Tips for a Great 2017 Pastors’ Conference Experience

We’re about 80 days out from the 2017 SBC Pastors’ Conference. This year’s conference is designed to highlight expository preaching from 12 pastors of average-sized SBC churches. This hasn’t been tried before, but as plans have come together I’m even more optimistic than ever this format is going to be a huge blessing. Since I’ve seen some of the details of what’s planned, I wanted to pass along my thoughts on how to have the best possible experience at this year’s Pastors’ Conference.

1. Attend all four sessions.

Our unique format means you’ll want to be there for the beginning of the Sunday night session at 6pm. The speakers will be preaching consecutively through Philippians and there’s incredible material from the book’s start. The conference will build together as we work through Paul’s letter. In past conferences, the messages often centered around a theme, but they were individual sermons that may or may not connect with what went before or after. This year there’s no doubt you’ll have the best experience being there for chapter 1 all the way through chapter 4.

Our Sunday night speakers are tremendous. AND we’re working to make sure those who arrive early enough to attend the Sunday night session are especially blessed (details to come later). Plus, being there for the whole conference fits really well with my next recommendation:

2. Arrive on Saturday & visit a local Phoenix-area SBC church Sunday morning.

It can be tough to preach Sunday morning, get to the airport, fly in, drop your bags off at the hotel, and make it to the convention center by 6pm. It’s a little easier this year because of the time change—if you’re like me you’ll gain 3 hours on the trip—but still not easy. I’ve really enjoyed the years when I’ve arrived a day early, been able to relax and enjoy the city before the Pastors’ Conference and Annual Meeting get started. I recommend arriving Saturday during the day, seeing some of Phoenix Saturday afternoon & evening, and then worshipping Sunday morning with a local SBC congregation. You’ll still have the afternoon off and be ready for the conference start at 6pm.

Yes, to do this many of you will need to get someone to preach for you Sunday, June 11th — but you’ve got plenty of time to get that arranged. Having the whole week to recharge and get refilled will be good for you and your church. Make it happen. (Travel info here.)

There are many Phoenix-area church possibilities. Here are a few some friends recommended: First Baptist Church, Chandler (our SBCPC Vice President, Paul Smith, is pastor here), Foothills Baptist Church (pastor Nathan Millican), Mountain Ridge, North Phoenix Baptist Church (pastor Noe Garcia). If you know of others, please feel free to leave recommendations in the comments section.

3. Participate & engage in the conference as you would a worship service.

For a variety of reasons, the SBC Pastors’ Conference has taken on an atmosphere where people are coming in & out througout the sessions, with others talking on the side of the hall, some participating in the singing, others not, missing a few messages in the exhibit hall or at lunch. If you’ve been before, you know the atmosphere is a bit of an oddity. I don’t know of any other conference that functions this way. My advice is to look at this year’s conference in many ways as a worship service. Be there and in your seat, and ready to participate when the Gettys’ lead music, the speakers are preaching the Bible, and the other elements are taking place. Come with anticipation for an entire worship experience just like you would at any other national conference. I think it would be healthy to begin setting a new tone for this and future SBC Pastors’ Conference in this area.

4. Learn some of the Gettys’ original music ahead of time.

We’re thrilled to have Keith & Kristyn Getty leading worship in all four sessions. They’ll lead with many songs we’ll all be familiar with, and also some original songs that may be new to many. If you can learn some of those songs ahead of time it makes for a more powerful worship experience. Getty Music is helping with that as they’ve made four of their original songs available for free at their website (Facing a Task Unfinished, For the Cause, My Worth Is Not in What I Own, and The Lord Is My Salvation). If you sign up for their email list, you’ll receive the song downloads and also the sheet music arrangements you can use to teach the songs to your church. Let’s arrive ready to lift up our voices together in praise to Christ.

5. Look forward to the extras.

The Caskey Center has some exciting elements planned during the conference time. You’ll notice the common ground testimonies, one in each session, featuring well known SBC pastors Fred Luter, Johnny Hunt, J. D. Greear, and Steve Gaines. Each has pastored average sized churches during their ministry and the Caskey Center has asked them to give testimonies about their experience there that will be encouraging to all pastors (note: not “this is how we went from an average-sized church to a large church” advice but a testimony that highlights the common ground all pastors share).

The Caskey Center has also partnered with LifeWay Research for a ground-breaking new study on best practices for healthy small membership and average-sized churches. This research will be presented during the PC and you won’t want to miss this resource.

