With a focus on various aspects of what it means to be called to the ministry, Midwestern Seminary’s sixth annual For the Church National Conference was livestreamed across the world on Sept. 28-29.
Even COVID-19 couldn’t slow the conference’s momentum, as virtual attendees, who gathered individually, in small groups, or in socially distanced church gatherings, took in the messages and worship via technology. Additionally, during the event, faculty, staff, and students spread out within the Daniel Lee Chapel on campus for a watch party.
“For the last five years, we’ve had the joy of hosting our brothers and sisters in Christ at our For the Church National Conference here in Kansas City,” President Jason Allen said. “However, COVID-19 has brought changes in multiple ways for us here at Midwestern Seminary, and I’m sure for our attendees as well.
“In an effort to maintain safety and adhere to local healthcare regulations, we opted to hold FTC virtually. However, COVID-19 doesn’t reign over us, Jesus does, and we wanted to create a moment across the nation, and the world, where we could bring encouragement and light to our audience. One thing is certain, while the format of the conference may have changed, the Word of God endures forever.”
Keynote speakers for the event included Robert Smith, Jr., Allen, Ray Ortlund, Jimmy Scroggins, Jared C. Wilson, H.B. Charles, Jr., and Owen Strachan, who all preached impassioned messages revolving around the conference’s theme of “A Sure and Steady Anchor,” while Matt Merker led the conference in praise and worship songs.
A Call to Preach
Robert Smith, Jr., the Charles T. Carter Baptist Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala., led off the conference with a message entitled, “A Call to Preach.”
Referring to William H. Myers’ book, “God’s Yes Was Louder Than My No: Rethinking the African-American Call to Ministry,” Smith noted there are four significant components to one’s call to preach: the struggle, the search, the sanction, and the surrender. He illustrated his points through the calling of Samuel in the Old Testament.
Smith noted that everyone called to ministry experiences something similar to Samuel: there is some sort of struggle while coming to terms with the calling, then a search for something to validate that calling is real. Next is the sanction, where someone in the called person’s life confirms the calling, and lastly is the surrender where you say to God, “Here am I. Oh, Lord, send me.”
Smith also explained how Moses served as an example of living out and executing one’s ministry. He said that just as Moses “had his role to play on the platform of salvation history. You have your role to play as well. Now, you take up the mantle and you go on.
“Why? Because God buries his workers, but he never buries his work. You and I should never feel that we’re indispensable… You and I should never feel that we are absolutely necessary. My ministry took on a different light when I recognized that when God called me to preach, the Trinity did not become a quartet. What that means is, God didn’t need me. God didn’t add anything to himself.”
A Call to Ministry
The conference’s second message was delivered by Allen, who preached on “A Call to Ministry,” basing his message from Ephesians 4:7-16.
Allen explained that the main purpose for his message was to speak specifically and practically about the call to ministry and, particularly, to answer the question, “How do you know if you’re called to ministry?”
To accomplish his goal, Allen clarified what the call to ministry is biblically, challenged listeners to be intentional and observant in recognizing those experiencing the call to ministry, and encouraged the audience to cultivate and draw out the calling to ministry for those undergoing that experience.
Allen explained that one’s calling, according to Scripture, is an urgent one. From verses 11-12, he said, “So, you get a sense of the gravity of the call that was initiated and conceived in eternity past, accomplished by the power that Christ had over death, hell, and the grave.
“We stand to minister in that same power. And now we are the pastors and missionaries and teachers that God is calling out For the Church. Isn’t that special? Isn’t that grand what God is doing? I hope you never get over the sense of the grandness and gravity of that call, but also that you sense the wonder of the delight and thrill of that call.”
A Call to Joy
Ray Ortlund, senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, addressed conference attendees on the topic, “A Call to Joy.”
The main emphasis of his message from Romans 15:13 was for Christians to live out this verse which says, “Now may the God of hope, fill you with all joy and peace in believing that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Ortlund shared three ways a Christian can obtain joy in ministry: understanding who God is, knowing what God does, and discovering how God does it.
To his first point, Ortlund said, at times “we have these dark and forbidding thoughts of God, but the God who is actually out there is the God of hope. And who God is, is more important to who we are than who we are.
“Thankfully…we know who God is. He revealed himself in Jesus. And therefore, our future is not limited to ourselves but is opened up by God himself. And, we now have a reason because of who God is. We have a reason, and we have a resource to look at life as it is, and to look at God for who he is and rejoice our fool heads off.”
