CORDOVA — Being with Jesus causes people to stand out as they serve others and speak truth that is often unpopular, James Merritt told Tennessee Baptist pastors Nov. 14 at Bellevue Baptist Church.
“When you’ve been with Jesus, you can’t help it,” said Merritt, pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Georgia. “There’s a fire in your bones. You’ve got to speak truth. … Are we willing to live a life and live our life in such a way that every day people will know we have been with Jesus?”
Merritt delivered the final address as part of the 2022 Tennessee Baptist Pastors Conference that preceded the Summit, the annual meeting of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
Derek Smith, pastor of Living Hope Baptist Church in Clarksville, Tennessee, and president of this year’s conference, chose the theme of “Revive” to encourage Tennessee Baptist pastors.
Merritt, preaching from Acts 4 about Peter and John’s arrest for proclaiming the gospel, told pastors that the apostles’ communion with Christ transformed them and made them noticeably different.
“You get around these men, you could smell the aroma of Jesus,” Merritt said. “You could see the radiance of Jesus. You could feel the presence of Jesus. You could hear the voice of Jesus.”
Merritt identified three marks of someone who has been with Jesus: the compassion to serve humbly, the courage to stand boldly and the conviction to speak truthfully.
“I’d rather be in trouble standing for Jesus and with Jesus than out of trouble running from Jesus,” he said.
Ternae Jordan, pastor of Mount Canaan Baptist Church in Chattanooga kicked off the conference with a word of encouragement from Ezekiel 37:7-10.
With recent natural disasters, political unrest and the aftermath of a global pandemic, Jordan began by saying if there ever was a time when men and women of God need encouragement to preach the gospel, now is the time. Much like Ezekiel, preachers today can sometimes feel like they are preaching to a valley of dry bones in their congregations, so Jordan said now is the time that God’s people need hope.
“I stopped by to tell you that we are preaching in tumultuous times, but the church is God’s rescue team that shows up in a disaster,” Jordan said. “The only way that (people) are going to live is through the Word of God, so no matter what disaster is going on in your churches, keep telling folks about the good news of Jesus Christ.”
Pete Tackett, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Johnson City, continued the conference by urging the audience to create revival of grace in their churches through a process of biblical restoration. After sharing his testimony of his church resignation, Tackett shared three guidelines for pastors to cultivate a culture of restoration in their churches.
First, Tackett said everyone has faults, so the church should give grace to both broken strangers who walk into their congregations and broken brothers and sisters already within their congregations. Second, Tackett said all Christians have an assignment to restore one another through Christ.
“If the church is not a place of grace, where are people going to find grace?” Tackett said. “The biblical definition of restoration is this — the sovereign work of God through his church whereby a broken and unusable believer is spiritually repaired and returned to a condition of usefulness to the body of Christ.”
Third, he said that all Christians have a warning, which is to guard oneself from temptation and sin. He finished by encouraging pastors to not be so busy doing church work that they do not nourish their souls and protect themselves from their own faults.
Anthony Payton, pastor of Come As You Are Community Church in Fort Wayne, Ind., walked the audience through Ezra 1 and the story of God leading the people of Israel out of exile and back into the promised land.
Though the Israelites faced a devastated city, Payton said God divinely orchestrated a particular season, servant and support to help God’s people rebuild the temple. Payton encouraged the audience to remember that God is still orchestrating today’s history toward eternal victory in Jesus Christ.
He concluded by urging pastors to faithfully teach and exposit the Word of God, rather than just soundbites, because the Southern Baptist Convention’s congressional identity should be in the saving grace of Jesus Christ, not in political allegiance.
“It’s not the size of your congregation that determines whether or not you speak; it’s not how much money you get per capita,” Payton said. “The heart of who we are should be developing (Christ-like) relationships across streets, states and seas.”
Ed Newton, pastor of Community Bible Church in San Antonio, Texas, preached from Ezekiel 37 about the prophet’s vision in the valley of dry bones.
Valleys are low places where hope is typically lost, Newton said, but in that context, God breathed life into what was dead.
“We need a fresh vision,” Newton said. “A vision not of a formula, not of steps to success, but in brokenness recognizing that we need to come back to the source.”
God’s breath accomplished victory in the valley, Newton said, and the Lord can do the same kind of work today, through the power of the Holy Spirit, in situations that seem hopeless.
Robert West, pastor of Kingdom Center Ministries in Memphis, said revival must begin with Jesus.
“No matter what you’re dealing with tonight, it’s got a name,” West said. “But I want you to know there’s a name that’s above whatever that name is that you’re dealing with right now.”
Preaching from Philippians 2:5-11, West said if the church is to experience revival, Jesus’ name must be proclaimed.
“There’s salvation in the name of Jesus,” he said. “There’s healing in the name of Jesus. There’s deliverance in the name of Jesus.”
Jordan, the president-elect for this year’s conference, will serve as the president for the 2023 conference at the Chattanooga Convention Center.
In officer elections, Grant Gaines, senior pastor of Belle Aire Baptist Church in Murfreesboro was chosen as president-elect for 2024 while Alan Stewart, head pastor of Rechoboth Baptist Church in Soddy-Daisy was elected as secretary-treasurer. B&R