Mission Lab

H.B. Charles Jr. elected first black president of Pastors’ Conference

Study of Philippians pervades Pastors' Conf.

June 14th, 2017 / By: Keith Collier | Managing Editor / comments

PHOENIX—The 2017 SBC Pastors’ Conference proved historic on many levels including the unanimous election of H.B. Charles Jr., pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., as the first black president in the conference’s __-year history. The election took place during the afternoon session of the conference at the Phoenix Convention Center, June 12.

Charles was nominated by Ken Whitten, pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Fla., who said, “I want to be real clear about one thing—I am not nominating H.B. Charles because of the color of his skin. I’m suggesting that he be the conference president because of the character of his soul and the convictions of his spirit.”

Whitten shared about Charles’ pastoral ministry experience and commitments to the inerrancy of Scripture and expositional preaching, adding, “All of this has given H.B. a vision of what every Southern Baptist pulpit can look like, when we make Jesus Christ the central figure of our preaching and the cross the central factor of our preaching. …

“In June 1995 in Atlanta, Ga., our convention unwaveringly denounced any form of racism. And the day and the hour has come where regardless of your nationality, we should look at your spirituality, we should look at your theology and missiology to be a leader in all phases of our convention.”

There were no other nominees, so current conference president Dave Miller asked the crowd to vote by standing and cheering, and the entire auditorium erupted in applause.

Steve Swofford, pastor of First Baptist Church in Rockwall, Texas, was nominated by Bart Barber of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, vice president for the 2018 Pastors’ Conference, and was elected unopposed. There were no nominees for secretary, so Miller explained that per the rules of the conference, Charles would be able to appoint one.

In addition to the historic nature of the officer elections, this year’s intentional lineup of speakers consisting of pastors in smaller to average size SBC churches preached expositionally through the book of Philippians.

David Choi

In the opening message of the Pastors’ Conference, David Choi, pastor of the Church of the Beloved in Chicago, told the audience that he had been preaching for more than 20 years, beginning at the age of 19.

“My father was a perfectionist, so I tried to gain my father’s approval,” he said. “When I got to high school, I sought approval from classmates. When I became a Christian, I shifted that desire for approval to the church. I thought acceptance was connected to performance.”

Choi said that even when pastors seem like they’re godly from the outside, they all harbor sin.

“In those moments [that we sin], we are not godly, but he still proclaims us. God frees us to be honest about our sin and our hypocrisy. Your past does not define you. Christ’s past defines you. Because we are servants of Christ Jesus, we have peace that comes from him.”

Preaching from Philippians 1:1-11, Choi said the Scriptures remind us that we can’t do anything on our own but that through God, we can accomplish anything.

“Every single day of my ministry I am reminded that I have [nothing] to set before my people, because we know that we can’t, but he can. When man works, man works, but when man prays, God works. It’s not about us.”

John Onwuchekwa

“The gospel loves to advance down the avenue of adversity,” John Onwuchekwa, pastor of Cornerstone Church in Atlanta, told attendees on Sunday evening.

From Philippians 1:12-26, Onwuchekwa acknowledged that pastors are prone to despair because their suffering is “vigorous and vicarious.” He shared that as he set out to launch Cornerstone Church two-and-a-half years ago, several personal crises, including a failed adoption, the death of his brother and other challenges, propelled him toward despair.

“Despair,” he said, “doesn’t grow out of bad occurrences but out of a bad outlook.”

Through that adversity and the words of Scripture, he learned to tether his hope for joy to “the goodness of God,” much like the apostle Paul, who, in the midst of adversity, “didn’t pray for things to change circumstantially.”

Paul penned a joyful letter to the Philippians, stating that the adversity he was enduring actually served to advance the gospel.

“You can’t stop the spread of the gospel,” said Onwuchekwa, who explained that even as Paul was chained to a prison guard, he shared the gospel.

While some people are “weary of living and fearful of dying,” Paul said, “Give me either, and I’m good.”

