak, the more heightened the stewardship."
Christ & Courage
Crawford Loritts, senior pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Roswell, Ga., spoke on "Christ and Courage" in the conference's second message.
Gleaning from his years of ministry experience, Loritts conveyed a mentor's heart in addressing how pastors can battle against discouragement in their ministries.
Loritts noted five choices a pastor can make when facing discouragement: Choose truth, choose joy, choose faith, choose community and choose service.
Of choosing service, Loritts said, "There are seasons in ministry where it's going to be flat-out hard, just hard, and you don't have the option to quit. You have the press through."
Referring to Psalm 126:4, he said there will be negative seasons in ministry, but you must keep on sowing the seeds of the Gospel. You keep showing up, even through your tears, and loving your people in spite of the hurt you're feeling. As a result, "God says if you're hanging in there long enough, those tears will be holy fertilizer, and there will be a bumper crop."
Christ and Culture
Owen Strachan, Midwestern's associate professor of Christian theology, opened the conference's second day with a message on "Christ and Culture" from Hebrews 2:14-18.
Christ came to earth with the purpose of destroying Satan, delivering mankind from the slavery of fear, making atonement for man's sin and helping people overcome their challenges, Strachan said.
As these truths relate to our modern culture, he said it's crucial to understand that believers can approach their task of proclaiming the Gospel from the vantage point of victory.
The victory has already taken place, and the battle has been won, Strachan said. Jesus is now fighting for us in this victorious Kingdom while Satan is still battling against us in the same way.
"Satan lives to accuse you. He's doing it now, but Jesus prays for you," Strachan said. "Hebrews 7:25 states that 'He is able to save to the uttermost, those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.' In other words, there is a war of words going on right now between God and the devil, and Jesus' words are victory for you."
Strachan added that the way to engage culture is by offering the foolishness of the cross, preaching cross-centered messages and emulating Jesus to everyone we encounter.
Christ and the World
J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and current president of the Southern Baptist Convention, spoke on "Christ and the World" in preaching from Romans 10:14-17, exhorting the audience to be busy about the task of Christian mission.
The message of the Gospel is urgent, Greear said, because every person on earth has heard about God -- in one way or another -- and has rejected Him.
Additionally, God has justly condemned every person. The good news is God made a way for salvation through Jesus, but there must be a messenger to deliver the Gospel to a lost and dying world.
"I need you to get in your mind that many people are marching headlong into eternity without even the chance to hear [the Gospel]," Greear said. "If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you understand what Romans is saying, that the greatest of all kinds of suffering, as John Piper says, is eternal suffering, right?
"How are they going to call on Him -- those who may have not even heard -- and how are they going to hear unless we are sent?"
Greear added that believers didn't receive the Gospel message simply to keep it to themselves. If we do that, it's like stealing from God. The Gospel must be shared with others. It's what God intended all along.
Christ and the Church
Tony Merida, pastor for preaching and vision at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, N.C., addressed the topic, "Christ and the Church" in a message from Romans 8:31-39 conveying a vision for Gospel-centered ministry.
The apostle Paul intends for believers to be saturated with the Gospel, and Merida said that in building a church it's important to do so by saturating the whole church with the Gospel.
Merida asked, "Why should we keep the Gospel front and center in your church?" In answering, he noted that it's because the Gospel changes lives; it leads people to worship; it lifts people from despair; it unites diverse believers in community; and it shapes and fuels our mission.
Speaking to the Gospel in leading people to worship, Merida said it entails leading people to see their affections change.
"When affections change in a person, everything changes. Because if you love Jesus deeply, it changes your entire behavior dramatically," he said. "We're preaching and we're teaching, and we're ministering so that people will get a new love because when affections change, everything changes.
"It's amazing what [people do] and how people spend their money when they fall in love with Christ -- how they use their time, how what they look at as different, how all of life and their ambitions change. Why? Because their hearts have changed. They get a new love."
Christ: Our Only Hope
In the conference's final session, Jared Wilson, assistant professor of pastoral ministry at Spurgeon College and author-in-residence, preached from Psalm 62 on "Christ: Our Only Hope."
Of the many things people in today's culture look to for hope, Wilson said none come close to the hope believers have in Jesus Christ.
In fact, Wilson said, Jesus is the only hope for rest, for validation and for righteousness.
Speaking of the rest one obtains only from Christ, Wilson noted that pastors often feel targeted, picked on, and just can't seem to rise above the daily grind of one negative issue after another.
"If your normal is one pain or stressor after another, where do you go or what do you do?" Wilson asked. Trust in Psalm 62:5-6 which says, "Rest in God alone, my soul, for my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will not be shaken."
As a believer, he continued, "You run smack into the greatest privilege any of us could ever enjoy, which is this: We come to the end of ourselves and find there the sufficiency of Christ. It's at the end of one's rope that we find that Christ is more than enough. And I have come to believe that for a great many of us, if not for all of us, Christ will not become our only hope until He is our only hope."
Pre-conference & workshops
On Monday morning, the FTC Women's Pre-Conference featured Trillia Newbell, director of community outreach at the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberties Commission; Abigail Dodds, wife, mother and author; and Karen Allen, founder of Midwestern Women's Institute and wife of Midwestern President Jason Allen. The ladies event focused on the theme "Gospel-Centered Women in a Postmodern World."
On Tuesday afternoon, multiple workshops and breakout sessions were held on the topics "Hope for Women in a Complex World" by Christine Hoover, pastor's wife, mom and author; "Rhythms of Grace: Developing Spiritual Habits that Fuel Holiness and Joy" with John Onwuchekwa, pastor at Cornerstone Church in Atlanta; "Guard the Deposit: How Jesus Sustains Our Life and Ministry" by Greg Belser, senior pastor of Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton, Miss.; "Caring Well: How the Church Can Confront the Abuse Crisis" with Phillip Bethancourt, executive vice president of the ERLC; "God, Marriage & Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation" by Andreas and Margaret Kostenberger of Midwestern Seminary; "The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity with the Gospel" by Dean Inserra, lead pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Fla.; "Pass it On: How Parents Can Equip the Next Generation" with Sam Bierig, dean of Spurgeon College; "The Weight of Lostness: Opening Our Eyes to the Urgency of Evangelism" by D.A. Horton, pastor of Reach Fellowship in Long Beach, Calif.; "Hope and Help for the Heart: Biblical Counseling in a Postmodern World" with Dale Johnson, associate professor of biblical counseling at Midwestern; "Musician Theologian: Challenging Common Perceptions of Worship Leaders" with Matthew and Angela Swain of Midwestern; and "Mobilizing the Church: How to Develop and Deploy Members for Ministry" by Micah Fries, senior pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Stay informed about the 2020 For the Church National Conference at mbts.edu/ftc20.
To view all plenary sessions of the For the Church Conference, visit the resources page at mbts.edu.