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Michael Allen is one of two Chicago preachers at Pastors Conference

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Chicago’s Uptown Baptist Church pastor Michael Allen preaches at the copy of Spurgeon’s pulpit, on loan to the 2017 SBC Pastors Conference from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. (BP photo/Matt Miller)

(Editor’s note: An informal survey of five people in a hotel shuttle van in Phoenix—all who coincidentally had lived in Chicago until a couple of years ago—reported Michael Allen’s sermon was well received by attenders at the conference. And they said they felt well-represented. Here is the Baptist Press summary of the sermon.)

“There is an obsession these days with leadership and not followership,” said Michael Allen, pastor of Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago, Ill.

“Yet, there are at least twice as many scriptural references to followership than there are to leadership.”

Preaching from Philippians 3:17–4:1, Allen said those verses show that there are two imperatives to followership: 1) In verse 17, Paul exhorts the people to join in — to become like him as he follows Christ. 2) In the same verse, Paul says to pay attention, or to scope out other saints who are already living according to the example of other saints.

“Paul is not talking about a program for your church,” he said. “He’s talking about following godly people. It’s not about borrowing a sermon or a song you got at a conference but by being influenced by those who are worthy of being imitated.”

Allen said that when he was called to preach 27 years ago, he was part of the college and career class taught by Susie Hawkins at First Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale. He asked the pastor, O.S. Hawkins, how he knew he was called to preach.

Hawkins looked him in the eye and said “Michael, if you can do anything else in the world and be happy, then do it. But if you can’t be happy unless you’re preaching, then it may very well be that God has called you to preach.”

Allen, who at the time worked as a field service computer technician, said he had listened to Hawkins for years exposit whole chapters of the Bible. He watched O.S. and Susie relate to each other, and he watched as they raised their daughters to be fine wives and mothers.

“He’s always left me with some kind of personal encouragement,” he said.

“So now, I always try to give a word or a touch of encouragement to others. … Be a Paul to someone else. No one becomes a great leader without first being a great follower.”

The other Illinois pastor who preached in Phoenix is David Choi. Read about his message here.

AZ Republic Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 1.22.47 PM copy

Screenshot from AZCentral.com.

A planned protest by LGBT representatives at the site of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting hasn’t materialized yet. A small group of people carrying rainbow placards reading “Dissent is patriotic” walked in the main entrance to the Phoenix Convention Center, down the hallway through the food court, and out the exit at the far end. Almost no one noticed.

“They probably won’t get in during the meeting,” one attendant at the information desk said waving a messenger’s badge, “not without one of the these.”

An homosexual advocacy group called Faith in America (FIA) sought to meet with Southern Baptist Convention leaders during the Annual Meeting June 13-14. FIA said a half dozen of their representatives will be in Phoenix. They seek to have homosexuality and transgenderism “removed from the sin list.” An FIA news release said a doctor, clergy member, and gay country singer will try to engage messengers in conversation about LGBT issues. The group said they will “politely disrupt” the SBC meeting.

SBC leaders offered at an alternate meeting in Nashville after the Phoenix convention.

The small group that walked through the Food Court on Sunday night talked quietly among themselves. They were joined later by a few more people outside the convention center as the evening session of the SBC Pastors Conference dismissed and attenders filed out.

Earlier in the day in another section of Phoenix, LGBT supporters staged a rally holding the same “Dissent” placards. The Phoenix rally was one of 100 planned across the U.S. on the one-year anniversary of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shootings that left 49 people dead. A year ago, the SBC opened with prayer for the victims’ families and survivors.

The protest may come as the Annual Meeting opens on Tuesday.

–Eric Reed in Phoenix

David Choi

David Cho

Chicago pastor and church planter David Choi opened the 2017 SBC Pastors Conference with a challenge to his colleagues: don’t rely on yourself or our own accomplishments, rely on Christ. His sermon from Philippians 1:1-11 on Sunday night was the first of 12 from pastors of regular-size churches. The annual pastors’ meeting ahead of the Southern Baptist Convention was focused on average churches, and as promised by Iowa pastor and blogger Dave Miller when he was elected president of the Pastors Conference last year, the 2017 version features few big names.“No smoke. No show. No mood setting. Only a man and his Bible,” tweeted Mike Wilbanks of Mississippi.

Yet, Miller was pleased with the attendance, “blown away” as he tweeted from the platform with a photo of the audience. Miller opened the conference with thanks to all who made the event possible, without naming names for the sake of time. Some of the funds that would usually have gone to fund the event were used to provide “scholarships” for pastors who would not otherwise have been able to attend—62 of the them at $1,000 each.

