Through worshipful times of praise music and powerful messages from God’s word, the For the Church National Conference, held at Midwestern Seminary’s Kansas City campus on Sept. 24-25, focused on reaffirming and recommitting to the glory given to and Great Commission aspects of the local church.
Keynote speakers Russell Moore, Charlie Dates, David Choi, Jason Allen, Owen Strachan, and Jared Wilson preached messages revolving around the conference’s theme of “Ministry and Majesty of the Church,” while Jimmy McNeal of Austin Stone Worship led attendees in praise and worship songs.
“In a culture that is ever rising up against Christ’s church, pastors, ministry leaders, and believers everywhere must re-double our commitment to living out our faith in the communities for which Christ died and called us to serve,” President Jason Allen said.
“At this year’s national conference, our desire was to put our hearts on display for Christ’s glory as manifested in the “Mission and Majesty of the Church.” Further, we hoped to provide pertinent messages from God’s Word and applicable breakout sessions which will result in every attendee feeling both the gravity of the gospel that’s been entrusted to them and the gladness of the gospel’s implications for their lives.”
The Church Invincible
Allen led the conference’s first session, “The Church Invincible,” basing his message from Matthew 16. From this, Allen noted that the church was birthed from Jesus’ great confession in v. 18 that he will “build his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Allen then offered four observations about what it means to be the church invincible.
First, he explained that the church was established on sound doctrine – specifically about Jesus confirming himself as the Son of God. In light of this fact, Allen then noted that the greatest question a person could ask is, “Who is Jesus?”
“That question has to become a personal one,” Allen said. “There are enormous implications for you personally and for the church as a whole. If you don’t confirm the deity of Jesus, then you are hell bound.”
Allen added that for Christ’s church to flourish, the key is building upon the truth of Jesus’s person and work.
Concluding his message, Allen observed that Jesus cares about the purity of the church. He encouraged pastors and ministry leaders in attendance to lead by example.
“We are stewards of the glory of God in our lives and, thus, in our churches, so we must lead in such a way that our character shapes our ministry and through our lives we are shaping a congregation, and through that congregation they are radiating the glory of Christ.”
The Church Domestic
The conference’s second message was delivered by Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberties Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who was tasked with exploring “The Church Domestic.” Referencing Mark 5:1-20, he queried how the church of Jesus Christ should live amidst a culture whose mindset is moving further away from the ideals of Scripture.
Moore suggested that a sense of desperation can be found in this passage that is all too real in today’s society as well.
“You are going to be finding and confronting (this desperation) in your mission fields, in your churches, and in your places of service in the years to come,” Moore said.
To illustrate his point, Moore painted a picture of the problem, the solution, the response, and the mission as found within the passage.
The problem, Moore said, is the great isolation and loneliness being experienced by the demon-possessed Garasenean man. This is true in our culture as well. Moore posited that Jesus also is seen as a problem instead of a solution because people fear he will break up their “little empires.”
However, the solution is, in fact, Jesus. The Lord asks the man, “What is your name?” Jesus is specifically seeking the lost, and Moore noted that believers should be about the same business. Jesus can break through the greatest strongholds, and he empowers believers to do the same by sharing the gospel.
Lastly, in the passage, Jesus left the area, but called the Garasenean man to stay and proclaim what had been done for him. The same is true for believers.
“People who have been freed from their bondage ought to know that we have a power that cannot be undone by secularization,” Moore said. “What we have to offer is a word that cuts through all of that and says, ‘Your situation is worse than even you know. Come out of the tombs; come into a new world where the funerals end and the wedding, well, it is just getting started.’”
The Church Prophetic
Owen Strachan, Midwestern Seminary’s associate professor of Christian Theology, opened the conference’s second day with a message on “The Church Prophetic” from Matthew 14:1-12.
Gleaning from the conflict between John the Baptist and Herod, Strachan encouraged listeners to be prophetic in their witness.
Like John the Baptist, modern-day believers are called to have a prophetic ministry. By this Strachan said just as John’s ministry foreshadowed Jesus’s ministry, we, too, are called to speak the truth of the gospel.
“Being prophetic means that we speak the truth when people do not want to hear it….but if you treat everyone as an image bearer, as if they are made in the image of God – every last person – that will be prophetic. That will have an effect,” Strachan said.
Next, prophetic ministry will bring one in direct conflict with Satan, Strachan said. Telling the truth in love is Christian witness, and it can be addressed in a multiplicity of high-tension issues such as marriage, racial unity, sexual identity, abortion, politics, or religious liberty.
Strachan pointed out lastly that the prophetic church is the suffering church, and the suffering church is the invincible church. To illustrate, he showed how John the Baptist was martyred over the issue of the sanctity of marriage. We could be persecuted for our beliefs as well.
“The ministry of truth, prophetic ministry, is an opportunity to test regularly just how dispensable we are,” Strachan said. “Like John, we put ourselves on the line because this whole divine business we have entered is not about us; it is about God, his greatness, his majesty, and his worthiness.”
The Church Confessional
Continuing the theme of “Ministry and Majesty,” the conference’s next speaker, Charlie Dates, senior pastor of The Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago, expounded upon “The Church Confessional.”
Preaching from 2 Tim. 4:1-5, Dates exhorted the audience to “make the Book talk.” The main responsibility for pastors, as outlined by the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy, is to be properly equipped and to boldly preach God’s word. “This word makes you competent and efficient in ministry,” Dates said.
Dates explained that there is a foundation, a function, and a fate of Christian preaching.