Circumstances in life are “inconsistent, unreliable and unpredictable,” while our Savior is “consistent, reliable and predictable,” Onwuchekwa said.

In spite of adversity, “You and I have every reason to rejoice,” he said.

Chris Davis

Chris Davis, pastor of Groveton Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va., used Paul’s words in Philippians 1:27-30 to challenge Southern Baptists to see their main identity as citizens of heaven and not as citizens of the United States.

“If Christ’s lordship does not supersede our American concerns, we will lose our testimony and we will jettison our calling—our mission to make Christ-followers of all nations,” Davis said. “This is a call for a heightened awareness that we are citizens, first and foremost of heaven, and secondly, of America. This is a call for us to evaluate ... whether we are living worthy of the Savior, who died and rose again, to purchase this citizenship for us.”

Davis said Paul identified two indicators of this worthy life: unity in the gospel and courage through suffering.

As the culture becomes more intolerant of Christians, and as the political landscape becomes more unpredictable, Davis said, Christians must radically embrace their shared identity and shared mission in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

They must do so, he said, with a spirit of boldness and without cowering in the face of every threat. When Paul was in a Philippian jail, Davis said, the salvation of the jailer came not through a complaint about a loss of rights but through the praises sung to God.

“Let us turn up the volume of our oneness of those mercifully rescued by Jesus, and let us turn down the volume of our opinions about American politicians and policies, so that our agreement about the eternal is what is prominent about us as a convention instead of our legitimate disagreement about what is only temporal,” Davis said.

“And let us be a people of courage—not spooked by marginalization or slander or being the butt of the joke on ‘Saturday Night Live’ because Christ is our king, heaven is our home, and our eternal destiny is secure.”

Jimmy Meek

Jimmy Meek, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in El Dorado, Ark., opened the Monday morning session of the conference with a sermon titled “Unity in the Gospel.”

Meek preached on Philippians 2:1-4, saying, “People are inherently not unified. … True unity comes through the gospel.”

Christians have been reconciled to God, and it is the job of the Christian to help lost people become reconciled to God, Meeks said in reference to Paul’s words in Philippians.

“Yet, when unchurched people, when lost people look at our churches, many times they see people that can’t even be reconciled to each other,” Meeks said.

“We wonder sometimes why people aren’t flocking to our churches. It’s because people who are not reconciled to each other are not a very good advertisement of the gospel,” he said.

Meek referenced the book Tally Ho the Fox, in which Herb Hodges describes the problems that occur when hunting dogs do not do the things “they are wired to do.” Like hunting dogs, Meek said churches encounter issues when they fail to find unity in the gospel.

Meek said that when hunting dogs do things apart from what they were wired to do, they encounter the following issues: 1) They are lazy, 2) They form hierarchies that make no sense, 3) They fight about trivial things and, 4) They don’t want any new members in the pen.

Meek said that churches encounter the same issues as the hunting dogs when they do not have, “unity in the gospel.”

“What if your church was doing what it is wired to do?” Meek inquired. “They’d no longer care about trivial things; they’d no longer be sleepy or lazy; they’d no longer have that unnecessary hierarchy; they’d no longer wish they had fewer members so they could be in charge.”

Nathan Rose

Turning our gaze upon Jesus’ incarnation, sacrifice on the cross, and exultation is the answer to a loss of focus in proclaiming the gospel and for the selfishness that is pervading society and our churches, explained Nathan Rose, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Liberty, Mo., during the Monday morning session.

Teaching from Philippians 2:5-11, Rose noted that there is a dangerous trend of pride and self-absorption in our churches, and that it’s leading to personal and church self-destruction as well as the hindering of gospel advancement.

“How do we combat this? The biblical solution for fixing behavior always begins with fixing our gaze on Jesus Christ. The key to cultivating humility and selflessness is contemplating the person and work of Jesus Christ.”