6. Attend. No really, be there!

This goes without saying, right? People have been overwhelmingly positive about the unique vision for this years’ Pastors’ Conference. No doubt people will be watching to see how the conference comes together and how it’s received. We hope the support we’ve received in those wishing us well will translate into those same people showing up in Phoenix to experience the conference in person. Sure, there will be a live stream. We want the conference to be available to those who can’t attend. But the best support we can receive is for you to be there in the convention hall worshipping with thousands of other SBC pastors, their wives, and other Christians. (Also, keep in mind that Arizona doesn’t do DST, so they’re basically on Pacific time when our conference will be going on. our 6-9pm Sunday evening session will be live streaming 9pm-midnight on the east coast.)

7. Bring friends.

If you’re excited about this year’s SBCPC, don’t just come by yourself. Invite your friends and let people know we’re trying something different. We appreciate you sharing about #SBCPC17 on social media, by emailing or texting friends to make sure they know what’s going on, and helping us make sure the conference is a blessing to as many people as possible.

It’s been an amazing 9 months seeing the planning and preparation come together. When they told Dave there was a lot of time & work involved, they weren’t kidding. But we’ve been blessed by a team that’s worked hard and worked well together: Dave, Paul Smith, and Toby Frost—this year’s PC officers, Dave’s volunteer team, Mark Tolbert of the Caskey Center, and dozens of others. Come be a part with us. See you in Phoenix!

ERLC Executive Committee & Russell Moore Release Public Statement

This afternoon the ERLC posted an article called Seeking Unity in the Southern Baptist Convention which includes separate statements from the ERLC Executive Committee and Russell Moore.

I recommend reading the entire article here, even as I’ve tried to pull some of the more notable sections.

Notable quotes from the ERLC Executive Committee:

… It is in this difficult context that Dr. Russell Moore has exercised leadership with integrity and with boldness. We affirm Dr. Moore in his leadership of the ERLC

… Over the last few months, Dr. Moore has engaged in numerous private conversations with many of those who had criticisms of him. As an Executive Committee, who historically have worked most closely in advising and evaluating the performance of the president, we have encouraged these conversations and received updates. We have also encouraged private efforts rather than public comments. These conversations will remain private, but we are convinced that Dr. Moore has sought to be attentive and responsive to those who have brought concerns to him. At the same time, as he has pursued these conversations and listened to others, Dr. Moore has expressed a desire to make a public comment beyond these private conversations, which we have shared with our entire Board and happily affirm…

… As committed Southern Baptists with a great appreciation for our Convention, we take our fiduciary responsibility as trustees of the ERLC as a sober and serious stewardship. As an Executive Committee, we believe that Dr. Moore has taken appropriate measures to address this situation. We realize that divisions do not heal overnight, and as needs arise our Board will be happy to address them. But in terms of leadership and support, Dr. Moore is the man to whom it has been entrusted to lead this entity—speaking prophetically both to our culture and to our Convention. He will continue doing so with the confidence of our support…

From Russell Moore:

… I attempted in December to write a reflection on how I sought to go about the task of attempting to speak to issues of conviction for me during the tumult of an election year. Some who saw things differently than I did received those words, and we’ve gladly joined arms in unity. Others didn’t receive them, not because of any deficiency of grace on their part, but due to my own fault. So I want to share my heart in trying both to foster unity and to explain what I was trying—and sometimes failing—to do…

… What I was concerned about primarily last year were three things: gospel clarity (as it applies to telling the outside world and those inside the church what we consider it means to be saved and what it means to be an evangelical), the importance of affirming sexual morality and the effect that sexual immorality has on both personal character and on society, and racial divisiveness and injustice. Those are convictions at the core of my ministry for 25 years. Not everyone saw the same challenges to those convictions that I did, and for reasonable and defensible reasons…

… As the year progressed, I felt convicted—both by my personal conscience and by my assignment by Southern Baptists—to speak out on issues of what the gospel is and is not, what sexual morality and sexual assault are and are not, and the crucial need for white Christians to listen to the concerns of our black and brown brothers and sisters in Christ. I stand by those convictions, but I did not separate out categories of people well—such that I wounded some, including close friendsSome of that was due to contextless or unhelpful posts on social media about the whirl of the news cycle. I cannot go back and change time, and I cannot apologize for my underlying convictions. But I can—and do—apologize for failing to distinguish between people who shouldn’t have been in the same category with those who put politics over the gospel and for using words, particularly in social media, that were at times overly broad or unnecessarily harsh. That is a failure on my part.