In understanding what God does, Ortlund explained, “Joy is an essential ingredient in the Christian mentality. God is calling us to the kind of Christianity that keeps bouncing back under the buffetings of real life, with all joy and peace so that we abound in hope. God is able to take us there. He’s able to keep us there. This is what he does.”
A Call to Responsibility
Jimmy Scroggins, senior pastor of the Family Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., wrapped up the conference’s first day by addressing the topic, “A Call to Responsibility.”
Scroggins explained that in the current social and cultural climate, pastors are under extreme pressure to speak out on issues. However, he said many feel they’re in a no-win situation, and many are considering a departure from the ministry.
Bringing an encouraging word, Scroggins said, “We can’t sit around whining about how hard it is. What we ought to do is strengthen ourselves in the Lord, remind ourselves of our calling, and be filled with the Holy Spirit of God. Preach the powerful word of God.”
He added, “You and I are here to be outposts of the gospel. You and I are here to be salt and light and to take responsibility for the brokenness in this world.”
Scroggins’ brief message from John 8 explained that while the world may push away people because of the sinfulness or physical faults, Jesus never pushes people away or cancels them out. Instead, he takes responsibility for them.
“Jesus can forgive our sins because Jesus took our sins,” Scroggins said. “They weren’t his fault at the cross. Jesus made our sins his responsibility… Jesus takes in broken down people—people crawling in the dirt; people who are guilty and ashamed.
He added, “You look around and you see poverty, and you see racism, and you see abuse, and you see injustice. It’s easy to step back and say, ‘Hey, that’s not my fault.’ And you could be right. It’s not all of our fault, but if we’re the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, then he has made those things our responsibility.”
A Call to Die
Jared Wilson, assistant professor of pastoral ministry at Spurgeon College and author-in-residence, opened the conference’s second day by preaching from 2 Timothy 4:1-8 on the topic, “A Call to Die.”
Wilson shared that early in ministry, he thought being a pastor was about helping people live. As time went along, however, he came to understand that it was really about helping people die, and the pastor has to lead the way.
He further explained that many pastors may currently be experiencing hardships and feeling a death-of-sorts amidst the “strange and stressful season” we all are enduring. As a result, the aim of Wilson’s message was to deliver to them encouragement through God’s Word.
Wilson shared that Paul, in his second letter to Timothy, was perhaps in an even more stressful and difficult situation than pastors are experiencing today—living in a dank prison cell, abandoned by his supporters, and awaiting execution. Yet, Paul encourages Timothy to follow in his path.
Wilson noted three kinds of death found within 2 Timothy 4:1-8: To preach the Word is to die to your wisdom; to fulfill your ministry is to die to your dreams; and to love his (Jesus’) appearing is to die to yourself.
To his second point, Wilson stated, “Maybe your dream needs to…be shattered. Maybe they need to die so that you can fulfill your actual ministry.
“You know, it’s possible that God’s plan for us is littleness. His plan for us may be personal failure. It’s possible that when another door closes, there’s not going to be another window opening. It’s possible that when the door closes, he wants us inside. When the building collapses, the question we have to ask ourselves in these days is this: ‘Is Christ enough?’”
He added that if we prioritize Christ glory, we won’t really care, in the long run, how noticed we are, how recognized we are, how comfortable we are, how successful we are. We’ll realize that our lives aren’t really about us anyway.
Concluding his message, Wilson exhorted, “Christ’s call to die is not a call to quit. Christ’s call to die is a call to finish the race, to keep his appointment, not to usurp his authority with your own timing, to fight the good fight, to keep moving forward, to keep moving toward that finish line. Keep the faith. I beg of you. Keep the faith.”
A Call to Endure
Continuing the theme of “A Sure and Steadfast Anchor,” the conference’s next speaker, H.B. Charles, Jr., pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., expounded upon “A Call to Endure” from Acts 18:9-10.
The main idea of Charles’ message was that the apostle Paul’s ongoing ministry struggles during his missionary journey serve as a critical warning for pastors as they do the Lord’s work.
He said, “Faithfulness is not a guarantee that things will go your way. Spiritual devotion does not ensure immediate and automatic success, but I want to just encourage you. God is faithful.”
Charles said that God showed his faithfulness to Paul, and pastors today, by sending godly companions. “I would submit to you this morning that the journey is too difficult for us to navigate the adventure of faith and the adventure of ministry on our own. You need friends in the faith, godly companions to stir you up to love and good works.”
