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Pastors' conference unpacks Beatitudes, elects David Uth

Danny Wood, president of the 2019 SBC Pastors' Conference and pastor of Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, welcomes hundreds of Southern Baptist pastors to the annual event June 9 at the opening session of the two-day conference at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex in Birmingham, Ala. A combined choir of Shades Mountain Baptist Church, Sixth Avenue Baptist Church, and Greater Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church helped lead worship. MATT MILLER/BP

BIRMINGHAM (BP) — "Kingdom Character" was the theme of Monday afternoon's and evening's 2019 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors' Conference June 10. The focus, from Matthew 5, was on the last three Beatitudes and being salt and light. Pastors from the previous day had addresses other Beatitudes.

Pastors also elected David Uth, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Orlando, Florida, as president of the 2020 SBC Pastors' Conference during Monday afternoon's session, held in conjunction with the SBC's annual meeting in Birmingham June 9-10.

Speakers challenged attendees as follows:

Ben Mandrell

Quoting from the iconic college football movie, "Rudy," Ben Mandrell, pastor of Denver's Storyline Fellowship, helped pastors focus on seeing God as part of their study of the Beatitudes during the 2019 Pastors' Conference.

Ben Mandrell, pastor of Storyline Fellowship in Denver, gives a message on "Blessed are the Poor in Spirit" June 10 on the last day of the two-day 2019 SBC Pastors' Conference. LINDY LYNCH/BP

"This is the most beautiful sight these eyes have ever seen," quoted Mandrell, referring to the moment Rudy's father beholds the Notre Dame stadium for the first time. Mandrell added, "One of the greatest gifts that God has given to us is the ability to see."

His message from Matthew 5:8, titled "Blessed are the pure in heart," challenged pastors to refocus their eyes on what it takes to truly see God. "If you get your heart right, you get a 'Rudy,' God-moment," he said. "The people who get to see God are the people who desire above all other things and who have purity in their hearts."

Addressing issues of power-seeking, adultery, and sharing negativity about the church in the pastor's home, Mandrell said it was impossible to bring a message about how the pure in heart will be blessed by seeing God without confronting pastors with these difficult issues.

"We all think that we are immune from this. And, because we actually believe this, we don't keep our guard up," Mandrell said. "We must take better care of our hearts and take better care of our homes so that when we see Him we will say, 'This is the most beautiful sight I have ever seen.'"

Dhati Lewis

Being a peacemaker is not "elective," but is a call from Christ to every believer, Dhati Lewis, lead pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta, Ga., and vice president of Send Network for the North American Mission Board, said.

Dhati Lewis, lead pastor of Blue Print Church in Atlanta, shares the message of Matthew 5:9 – "Blessed are the peacemakers" – June 10 on the last day of the two-day 2019 SBC Pastors' Conference at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex in Birmingham, Ala. LINDY LYNCH/BP

He spoke on Matthew 5:9 and Christ's Beatitude, "Blessed are the peacemakers."

Lewis defined being a peacemaker as "bringing reconciliation where God has called us."

For him, that means leading a multiethnic church in the heart of Atlanta's Old Fourth Ward -- an area that is home to an ongoing gentrification initiative and the city's largest Section 8 housing area.

As a leader of a diverse church and a husband in a diverse family (his wife is Caucasian), he encourages believers to "run to the tension" and to be known for their vision, instead of their "anti-vision" defined as being known "more for what you're against than what you're for."

Additionally, instead of seeking justice, the believer must seek reconciliation, because, "Justice without reconciliation is what the Bible calls hell," he said.

Matthew 7:12-14 encourages Christians to "rep" (represent) Christ as peacemakers by calling them to reflect personally, emphasize corporately, and pursue the narrow road of reconciliation, Lewis shared.

This can only be done if an individual lays aside prejudices that come from being "more dependent on culture than on Christ."

"My prayer for us in the SBC is that we can give what we can start to have (peace) and that one day we would be able to really embrace the beauty and the complexity (of diversity)," he said.

His vision for members of the SBC is that churches would "really be able to plant churches everywhere for everyone. And that we can demonstrate the complexity of what it means to be SBC, what it means to embrace our identity in Christ as peacemakers."

In order to achieve that, though, "We recognize that even though we fall short, we have the ultimate Prince of Peace" and believers must be "willing to pay the price for the type of peace that God wants for this country, for our denomination, for the body of Christ."

