(This article is intended for those in the Ministry)
In a just a little over week , (Lord be willing) my wife and I will be attending the Pastor’s Conference that is held at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida. It has become an annual trek for us intended to be a time of refreshing, renewing and restoration. And at this point I can still recommend it to my brethren, I am not certain as to whether or not that will always be the case.
As I stated in a previous post, we began attending back in 2004 and it became a personal favorite of ours. Being theologically landmark in Baptist doctrine, and conservative in all areas, I was absolutely overjoyed at the size, scale, and influence of this conference. Not being in the convention, coupled with being in a smaller national group had lead me to the mindset that pastors, preachers, and believers, of my mind and spirit were relegated to the small, unnoticed, and a minimal, if at all, influence on the culture. The conference was a wonderful encouragement, and inspiritation to me and my wife at just the right time.
While Adrian Rogers has been my favorite preacher for many, many years, I was also encouraged by the rest of the group. Bailey Smith, Jr. Hill, Paige Patterson, Jerry Vines, David Allen, Fred Luter, Ergun Caner, Ed Young, Bobby Welch, and John Sullivan were some of the men in that first conference that I attended. Some of these men still attend, while new ones have also been brought in.
I understand completely the need to stay fresh, when you have an annual conference. Some things need to change over time. However one of the most dramatic changes that I have noticed in the last few years has been a perceived shift in the tone of the conference concerning Calvinism.
I still have some CD’s from the first conference, and a fairly good memory, and it was decidedly, flamingly, anti-Calvinistic. It seemed as if there was no room for debate or discussion, the tone clearly landed on the right side of the issue, and left the other side, where it should be, in the boat of heresy. (At least that’s what I remember)
It seems also that some of the attitude has changed concerning “Methods” of ministry. I remember distinctly attending Calvin Carr’s seminar on youth ministry, and finding very refreshing the churches stand on the issue of “separation” from the world. “Cotton Candy” youth ministry was the name of his seminar, and he did a masterful job of explaining why there were certain things their youth group didn’t do, and things they didn’t condone, or allow; and I am speaking of things that come with the label “Christian” on them. (Which by the way, this was the youth group of Tim Tebow – which he was a member of at the time.)
They were clear, they were solid, and they were settled strong on one side of nearly every issue.
That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. I know that Vines has retired, and Rogers has relocated. I know that Mac Brunson is a different man, and I have never had a problem with him at all. However it seems that the issues on which they once took a strong clear stand, they are now giving a soft blurry touch.
It was either last year or the year before that Tommy Nelson loudly declared – “I paid good money to be a five star calvinist” Al Mohler, of course we know is a Calvinist. But even the non-Calvinist are less and less distinctive about their stand. They are no longer adamant about Calvinism being a heresy. The Doctrine of Separation does not seem to be given the same press that it used to, at least with what I have seen in recent years.
I am fully aware of the controversies surrounding Mac Brunson, and the watch dog blog. I believe offended church members had some legitimate points, and Dr. Brunson could have handled it better. I don’t believe that Dr. Brunson is a greedy, grumpy, sheep beater. I believe that some of my church members could raise legitimate points with me, and I believe that I could have handle many things better in my ministry than I have. Because church members have legitimate complaints, and because pastors do not always handle things the best, doesn’t mean anything more than churches, and pastors, are sinful human beings, trying to present a perfect loving Savior to a lost and dying world.
With that being said, Dr. Vines, Dr. Hill, Dr. Allen, and Dr. Patterson are worth the price of admission. The sermons they bring have always been eye opening, and soul touching messages straight from the Word of God. I have always been refreshed and renewed by what they have prepared for this meeting, and their dedication to expository preaching. The members of the church are beyond outstanding. Their kindness, and warm friendliness, and whole hearted effort, make this a truly enjoyable occasion.
If you are in the area, or have the time and resources, it is still generally worth the trip. (And I haven’t even mentioned the wonderful music that is led by Jim Whitmire.)
I can certainly say for me and my wife that making this an annual trip thus far, has been a change worth making.