Built tough: Conference preachers focus on encouragement, perseverance

Lisa Misner Sergent —  December 7, 2015

Any leader who has led for any amount of time knows the sting of criticism and rejection. But getting through it isn’t a matter of external circumstances, but one of internal transformation, said Pastor Phil Hunter.

“If you’re struggling with the unkindness of your people, understand that God’s calling for you first and foremost is not for them to change and be kind to you,” Hunter preached at the IBSA Pastors’ Conference in Marion. Rather, God’s calling “is to love them like Christ loves you.”

“Sugars, you gotta be changed by God,” said Hunter, pastor of West County Community Church in Wildwood, Mo.

Using several terms of endearment for his audience—sugars, sweeties, buddies—Hunter exhorted pastors to stay the course in spite of difficulty.

Joining Hunter at the podium were Timothy Cowin, pastor of The Rock Church of St. Louis, Jimmy Scroggins, pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., and Shane Garrison, an associate professor and dean of online education at Campbellsville University. The four preachers each brought messages around this year’s conference theme: #BuiltUp.

Scroggins and Garrison both preached evangelism-themed messages about reaching people who are far from God. In his diverse community, Scroggins said, millions of people aren’t connected to a church. Therefore, he said, churches have to reject the “Pharisee school” model of church.

“We’ve got to be beggars trying to tell other beggars where we found the bread.”

Garrison echoed that theme in his message about Vacation Bible School, where he was saved as a child and self-described “spiritual orphan.” He urged churches to view VBS as an opportunity to reach out to kids who aren’t connected with the church. When you reach spiritual orphans, Garrison said, God reaches the family.

Cowin preached from Acts 4 on vital practices to be spiritually powerful and successful in the culture, and to avoid dead religion. The early church met together to praise God, he said. Likewise, modern worship services ought to be more exciting than anything in culture.

Following Cowin’s message, Hunter skipped his scheduled introduction and jumped on stage to ask the worship team to re-play the song they had just finished. Telling pastors there would never be a safer place to raise their hands in worship, he encouraged them first to open their hands to release whatever they were holding on to.

Hunter closed the Pastors’ Conference with a message on being “built to last” as a leader. He gave four foundational principles for leaders who don’t quit, beginning with an understanding that God does the building.

He told about a time early in his marriage when he and his wife were on the brink of divorce. They looked like the perfect Christian couple. But, “We got impressed by what God was going to do through us, when all along, the greater work was what God was going to do in us.”

If you’re impressed by anything in your life, Hunter said, you’re not going to be built by God to last. The second principle is related to the first: Without humility, there is no building. And the third points to eternity: The building is never completed until we see Christ face to face.

“Don’t ever think you’ve arrived,” Hunter said, “and don’t ever think you have to be where someone else is.”

Finally, resolve that you are going to trust God to build you, no matter what happens in your life. Hunter recalled advice he once received from a pastor and professor: Only allow yourself to have a major crisis every 10 years. So choose carefully.

He closed his final message the same way he had begun his first one the day before: by calling on pastors in the audience to stand and worship without any reservation or hesitation.

“I’m in a kickin’ disposition,” Hunter said, rallying his listeners again to lift their hands and clap in worship.

Officers for the 2016 IBSA Pastors’ Conference are President David Sutton, Bread of Life Baptist Church, Chicago; Vice President Brian Smith, Second Baptist Church, Granite City; and Treasurer Bob Stilwell, First Baptist Church, Paxton. The 2016 conference is Nov. 1-2 at Broadview Missionary Baptist Church.

Lisa Misner Sergent

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Lisa is IBSA Director of Communications. A Missouri native, she moved to Illinois 22 years ago and arrived at IBSA a few years later.