Andrew Brunson

Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was recently released after being imprisoned in Turkey for two years, spoke at the Monday evening session of the SBC Pastors' Conference on the topic of persecution.

Andrew Brunson, a missionary imprisoned for two years in Turkey on false charges of terrorism and espionage, speaks on "Blessed are those who are Persecuted for Righteousness" at the 2019 SBC Pastors' Conference June 10. MATT MILLER/BP

Brunson opened his remarks by asking those in the crowd to raise their hands if they prayed for him so he could thank them and point to the importance of those prayers for the nation of Turkey overall.

"Your prayers sustained both me and my wife," Brunson said. "The Lord just made me a magnet for prayer, and I think someday you're going to see that it was really something tremendous that God was doing."

Continuing the Pastors' Conference theme of discussing the nine Beatitudes in Matthew 5, Brunson talked about both the persecution that he experienced during his time in Turkey as well as the persecution that he believes is coming to the next generation of Christians.

"I don't think that we're prepared for what is coming," Brunson said. "Especially the next generation, I fear that many of us are complacent and we're unaware and this means that the people in our churches are going to be blindsided by what comes. You are the ones as pastors and leaders of churches who have the task of preparing the next generation."

Brunson reiterated that persecution is nothing new for believers and the question for believers is what perspective that they will have about their suffering.

"Many of you are going to have the opportunity to stand in that line of suffering and you have to prepare yourself for that," Brunson said.

Brunson concluded his message by recapping his personal experience of persecution in Turkey. He explained that his time in prison "tested my love for God," but that he resolved never to compromise his relationship with God.

"I made a decision towards the end of my first year in prison that was a turning point for me. I decided that I am going to fight for my relationship with God. If I lose my intimacy, my closeness to Him, then I've lost everything."

Jimmy Scroggins

Jimmy Scroggins, lead pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., concluded the Pastors' Conference with a message entitled "Salt and Light" from Matthew 5:13-16.

In a world rife with sexual abuse scandals, racial conflicts, moral failures and social media quarrels, Scroggins encouraged his fellow believers to take responsibility for these issues in order to strengthen the church's witness to the world.

Jimmy Scroggins, lead pastor of Family Church with 11 campuses in South Florida, speaks on being salt and light during the 2019 SBC Pastors' Conference June 10. MATT MILLER/BP

"There are things happening in our families, in our churches, in our communities, in our world that are not our fault, but God has made them our responsibility," Scroggins said. "When Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount, He is telling His disciples – and, by extension, He's telling us – that the broken kingdoms of this world are not all our fault; but showing this world what the Kingdom of heaven looks like is our responsibility."

Expositing Jesus' instructions to His disciples to be salt and light, Scroggins shared two specific points. First, "we have to be gritty enough to make a difference."

"We have to be gritty difference-makers," Scroggins said, noting the grittiness of salt. "But we can't be gritty difference-makers unless we actually care."

"I'm a much better pastor when I can weep with those who are weeping," Scroggins explained. "I am much more of a difference-maker when I can try to feel what someone else is feeling. I might not have experienced what they've experienced, but it just makes such a big difference to try to care; to try to put yourself in someone else's shoes."

Second, Scroggins said, "we have to be winsome enough to win some." Noting that a city on a hill draws people in, Scoggins explained that churches must be welcoming, hospitable and places of safety and refuge.

"We're to be the lighted up city in this world where the salty people live," he said, "welcoming people … to come and get water that will make them live, welcoming people to come get bread that will make them satisfied, welcoming people to come out of the dark and see, welcoming people to come out of the grave and come alive."

New president

Uth was elected president of next year's SBC Pastors' Conference during the Monday afternoon session. The 2020 event will be in Orlando, where Uth has served as pastor of First Baptist Church for 14 years. He was nominated by James Merritt, lead pastor of Cross Pointe Church in the Atlanta area, and was the only nominee for president.

"The David Uth that I know is a great man," Merritt said, noting that he doesn't use that designation lightly.

In Uth's time at FBC Orlando, he has led his church to grow to a membership of more than 20,000 people and 50 languages, Merritt said. The church leads the Florida Baptist Convention in baptisms, he said, is actively involved in church planting and gives generously through the Cooperative Program.

"He is universally respected by his peers and loyally devoted to his congregation," Merritt said. "He loves his Lord, loves his family, loves his church and loves this denomination greatly. He will make a great president of this Pastors' Conference."

Marc Ira Hooks, Timothy Cockes, Alex Sibley, and Grace Thornton contributed to this report.


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