SBC LIFE Tell us how this year's Pastors' Conference is unique.
Jerry This year the conference preachers represent ten different states, which is more than a typical year. This will give a broader exposure. Also, the speakers are more representative of the pastors who will be coming to hear them. They're grassroots guys, mostly from medium-sized churches. Less than 1 percent of the pastors in the SBC serve in mega-churches. Of course, we thank God for those mega-churches and their pastors. Those pastors have leadership ability that is crucial to our denomination. But approximately 86 percent of our pastors are from churches with average Sunday school attendance of 500 or less — they're wonderful people! They may never pastor a "large" church, but they're men of integrity, they're successful, and they're doing what God wants them to do. So some of the people on the program may be "unknowns," except in their local area.
Someone may ask, "Who are these speakers this year?" I would respond, "They're you. They're your neighbors. This is who we are as Southern Baptists." Eighty to 90 percent of our pastors can identify with, and relate to these men.
By the way, I've talked to some of the former presidents and mega-church pastors who normally speak, and they've encouraged me to take this approach.
SBC LIFE Tell us more about the speakers this year.
Jerry We'll have twelve pastors and three evangelists. Some of them are successful veterans, some are in their middle years, some are past sixty-five but still going strong. They're all solid men of God who have a strong emphasis on outreach in their ministries. Of the three evangelists, one is a revivalist, and the others are "harvest evangelists." We have one mega-church pastor, Jerry Falwell, who will close on Sunday night.
In the past, we've had a lot of the same preachers repeat year after year. This year, only four of the fifteen speakers have ever spoken before in a Pastors' Conference. The only speaker who is a former president of the Pastors' Conference, and of the Convention, is Bailey Smith.
These are all "hot-hearted" preachers — they're going to preach out of their heart. One of these young men is Earnest Easley, who will preach and share the testimony of his miraculous recovery from cancer.
We also want to reach out to our younger pastors this year. There is a great host of young men who are coming into the ministry. These men need to be challenged and encouraged in the great primary work of the ministry. Four of our speakers are in their thirties — I call them "young champions." These young men are computer literate — they do their sermons on the computer and use Power Point on Sunday morning. They can relate to our younger generation.
SBC LIFE Jerry, what's the focus this year?
Jerry The theme coincides with the Convention theme — "Until He Comes, Go!" We're going to emphasize evangelism, being personal soul winners, and cultivating evangelism in our churches. Also, we will emphasize the Second Coming to create a sense of urgency. This task is unfinished.
In my introduction, I'll be declaring a "harvest emergency." We're going on "red alert." We're looking for some outlandish, fanatical, zealous soul chasers. One of the speakers will emphasize mass-evangelism. In the last session, Sam Cathey will preach on soul winning, then Bobby Welch will address the "FAITH" outreach program, stressing that every church needs to develop some system in which the people are going out.
That's where the failure is. We've got the basic understanding of its importance, but a lot of our people are not doing one shred of evangelism through the week.
No one's holding them accountable, showing them how to reach prospects, and urging them to go. Bobby's going to deal with that. We're going to be emphasizing confrontational, intentional evangelism. It's not dead. It's not "either/or," it's "both/and." We need to use all these creative ways to bring people.
Bobby Welch told me they took some teams out in Los Angeles. They went out after a cold front had come through, so it was a cold night with drizzling rain. They went out knocking on doors in dark streets because of the blackouts, and they won seventy-seven people to the Lord that night. It can be done. It's not over.
Those who say confrontational evangelism will not work are the ones not doing it. They are not challenged by it, they don't believe in it, they don't do it, and they don't want anyone else to believe it will work.
Some pastors and staff stay in their office all the time, but you don't usually have evangelism when you are alone in the office! We've got to get out and mix with the people! Of course, we have to be in the office to take care of the logistics and the organization. We've got to study and spend time in the prayer closet - but we've got to balance it.
But I'm discovering "Boomers" and "Busters" and "X-ers" all over the country who have an old-fashioned thirst for personal evangelism — who have a thirst and a desire to win men to Christ, so we want to help and motivate them.
We also want to encourage and minister to bi-vocational pastors. More than one-third of Southern Baptist pastors depend on employment from outside their churches to cover their financial needs. These men are doing an incredible work in churches that may not be able to afford a full-time pastor.
Also, we're having some "harvest evangelists" speak, because we've just about let mass evangelism and area-wide crusades die. It can still happen! Some pastors are still successfully doing it!
SBC LIFE Give us an overview of the program.
Jerry It will start Sunday night — basically the same format as last year. It's going to be an exciting, old-fashioned "camp meeting." These ol' boys can really "shell the corn."
SBC LIFE How do you plan to meet the considerable cost of the conference?
Jerry We will encourage all those who take part and benefit from it to support it financially. I am no longer pastor of a large church that could contribute funds, so we're going to be looking to the people to contribute at the conference.
But I am so grateful that through the years the pastors have basically paid for their own Pastors' Conference. Our men come there sometimes on a shoestring offering, but they always give at the Pastors' Conference.
Of course, we'll be offering the tapes again this year. What a tremendous ministry the Pastors' Conference tapes have been. I went back and listened to about five years worth of tapes, going way back to the 1960s. They're treasures, a tremendous resource. These speakers always prepare and give it their best shot. But also it's a great place to get some really good preaching material and illustrations. You can get enough good illustrations to pay for your trip and use for a year.
SBC LIFE If you had one exhortation for the pastors coming to New Orleans, what would it be?
Jerry Bite the bullet and come on early. Get there Saturday or sometime early Sunday in time for the pre-session music that starts about 5:40. This year Jack Price and Denny Dawson are in charge of the music, and they are bringing in eight choirs from across the nation to minister to our pastors.
If they haven't made their reservation, they need to jump on it now to find a place to stay. They can do that online at www.SBC.net.
We're especially looking for that pastor who may need a little dose of encouragement, a little dose of new enthusiasm. This year, they can say, "Here are guys like me."
The final thing would be for them to come to town as an ambassador of Jesus Christ, in their behavior, in their attitude, but also as a witness, ready to share their faith.
Jerry Spencer is pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Crestview, Fla. and vice president of the Christian Light Foundation.