To the first point, he noted the foundation of Christian preaching has a gravity and seriousness because in preaching the word, a pastor shares words of life and death. Since Christ will judge the living and the dead, pastors need to be sober in their responsibilities and have the people ready for the time when Jesus reappears.
It’s not only that one preaches, but what he preaches that matters, Dates added. “We have an urgent message from the King, and we must proclaim the word to the people.”
That same word has power, and it can be used in multiple ways, such as to rebuke, correct, and encourage. Dates explained that not every sermon will be popular with the people. They may become angry or leave crying instead of shouting. “Bring encouragement with great patience. The word is at work in their lives.”
Finally, Dates said that preaching will reap a result among the congregation, but it should reap a result for the preacher as well.
“Watch your own ministry,” he said. “Be sober in all things. Have some balance. Do not let external things influence or control you. Endure hardship. Go through what you’ve got to go through. Do not give up at every hard turn in ministry. Do the work of an evangelist.”
The Church Missional
David Choi, lead pastor of Church of the Beloved in Chicago, addressed conference attendees on the topic, “The Church Missional.”
The main emphasis of his message from Matt. 28:16-20 was people being disciples first – that’s the main priority of the church.
“When discipleship is your priority, then God gets the glory and that’s most important,” Choi said.
He added that in the American church, we are promoting ourselves too much. It’s all about social causes and not about the glory of Jesus.
Choi presented a template for discipleship: hear the word, trust the word, and obey the word. “If you see Jesus regularly and long to see him regularly, then your ministry will be forgotten because your passion will be for your people to see what you see because it’s given you so much joy and satisfaction.”
In his second point, Choi explained that pastors and ministry leaders should be proclaiming the promises of Christ, as this will carry them through their darkest times.
“I wish ministry was easy,” he said. “The reality of ministry is that you will go through trauma – sometimes through people that you would never have imagined. You will go through isolation and loneliness and despair, not just because of your emotional temperament or because your congregation, but because there is an enemy who literally has a bullseye on you if you are a pastor.”
Choi’s final point was that there is a plan for the missional church, and that is to “go and make disciples.” However, the pastor must lead by example.
“We cannot make what we are not,” Choi said. “It depends on Christ, but there has to be some level of integrity that you are following Jesus.
“We must have a desire to lead people to Jesus and get them to follow Jesus, and if you do that churches get planted. But if you try to plant churches (and are not a disciple), you may or may not grow them, but you will not make disciples.”
The Church Majestic
In the conference’s final session, Jared Wilson, director of Content Strategy and managing editor of For the Church (ftc.co) at Midwestern Seminary, preached from Isaiah 60, and encapsulated his theme in one sentence: The majestic church worships the majestic God, who issues a majestic commission to proclaim a majestic Christ.
Wilson lamented that the glory of God is woefully neglected in far too many places where something resembling worship is taking place. He said mission begins not with leadership skills or strategies, rather with a glorious encounter with the living God.
“The world needs people willing to offer their whole hearts to the reality of the glory of the one, true God, Yahweh…A domesticated, privatized God moves nothing, but the majesty of the God of the scriptures is like a heavenly magnet, drawing and repelling, reshaping the very world into a reflection of his foreordained designs.”
Wilson said the church should take its focus off itself and “Look up, raise your eyes. What do you see?” as found in Is. 60::4. When it does, it will become serious about God’s true vision for it.
That vision is reaching the lost for Christ, and Wilson noted that the mission is gaining ground.
“In 1900, more than half of the world was unevangelized,” Wilson said. “In 2017…we have seen (that number) reduced to 28.4-percent of the world unreached. The mission continues, but it is gaining ground…Raise your eyes and look around. Look at the majesty of the church.”
In summing up his message, Wilson said the glory of the Lord is shining over his church. “Now is the time to declare the praises of the everlasting God, for his Son, Jesus Christ, has died and is alive forevermore and is on his throne. He is the Lord. Therefore, let us be filled with wonder and hope.”
On Tuesday afternoon, 10 workshops and breakout sessions were also held on the topics “Sola Scriptura: Why Inerrancy Matters Now More than Ever,” by Matthew Barrett, MBTS associate professor of Christian Theology; “Mere Hope: Life in an Age of Cynicism” by Jason Duesing, MBTS Provost; “Multicultural Ministry: Pursuing Diversity in the Church” by Noe Garcia, pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church; “Jesus is Enough: The Empty Promises of Prosperity Theology,” led by Costi Hinn, executive pastor of Mission Bible Church in Tustin, Calif.; “Growing Together: The Role of Community in the Local Church,” led by Jared Musgrove, groups pastor at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas; “Leadership Pipeline: The Necessity and Centrality of Developing Leaders,” led by Daniel Im, director of Church Multiplication at LifeWay Christian Resources; a women’s track led by Nancy Guthrie, author/speaker/Bible teacher at Respite Retreats; “Deep Discipleship: Helping Students Become Like Jesus,” led by Samuel Bierig, dean of Spurgeon College; “Stepping into Vital Relationships: Avoiding the Trap of Pastoral Isolation,” led by Jimmy Dodd, CEO/Founder of PastorServe; and “How Should We Then Live? The Church and Cultural Engagement,” led by Dan DeWitt, associate professor of Applied Theology and Apologetics at Cedarville University.
The 2019 For the Church National Conference will take place in Kansas City on Sept. 23-24. To register, visit mbts.edu/ftc19.
To view all plenary sessions of the For the Church Conference, visit the resources page at mbts.edu/ftc18videos.