‘Faithful men’ receive encouragement
By Tim Ellsworth and Suzanne Rhodes
Baptist and Reflector
BRENTWOOD — Speakers at the 2021 Tennessee Baptist Pastors Conference on Nov. 15 at Brentwood Baptist Church addressed the theme “Faithful Men” as they challenged pastors to remain faithful in ministering to their churches, in mentoring others and in sharing the gospel with unbelievers.
The theme verse was II Timothy 2:2. “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Corey Cain, lead pastor of Seymour First Baptist Church and president of this year’s conference, said “Faithful Men” was an appropriate theme for pastors who have often felt isolated and alone over the last two years.
“That’s why we come together — to encourage one another, to join together in worship and to remember that whenever we feel alone, that is Satan’s tool to isolate us and to help us feel inadequate,” Cain said. “But we have faithful men that have gone before us and that need to come behind us so that we can be effective in sharing and carrying the gospel forward.”
Ben Mandrell, president of Lifeway Christian Resources, brought the final message of the conference, pointing to the story of Nicodemus in John 3 as an example of how to build relationships with unchurched people. Mandrell cited a study from Lifeway Research indicating that the most urgent need pastors see is for their churches to foster connections with unchurched people.
“There’s an increased burden that churches are becoming a holy huddle, cut off from the communities in which they serve,” Mandrell said.
To address this need, Mandrell said pastors need to set an example for their congregations in how to form those types of connections. He shared some lessons he learned when he and his family moved from West Tennessee to Denver to start Storyline Fellowship in 2015. In Denver, he discovered a culture that tolerated all religions except Christianity and that didn’t respect pastors, and one in which people had little knowledge of the Bible or basic Christian beliefs.
“The secularism of the West and the Northeast is much closer than we think, and in order to reach people with the gospel, it’s going to be important for us to pay attention to the ways and the winds of culture and to understand the best way to reach them,” he said.
Mandrell said that Nicodemus in John’s gospel moved from “fringe” to being Jesus’ friend and ultimately a member of Christ’s family — a pattern that serves as a model for other unbelievers.
“We can’t close the deal with people. We can’t convert people — that’s God’s business,” Mandrell said. “But what we can do is we can make steps toward unchurched people, we can build meaningful relationships with unchurched people and we can tell stories with our church about how we’re doing that.”
Chuck Lawless, dean of doctoral studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, in his message referenced several examples from the book of Luke about the priority of prayer in Jesus’ life. Lawless argued that when men and women invest in future generations, prayer needs to be the focal point of that discipleship.
Jesus prioritized spending time with the Father, Lawless said, often withdrawing from the crowds to spend time in prayer. Lawless said the temptation in discipleship is often to be doers first, which will result in raising up a generation of doers.
“We’re good at the activity, and we just keep pouring ourselves into whatever we need to do,” Lawless said. “And we are doers raising up doers in a denomination that desperately needs the touch of God on us. That’s not going to come in our doing. That’s going to come in our praying.”
Lawless further urged pastors to seek God’s guidance when selecting people in whom to invest.
“We must seek the Father’s will because God might lead us to somebody who surprises us,” he said.
Pat Hood, pastor of LifePoint Church in Smyrna, Tennessee, pointed to Gideon in Judges 7 as one of the great underdogs of Scripture and encouraged pastors to remain faithful in their ministry even in a time when stress and discouragement can abound.
“God doesn’t need people with a lot of intellect,” Ford said. “He doesn’t need people with a lot of ability. He doesn’t need a lot of people. He just needs committed people.”
Ford said in an age of COVID, racial division and social unrest, with the nation more divided than it has been in a long time, pastors can often feel like underdogs.
“We’ve moved into a post-Christian world that is very difficult for pastors to navigate and for churches to navigate,” he said.
In such an age, Ford said pastors need to focus on the few.
“Don’t just mourn the loss of the many,” Ford said. “Focus on the few and watch those few turn into many.”
Ternae Jordan Sr., pastor of Mt. Canaan Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, reflected on the story of Paul and Timothy, challenging pastors to understand the importance of spiritual fatherhood. Jordan said everyone in this “gospel race” runs with a baton, but he challenged pastors to equip and disciple younger men who can receive the baton when it is time to pass it off.
“We are disciple makers,” Jordan said. “What we need to do is take the baton and run as fast and as long as we can, but we have to make sure we have a runner behind us.”
Jordan said Christians simply cannot afford to drop the baton, even in the midst of a season where there is much weariness, disappointment and hurt.
“You have got to finish the race, and you have got to finish strong,” Jordan said.
Chris Phillips is the pastor of Journey Point Church in Denver, Colorado, where there is one church for every 32,000 individuals. As Phillips reflected on the commands of the Great Commission, he challenged pastors to refocus on the multiplication of souls for Jesus Christ rather than the addition of church budgets and attendance records.
“When we’re abiding in Christ, multiplying and yielding in fruit, we’re multiplying out what God has done in us,” Phillips said.
Phillips encouraged pastors to celebrate a mission God has given them to serve together, but he reminded them to also remember Jesus Christ always remains in charge of the plan and mission of the Great Commission.
“The gospel cannot just sit with us — it came to us on its way to someone else,” Phillips said. “We are called to be catalysts for multiplication.”
Derek Smith, pastor of Living Hope Church in Clarksville, Tennessee, encouraged pastors to remember that victories within churches, congregations and communities are won through the power of prayer.
“The weapons of our warfare are not physical; they are spiritual,” Smith said. “The promises of revival still hold true, even in difficult days.”
As Smith reflected on the story of Daniel in the lion’s den, he challenged pastors to remember that prayer is a training ground and a battle ground in all moments of life — even in the challenges of a global pandemic. Like Daniel feverishly prayed for God’s deliverance in the midst of persecution, Smith said intercessory prayer is truly what makes a difference.
“God can do more in a moment than you and I can do in our entire lifetimes,” Smith said. “God can do more in the silence of my prayer than in my sermon.”
Smith, the president-elect for this year’s conference, will serve as the president for the 2022 conference at Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova. In officer elections, Jordan was chosen as president-elect for 2023 while Irvin Wasswa, campus pastor of Tylertown Church (a campus of Living Hope Church in Clarksville), will serve as secretary-treasurer.