Another display of God’s faithfulness, Charles shared, is found in his “blessed assurance.” Often when Paul faced stress and discouragement, the Lord would send him visions for comfort and assurance. Charles stated that he’s not saying that will necessarily happen to believers today, but God’s Word is now available, and pastors have Acts 18:9-10 as a means to receive God’s comfort and encouragement.
To endure in ministry, Charles explained that in verse 9, God gave commands for believers to obey, and in verse 10, God provided promises to trust.
Among the commands were “do not be afraid,” “go on speaking” and “do not be silent.” Of not being silent, Charles implored, “You may find yourself in a difficult assignment. You may find yourself in an unfruitful season. You may find yourself in the midst of spiritual attack. Do not be silent. Do not give up on the calling the Lord has placed on your life.
“Do not allow hard times, mean people, and low support to cause you to take the path of least resistance. Do not compromise the message, the ministry, and the mission that the Lord has entrusted to you.”
The Call to be a Watchman
Owen Strachan, Midwestern Seminary’s associate professor of Christian theology, wrapped up the conference with a message on “The Call to be a Watchman.”
Strachan explained there was an Old Testament perspective of a watchman and a New Testament perspective of a watchman that needed to be understood.
First, Strachan noted that the watchmen of the Old Testament were men of courage who stood watch, primarily at night, and sacrificed themselves to ensure that the Israelite community was protected. More importantly, they were called to pray for their people.
“The watchman is a spiritual guardian of the people of God,” Strachan said. “The watchman is one who is doing something even more significant than physically watching over the people. The watchman is providing spiritual oversight of the people.”
Ultimately, Strachan explained, from the OT perspective, man is not the true watchman of the people—God is.
“Today, to many, it feels as if God is far off in a world that is spinning out of control—pandemic, terrible fires, violence, rioting, murder. Yet, God is not far off,” Strachan said. “God is the Watchman of his people. God has not abandoned his covenant flock. We must remember this.”
Strachan’s second point, from the New Testament perspective, is that the people of God need a theological watchman and, in general, that consists of all believers. More specifically, however, that person should be the pastor or elder.
“We recognize that elders and pastors are called to this role,” Strachan said. “We recognize, therefore, that called out men are given this charge. We recognize, then, that men must lead in a watchful ministry. But if men are called to this role, men must prepare.”
From there, Strachan shifted to five ways that a one called to ministry can prepare for watchmanship over the local church. These ways included: One must prepare for battle. One must prepare for ministry by looking inwardly at sin and character issues. One must watch his doctrine closely, particularly through theological education. One must prepare by knowing that snares have been set for him. And, lastly, one must prepare well in all previously mentioned areas.
Pre-Conference and Workshops
On Monday morning, the virtual FTC Women’s Pre-Conference featured Elicia Horton, mom, speaker, and road manager for her husband’s ministry; Melissa Kruger, editor at The Gospel Coalition, author and speaker; Jani Ortlund, speaker and co-leader of Renewal Ministries; and Amanda Peacock, wife, mom, and teacher at Answers in Genesis. The ladies event focused on the theme: “Great Commission Women: Our Call to Obedience.”
On Tuesday afternoon, 25 virtual workshops and breakout sessions were offered, including one in Spanish and one in Korean. A sampling of topics included: “The Call to Ministry” (El Llamado al Ministerio) by Felix Cabrera, MBTS assistant director of Spanish Studies; “Spurgeon and the Call to Pastoral Ministry” by Geoff Chang, curator of the Spurgeon Library; “A Biblical Theology of Emptiness and Fullness,” with Author and Speaker Nancy Guthrie; “Friendship for Life: Navigating Conflict and Developing Relationships that Last” by Author, Speakers and Writers Philip and Jasmine Holmes, “Who Is An Evangelical?” with Thomas Kidd, the James Vardaman Endowed Professor of History at Baylor University; “Korean Church Ministry in New Normal after COVID-19” (코로나 사태 후 뉴 노멀 속의 한국 교회 사역) by Sung Jin Park, MBTS dean of Asian Studies and John Lee, MBTS associate professor of New Testament; “Planting Churches With Multiplication In Mind” with Dhati Lewis, lead pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta; “Diverse Beginnings: Acts 2 and the Multicultural Church” by Patrick Schreiner, MBTS associate professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology; and “The Cost of Discipleship” with Afshin Ziafat, lead pastor and an elder of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas.
To receive updates about the 2021 For the Church National Conference, please visit mbts.edu/ftc21.