The first area of contemplating Christ, Rose noted, is in his incarnation—the Son of God as a human servant. Rose showed how the apostle Paul exhorted believers to emulate Jesus’ example of selflessness and always placing others as more important than himself.

“Jesus’ entire life was characterized by giving rather than getting.... This was the very essence of his life. Jesus did not come to show off his swagger; instead, he emptied himself by becoming a human servant.... This is the mindset that we also ought to have. This is our paradigm for life and ministry,” Rose said.

Second, in noting that Jesus’ death on the cross was in utter obedience to the Father, Rose said it also proved his utter love for us.

“This reality proves that Jesus Christ loves you, cherishes you, accepts you ... and none of this is dependent upon you, your efforts, or how successful your ministry may or may not appear. This is the good news of the gospel.”

Rose wrapped up his message explaining that an important lesson is learned through Christ’s exaltation following his suffering: “The way to be honored and exalted by God is through the pursuit of humility and sacrificial service.” This is the key to greatness in the eyes of God.

Ryan Rice

Ryan Rice, pastor of Connect Church of Algiers in New Orleans, drew from Philippians 2:12-18 to encourage pastors to “live lives poured out for Jesus.”

Paul’s exhortation to the believers at Philippi to continue on in obedience to Christ is a call pastors must heed today, Rice said.

Acknowledging that ministry is difficult, Rice encouraged listeners not to give up but to press forward in “practical obedience” to God’s calling by staying focused on Christ.

“Keep plowing in the lane God has set you in,” Rice said. “Keep following wherever he has placed you. You can continue on if your eyes are set on Jesus.”

Pointing to verses 14-16, Rice said believers are called to a “shining obedience,” whereby a dark world can see Christ in their lives. Rice reminded listeners God sees and rewards faithfulness.

“Your identity is found in Christ, not in what you do for Christ,” Rice said.

Believers are called to “joyful obedience,” Rice said. He encouraged pastors to serve joyfully, as Christ served, and to remember that Jesus endured the cross.

Rice concluded by challenging listeners to follow Christ’s example and “run to the cross every morning” and “pour out your life for the gospel.”

Jamar Andrews

Speaking on Philippians 2:19-30, Jamar Andrews, lead pastor of Word Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ark., highlighted Timothy and Epaphroditus as examples of Christians who lived lives worthy of the gospel.

Andrews said that in the passage the apostle Paul uses the lives of Timothy and Epaphroditus as illustrations of how followers of Christ should live.

“When we think about what Christ has called us to, we must make sure that our agendas match his and that our interests match his,” said Andrews. “Timothy had a mind, attitude and disposition that kept Jesus Christ and his interests first.”

Andrews said character is “one of the most important assets we have as a messenger of the gospel. … We want people to see that the message that we share is also the message that we live.”

Every person has three tongues, Andrews said—one in our mouth and one on each foot.

“The reality is that when we think about character, the one that’s in our mouth must be saying the same thing as the ones that are on our shoes,” said Andrews.

“Whenever we preach the gospel we want to make sure that we don’t unsay with our lives what we say with our lips,” he said.

Andrews said that the ministry of Timothy and Epaphroditus shows that God remembers even small things done in his name. It also shows us that ministry can be costly, as it almost cost Epaphroditus his life.

“Even though ministry is costly and ministry is difficult, God’s mercies are new every day,” Andrews said.

Jose Abella

Preaching from Philippians 3:1-11, Jose Abella, pastor of Providence Road Baptist Church in Miami, exhorted attendees, saying, “We must be a people that pursue gospel clarity.”

The son of Cuban immigrants, Abella described the first time he visited Cuba in 2013 and saw a river that flowed through the rural farming community where his parents had lived.

“What I saw amazed me. The clarity of the water,” he said, “was truly a sight to see.” Three years later when he returned with his wife, however, the water was “murky and full of debris.”

“I wonder if the river of the gospel that runs through our churches and convention flows with such beauty and clarity,” Abella said. “I wonder if there’s any debris of legalism, Antinomianism and everything in between blurring gospel waters.”