Unassuming in manner and dress (black-and-white checked shirt and jeans), Choi shared some of the story of planting Church of the Beloved on Chicago’s near west side. The conversion of one man in particular, a Buddhist anesthesiologist whose Christian wife had turned away from the church held the audience’s attention. That man was convinced of the truth of the gospel at the church’s first service. Within 24 hours of receiving Christ as savior he was telling other Buddhists that he had found what they were looking for, pure joy.

The man became a leader in the church, and two years later in a church plant on the West Coast. Choi described a reunion meeting as involving hugging, weeping, and “holy snot.” “You find that you have a love for them that is supernatural,” Choi said, relating his experience to Paul’s love for the Philippian people.

Choi encouraged pastors in their own spiritual walk. “You don’t want to be defined by your performance; that well leads to destruction,” the 39-year-old pastor said, sharing his one-time reliance on personal achievement. Neither does failure. “Pastor, your past does not define you. Christ’s past defines us…. It has nothing to do with you, everything to do with Christ, rest in your gospel identity.”

— Eric Reed in Phoenix

Billed as the small church pastor’s conference, the annual meeting-before-the-meeting starts Sunday evening with Chicago church planter David Choi, pastor of Church of the Beloved in the city’s University District. He will be followed on Monday by Uptown Baptist Church Pastor Michael Allen.

Iowa pastor and blogger Dave Miller ran for president of the SBC Pastors Conference on an “average-church” platform. He promised to bring speakers from regular-size churches, instead of the usual slate of megachurch pastors and parachurch preachers. He also planned to focus on a single book of the Bible, with the preachers taking successive passages, rather than letting speakers take their best shot at a theme.

The book is Philippians.

Choi will start with chapter 1, the first eleven verses. Allen will preach Philippians 3:17-21 on Monday evening. They are among 12 preachers from regular-size churches.

Filling the bill may have been a challenge. Often megachurch pastors who serve as president of the conference have their churches to fill that role, and their megachurch colleagues help fund it. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary came alongside Miller to plan and execute the event.

With NOBTS’ assistance, four pastors of larger churches were invited to bring “testimonies”: Johnny Hunt, J.D. Greear, Fred Luter, and Steve Gaines, current SBC President. Music is by Keith and Kristyn Getty, famed composers of “In Christ Alone.”

With an SBC Annual Meeting located as far west as Phoenix, attendance may not be as high as it is when the SBC meets in the Bible Belt. And there’s another big event in town Sunday night, the “Harvest” crusade featuring evangelist Greg Laurie. That preaching event is being simulcast to churches across the nation. This 2017 outing, which was a late addition to the schedule of convention-related events, will the replace “Crossover” evangelistic outreach next year, when the SBC meets in Houston.

Look for reports on Choi and Allen’s sermon later.

Watch it live at http://sbcpc.net/.

— Eric Reed in Phoenix

HB Charles

Phoenix | Florida pastor H.B. Charles will be nominated to lead the 2018 SBC Pastors’ Conference in Dallas. Charles, pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., preached at the 2016 Illinois Baptist Pastors’ Conference.

Oklahoma pastor Brad Graves had previously been announced as a candidate for Pastors’ Conference president, but he withdrew his candidacy to clear the way for Charles. Graves told Baptist Press “it’s never a loss when you can join God in his work.”

The decision to nominate Charles stemmed from an informal gathering of past Pastors’ Conference presidents May 2 at which the group expressed a desire to nominate someone representing the numerous qualified pastors from ethnic minority groups, said former Pastors’ Conference President Ken Whitten. Charles would be the first African American to serve as Pastors’ Conference president.

Graves, whose candidacy was announced April 17, told BP the decision to withdraw from the election was “a big God moment,” adding no one pressured him to withdraw—except the Holy Spirit after a season of prayer. “I don’t want to be anything divisive” in the SBC, said Graves, pastor of First Baptist Church in Ada, Okla. “I think it’s time to show the culture that there is something that unites [Southern Baptists] more than just a Cooperative Program or a mission statement, but that we really do care for one another.”

Graves added, “Our convention is very diverse,” and Charles’ nomination “will help show how diverse we really are.”

Charles has served as pastor of Shiloh since 2008. The church, formerly a vastly African American congregation, became more racially diverse when it merged in 2015 with the predominantly white Ridgewood Baptist Church in Orange Park, Fla. While the Jacksonville campus remains predominantly African American, as much as 40% of Shiloh’s campus in Orange Park is Anglo, with a smattering of other ethnicities.

– From Baptist Press

Welcome to our mission field

Elizabeth Young

Elizabeth Young

For the third time in 14 years, Arizona Southern Baptists will welcome the larger Southern Baptist family to Phoenix in June.

