Celebrating smaller membership churches in the Southern Baptist Convention is a key aspect of this year's Pastors' Conference. However, key leaders are calling for broad participation by pastors regardless of the size of their church.
"The core of the SBC has always been faithful men and women living out the Great Commission in local churches without the benefits of large platforms, big budgets or headline recognition," J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., noted.
The Pastors' Conference is slated June 11-12 prior to the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting, June 13-14 in the Phoenix Convention Center. The conference's theme, "Above Every Name," is taken from Philippians 2:9.
While the SBC has a number of large, prominent churches, nearly 90 percent of the convention's 47,000 churches average 250 or less in worship, with pastors of smaller membership churches often underrepresented at events like the Pastors' Conference.
This year will be different. An ethnically diverse group of speakers, all pastors of smaller to average-sized SBC churches, will share 12 expository messages from the book of Philippians. Leaders like Greear are joining the effort to acknowledge and encourage the work of smaller membership churches throughout the SBC.
Greear is joining Steve Gaines, current SBC president, as well as past SBC presidents Fred Luter and Johnny Hunt to promote attendance at the conference. Each of the men also will share a "common ground" testimony of how smaller membership churches shaped their lives and ministries. Luter will share his testimony during the Sunday evening session; Greear, Hunt and Gaines will share Monday morning, afternoon and evening, respectively.
"I was reared in [a smaller membership church] and served my first eight years of pastoral ministry in churches of less than 400 in weekly attendance," Greear said. "Everything essential I needed to know about ministry I learned there -- the power of the Gospel, the primacy of prayer and the preeminence of the Word.
"I am excited to be with brothers and sisters from all across our convention in Phoenix this June as we re-examine those core principles of ministry that do not change, whether we serve in churches of 100 or 1,000," Greear said.
Luter, senior pastor at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, sees the Pastors' Conference as a way to encourage younger pastors.
"I look forward to supporting and hearing these young pastors from across the SBC," Luter said in written comments to Baptist Press. "I encourage messengers from all over to attend, pray for and be inspired by the sermons and the music."
Luter's common ground testimony will tell of his early ministry at Franklin Avenue. While the church has experienced exponential growth under Luter, it was an average-sized congregation with approximately 65 members, giving Luter firsthand knowledge of the challenges and joys of the smaller church pastorate.
Johnny Hunt is known throughout the convention as the pastor of a large, vibrant and influential congregation -- First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga. But FBC Woodstock was not a large church when he arrived as pastor. With about 200 members at the time, the church was only a little larger than the average Southern Baptist church. In fact, during his 40-year ministry career, Hunt has pastored only four churches. All were smaller membership churches when he arrived (35, 37, 90 and 200 members, respectively).
"I've never really gone to a large church, but I have been part of seeing each church become healthy and as a result grow," Hunt said. "I look forward to sharing my story of pastoring a small church that became vibrant."
Contemporary hymn writers Keith & Kristyn Getty will lead worship at the Pastors' Conference. For a complete list of speakers and more information, visit http://sbcpc.net.
Gary Myers is director of public relations for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.