I was aware that there were many—including many very close to me—who were quite vocal in critiquing on those areas even candidates they were able to support. These people made clear what they were supporting and what they were rejecting on the basis of the biblical witness, and did not celebrate or wave away the moral problems. I did not speak much about those people because I wasn’t being asked about them, and I didn’t think they were causing the confusion that frustrated me as I was talking even to people I was seeking to win to Christ. But I didn’t clearly enough separate them out. Again, that is a failure on my part, and I apologize…

…My goal is to redouble my commitment to stand for what I believe in—on seeking first the kingdom of God, on the need for personal character and sexual holiness, on racial justice and reconciliation. I also commit to work together for our denomination’s cooperative consensus…


Frank Page Is Not Asking Russell Moore to Resign

This morning a Washington Post article detailed the history of the opposition to Russell Moore. The article contained a summary of the situation and a look at the current dynamics at play. In many ways, the article fairly represented the situation. However, there was at least one aspect that led to the completely wrong conclusion and ended up exploding on social media. Bailey wrote that Page would not rule out asking Russell Moore to resign during a private meeting they had scheduled for this afternoon.

The moment I read that sentence, I sensed something wasn’t right. Frank Page knows how the SBC works and that it would be highly unusual for the EC President to ask for an entity head to resign. And what’s more — because of the SBC’s structure, the Executive Committee President has no authority to fire or official influence over a resignation decision. Add all this to the fact that Frank Page has been on record in this very situation as calling for unity and for everyone involved to work things out. To me it was unthinkable (#1) that Page would ask for Moore’s resignation and even more (#2) that he would imply that he might do so to a reporter. I suspected something was wrong and I called the Executive Committee to ask about it. This afternoon my phone call was returned and spoke with the communications department.

The communications department confirmed my suspicions that the report (in this aspect) was indeed misleading. They indicated that Frank Page had never intended to ask for Russell Moore’s resignation during today’s meeting, nor did he give any indication that he might. It was an idea brought up by Bailey in her interview. Page, believing the meeting to be a private matter, didn’t want to say anything at all about what would or would not be discussed.

I saw a huge amount of interaction on social media this morning about Russell Moore being “fired” or “asked to resign” due to this news report. It’s really frustrating that this took on a life of its own when there’s really nothing here to report. I believe it is the case, exactly as Danny Akin tweeted this morning, that Frank Page does not want to see Russell Moore resign or be fired.

File this whole matter as another entry under William’s fake news post. And for the rest of us, let’s step back and breathe. Emotions and tensions are high right now, no doubt. Things like this don’t help. But let’s pray and try our best to work together on this.

Important Statements of Support for Russell Moore

The past week has seen several notable statements of support for Dr. Moore’s continued leadership at the ERLC. We’ve covered most of them in individual posts but I thought it might be helpful to compile some of the most important here together.

  • Yesterday morning, Matt Chandler tweeted a strong word of support: “ was 1 of the reasons re engaged in Southern Baptist life. Hope they don’t now force out a man we love”. Chandler is another leader many younger Southern Baptists hold in high esteem and I haven’t known him to make many public statements about this kind of thing.

Chandler tweets in support of Russell Moore

  • Thursday Byron Day, president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention expressed strong support for Dr. Moore. Day’s statement focused on the importance of unity for the SBC but also the admiration. Day said: “Russell Moore has done nothing worthy of discipline or firing. He… has been outstanding as president of the ERLC… he has also addressed social injustices such as racism which have been long overlooked.”
  • On Monday, Dwight McKissic’s post in support of Russell Moore went viral. By tomorrow night Dwight’s post will be the most-read post ever here at SBC Voices. McKissic explained how the current pressure being exerted through “escrowed” giving and Executive Committee actions to study the current situation made for an environment where black and other minority Southern Baptists were seriously reconsidering their involvement in SBC life – not directly because of Moore, but because of the political shift he perceives this pressure represents.
  • Outside the SBC several Christian leaders have expressed support for Russell Moore recently, for example this piece by Kaitlyn Schiess titled “American Evangelicals Need Leaders Like Russell Moore
  • There are too many individual social media posts expressing support to individually reproduce here, but back in December, for example, Moore was coming under criticism and those expressing support through the hashtag #IStandWithMoore that Christianity Today reported on the situation with over 1,200 expressing their support over a couple of days on Twitter.

These are just some notable examples over the past week. I’ve had people ask me how they can show support for Dr. Moore. I wish we had some official way of doing so because I believe the response would be overwhelming. People just aren’t sure what would be effective—and to some extent they are trusting the system to deal effectively and diffuse the vocal critics who do not speak for so many of us.

I’m convinced that Dr. Moore remaining at the ERLC at this time is incredibly important for a number of reasons, but these recent examples highlight the pivotal role he plays in keeping the younger generation and ethnic minorities engaged in convention life. These are areas I think we’ve seen good (not perfect) progress over the past 10 years. And any direction other than onward would be the wrong choice for the SBC.