When Phoenix was chosen to host the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting the first time in 2003, we were more than a little surprised, given our reputation for high summertime temperatures. But with Baptists’ repeated visits, we figured the word must have gotten out that, given our low humidity, our average 102-106 degree June temperature isn’t as bad as “back home” for a lot of folks.

We’re delighted when the family comes to town. We hope, for many, it’s a reminder that Southern Baptist work does exist outside of the Deep South and west of the Continental Divide. Illinois Baptists may feel the same way about recognition of Southern Baptists north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

While we want to offer a warm welcome to the family, we sincerely pray that our guests will remember they are on a mission field. We pray for a quiet, peaceful annual meeting so that we don’t have to explain to our lost neighbors why feuding Baptists, or Baptists engaged in culture wars, made the local news. When you’re up to your eyeballs in lost people, it puts a different perspective on priorities of concern.

Illinois Baptists probably understand this, too. Although we have some differences, we seem to have a lot in common.

You have more people—almost 13 million to our 6.9 million—but we have more land—nearly 114,000 square miles to your almost 58,000. You have more churches—nearly 1,000 to our about 450—but we have similar church-to-population ratios—one church for every 13,000 people in Illinois and one for every 15,000 in Arizona.

Both of our states have one large metropolitan area that encompasses two-thirds or more of the state’s population. And whether it’s Chicagoland or greater Phoenix, also known as the Valley of the Sun, the city is a massive sea of people who don’t know Jesus as savior.

Whether on not you make the trek to the Grand Canyon State this summer, our message to you is the same. We’re drawing from Paul’s Macedonian Call in Acts 16:9 and inviting you to “Come over…and help us.”

Consider what God is calling you to do:
• Pray for God’s work in our vast state.
• Partner with an Arizona church.
• Plant a church in Arizona.

May God give all of us a “Macedonian” vision for Arizona—and beyond!

Elizabeth Young is director of communications for the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention and the editor of Portraits magazine.

Michael Allen

In a complete revamp from any year in memory, the 2017 Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference features pastors of average-sized SBC churches who will preach through one book of the Bible—Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

Michael Allen, pastor of Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago and a former president of IBSA’s Pastors’ Conference, is one of 12 pastors who will take the stage in Phoenix June 11-12. The group also includes David Choi, pastor of Chicago’s Church of the Beloved.

Allen spoke with the Illinois Baptist about his upcoming message and what pastors like him contribute to the SBC family:

Q: What passage will you preach in Phoenix?

A: I’ll be preaching Philippians 3:17-21. This passage gives us a reminder of our citizenship in heaven, and helps the church distinguish itself from the world in how we think, act, and live. And then it also reminds us that it is the resurrection power of Christ that changes us both inside and out.

Q: What do you think is unique about what smaller or average-sized churches (and their pastors) add to SBC life?

A: The conference choice of pastors who lead small and medium-sized churches helps the conference attendees better identify and relate to guys just like them. We know that most churches in America, regardless of denomination, are small (less than 100). It also highlights the fact that pastors of smaller churches can effectively handle the Word of God, even in big venues. The Scriptures remind us not to “despise small beginnings” (Zech. 4:10).

Q: The conference this year also is focused on diversity. In your opinion, what is the value of hearing from pastors of different ethnicities and backgrounds?

A: We all have a unique cultural background which colors how we see and experience life. Culture also is a lens through which we see and interpret God’s Word and God himself. So hearing from ethnically diverse preachers in our convention enriches us all, because God made us different and his intentions are that we learn from and complement each other.

Q: You represent both the Midwest and one of the country’s largest cities. What about your ministry experience in Chicago do you want the larger SBC family to hear and understand?

A: The SBC family needs to understand that the world continues to move into ever-growing metropolitan cities, making them more and more diverse—ethnically, socio-economically, religiously, and every other measurement of diversity. Therefore, we have a great opportunity to win the world to Christ without ever boarding a plane.

At the same time [increasing diversity] makes ministry more complex, and more resources are needed to do ministry here. Whatever strategy the International Mission Board is using to reach the world for Christ can and should be prayerfully considered to be employed in America’s rich and diverse urban centers. IMB and the North American Mission Board ought to continue to seek ways they can collaborate with each other for the glory of God in the salvation of souls.

The primary group of preachers at the Pastors’ Conference will be joined by four pastors who will give testimonies of how their lives and ministries have benefited from smaller membership churches:

  • SBC President Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis
  • J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
  • Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga., and former SBC president
  • Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans, and former SBC president

For more information on the Pastors’ Conference, including a full schedule, go to sbcannualmeeting.net.