We are always one generation away from losing the gospel, he warned. Therefore, “it is of vital importance that we get the gospel right,” Abella said.

“If we’re not careful, we can fall into the trap of assuming the gospel instead of pursuing the gospel,” Abella preached.

“If the gospel is not before us, it most definitely will be behind us,” he said. “And if it ends up behind us, we will end up with a diluted gospel that is no gospel at all. If the gospel loses its clarity, it will lose its redemptive beauty and power.”

Gospel clarity, he said, “protects us against heresy, grounds our confidence in Christ alone and saves sinners and exalts the Savior.”

“A gospel river flowing through our churches and through this convention—that will be the power of the gospel that will actually save men, transform their lives.”

Spencer Plumlee

Spencer Plumlee, pastor of Riverview Baptist Church in Osage Beach, Mo., continued in Philippians 3, working through verses 12-16, where Paul discusses striving toward the ultimate goal of eternal fellowship with God in Heaven: “forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.”

“Conversion is not the finish line,” Plumlee said. “Conversion is the starting line in this race.”

Plumlee said the passage calls believers to an urgency in their work, an urgency to live each day as if it is their last.

“Pastor, is that the gospel you’re presenting to your church?” he asked. “Are you presenting a gospel that calls them to victorious urgency? My fear is that we stop at conversion and talk about people’s future without addressing the present life God has called us to live now. This victorious urgency is not just for the super spiritual; it’s not just for the pastor or missionary; it’s for each and every one of us.”

Michael Allen

“There is an obsession these days with leadership and not followership,” said Michael Allen, pastor of Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago, Ill. “Yet, there are at least twice as many scriptural references to followership than there are to leadership.”

Preaching from Phil. 3:17–4:1, Allen said those verses show that there are two imperatives to followership: 1) In verse 17, Paul exhorts the people to join in—to become like him as he follows Christ. 2) In the same verse, Paul says to pay attention, or to scope out other saints who are already living according to the example of other saints.

“Paul is not talking about a program for your church,” he said. “He’s talking about following godly people. It’s not about borrowing a sermon or a song you got at a conference but by being influenced by those who are worthy of being imitated.”

Allen said that when he was called to preach 27 years ago, he was part of the college and career class taught by Susie Hawkins at First Baptist Church, Fort Lauderdale. He asked the pastor, O.S. Hawkins, how he knew he was called to preach. Hawkins looked him in the eye and said “Michael, if you can do anything else in the world and be happy, then do it. But if you can’t be happy unless you’re preaching, then it may very well be that God has called you to preach.”

Allen, who at the time worked as a field service computer technician, said he had listened to Hawkins for years exposit whole chapters of the Bible. He watched O.S. and Susie relate to each other, and he watched as they raised their daughters to be fine wives and mothers.

“He’s always left me with some kind of personal encouragement,” he said. “So now, I always try to give a word or a touch as encouragement to others. Be a pattern to someone else—be a Paul to someone else. No one becomes a great leader without first being a great follower.”

Bart Barber

Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, delivered a message from Philippians 4:2-9, calling for God to raise up more peacemakers in Southern Baptist Churches.

Noting that the entire letter to the Philippians speaks to the value of gospel partnerships, Barber said, “There are two ways that you can lose partnership in the gospel. One way is to lose the gospel. … But even if you retain the truth of Scripture and the authority of Scripture and the reality of the gospel, you can still lose a partnership for the gospel if you fail to protect the spirit of partnership that enables people to cooperate for the cause of the gospel.”

In this passage, Paul names people in the church who were causing problems, and he calls out the peacemakers in the church to bring reconciliation.

Using the illustration of white blood cells in the body that stand ready to fight infection, Barber said, “God created the body of Christ to expect that there would be conflict in the body of Christ. … And he planned for that by designing the church to contain an army of peacemakers who will wait around and watch for that moment when partnership for the gospel is in jeopardy and will rush in and protect the partnership of the gospel from the threat.”

