INDIANAPOLIS—Speakers during the opening session of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference at the Indianapolis Convention Center urged pastors to renew their commitment to prayer and get their own spiritual lives in order.
Tom Elliff used a familiar analogy from his native Oklahoma to describe what can happen even to pastors who fail to address sin in their own lives.
Describing the “fallow ground” that original settlers found on the Oklahoma plains as almost impenetrable, Tom Elliff told pastors, “If you are willing to embrace what God would do to break up the fallow ground of your heart for revival, I am going to ask you to come and join me for a time of prayer right her at what we are going to call an altar.”
In Oklahoma, Sooners and Boomers looked across the land and thought “instant farm” as they anticipated the rush to stake their claims to the land, Elliff said. But they discovered the ground, matted down with prairie grass, often was so hard it had to be broken up with an ax.
Like Oklahoma sod, the hearts of pastors can be marked by hardness, become impervious to God’s word, show stubborn resistance, be unfruitful and remain asleep through every season, Elliff warned.
“A heart like fallow ground will take a lot of effort,” he said. “What’s God going to have to do to get our attention?”
Nothing short of deliberate, diligent attention can affect that kind of change, he said. He listed temptations to which pastors may surrender—prayerlessness, lack of devotion to Scripture, disobedience, faithlessness, lack of love, poor stewardship, lying, slander, gossip, secretly wishing ill to others, habitual sin, moral failure and selfishness.
At the end of his message, Elliff called for pastors to come to the altar and make a commitment to address the sins in their own lives, to take steps to break the fallow ground of their hearts.
Dealing with decline
Earlier, Johnny Hunt, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga., noted 90 percent of Southern Baptist Convention churches are in decline.
He cited research that suggested that 50 percent of SBC churches existing today will have padlocks on their doors by 2030.
His own church had declined two years before Hunt took six weeks off for reading and renewal last year, he said.
During his time off, Hunt said that God repeated three things to him over and over again:
- “No. 1, you need to go back and pray more aggressively.
- “No. 2, he challenged me to witness more intentionally. I wrote down three names in the front of my Bible” who needed to be won to Christ. “I flat went after them!” he said.
- “No. 3, God challenged me to lead not only by exhortation…but we are to lead by emulation,” Hunt said. “I’ve got not only to tell them, I’ve got to show them.
“You know what happened? We increased by 15 percent in Bible study, increased by 15 percent in worship,” he said.
“There’s only one thing worse than our convention being on a slide, and that is that we don’t give a holy rip. … We don’t need a better strategy; we need a touch from God.”
Pastors key to revival
Daniel Simmons, senior pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., reminded pastors that God and prayer are the keys to revival.
“Only God can bring revival,” Simmons said. When revival doesn’t come, “the shortage must not be in God; it must be in us.”
Pastors sometimes trust in themselves and other resources, he charged, placing themselves in the forefront and leaving God on the back burner.
“We have this treasure in earthen vessels,” Simmons reminded pastors. “God took what was of no value and placed in it what was priceless.
“We start believing our own stuff. We have gotten to the place as preachers that without us, God and the church may not make it.”
On the contrary, he insisted, “without God, I can do nothing.”
He urged pastors to have a strong private prayer life so they can model a strong public prayer life to others. “We’ve also got to have what I call persistent prayer,” he said. “Don’t stop praying; pray without ceasing.”
Finally, “you have to get to the point of pleading prayer,” Simmons said. “Sometimes we have to beg.”