He explained that much of the conflict in Southern Baptist churches is not simply because of the presence of conflict but rather because of the absence of peacemakers. Deacons, he said, have a biblical responsibility to be lead peacemakers in the congregation.

“I believe that we are witnessing the slow, terrifying demise of the office of deacon within our churches,” he said. “I’m not saying that all of the peacemakers in your church have to be deacons, but I am saying that all the deacons in your church need to be peacemakers.”

Barber said if pastors are going to call people to be peacemakers in the church, then they are going to have to teach them how to do it effectively by training their manners, emotions and thinking.

“The lie straight from hell that plagues our churches is that we think if we’re going to be mannerly, we can’t make anybody’s business ours,” Barber said. “We see trouble in church, and we say, ‘Y’all take care of that. Good luck.’” But, he said, Paul challenges the church in Philippi to step in and help bring harmony in the body of Christ.

Ultimately, Barber said, pastors must set the example of peacemaking. Referencing denominational life, he said pastors have great opportunities to model the pattern of peacemaking. He used the illustration of Fannie Heck and Annie Armstrong, leaders of the Women’s Missionary Union during its greatest days of growth but who also hated one another. Denominational leaders and the WMU’s board stepped in as peacemakers, calling the two women to reconcile in order to protect the partnership in the gospel and the mission of Christ.

“Oh, friends, our churches perish for a lack of peacemakers,” Barber pleaded. “Our marriages fall apart because Christians gather around and instead of telling us to work things out, they tell us that we can just bust things up. Institutions struggle because of the problems we have with conflict.

“I would encourage all of you to pray and ask Jesus to make you a peacemaker and equip you to do it.”

Shane Hall

The conference came to an emotional end as conference leaders gathered in prayer around Shane Hall, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Del City, Okla. Hall, who suffers from the relapse of an incurable strain of stomach cancer, closed the two-day study of Philippians from the benediction of Paul’s letter with the simple message, “All we need is Jesus.”

Hall said that although this closing passage contains one of the most often misused and misapplied verses of Scripture—”I can do all things through him who strengthens me”—the driving theme of this letter, and of Paul’s life, was a total reliance on the person and Godhood of Jesus, who makes everything in life, the good times and the bad, bearable. “For Paul, all he needed was Jesus.”

But the cancer-embattled pastor emphasized Paul’s contentment and total reliance in Jesus did not come without a price.

“How did Paul get there? How did he get to the place that Christ is enough?” Hall asked. The answer, he said, is found in the iconic 13th verse. “Paul learned it in the school of contentment,” he said. “That is not a school that we want. Why?  Because in the school of contentment we learn that Christ is all we need—not when we have much, but when we have little. Not when we have everything, but when we have nothing. When things have been stripped from us and we are at life’s worst circumstances, that is when we learn to be content in Christ alone.”

“I don’t want to be in the school of contentment. I don’t like it,” confessed Hall. “I have to ask every day, is Christ enough for me? Can I truly say that all I need is Jesus?”

“My plans have been brought to utter ruin. What I thought I was going to do for his kingdom are all gone at this point. I feel like all I am doing is trying to stay alive and survive so I don’t leave my wife and daughters.

“When God brings these things into your life—it is not coincidence, but providence. Life gets real simple real quick. It becomes Christ and Christ alone. The reality is this, all we need is Jesus.”

Compiled by Keith Collier, managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN. With reporting by T. Patrick Hudson, executive assistant to the president at Midwestern Seminary; Kathie Chute, director of communications for Gateway Seminary; Margaret Colson, executive director of Baptist Communicators Association; Tim Ellsworth, associate vice president for university communications at Union University; Caleb Yarbrough, associate editor at Arkansas Baptist News; Marilyn Stewart, assistant director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; Brian Koonce, assistant editor for The Pathway; and Marc Hooks, associate director of missions and director of communications of the Collin Baptist Association in Fairview, Texas.