Pat Fiordelise admitted he was skeptical about how much he’d learn while attending the Advance13 Conference in Raleigh. Fiordelise, a self-described “traditional” pastor, wondered if a conference known for its hip “reformed” speakers, “rock band” music, “skinny jeans” and army of loyal, younger pastors and students was for him.
Fiordelise, 39, pastor of Kingsland Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., was one of hundreds of pastors from around the country who gathered March 19-21 at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. The Summit Church in Durham, Vintage Church in Raleigh and a variety of partner organizations presented the conference, which focused on “Building a Faithful and Effective Church.”
By the second day of the conference, Fiordelise said he was impressed after hearing messages from John Piper, Bryan Loritts, Tyler Jones and J.D. Greear. Other keynote speakers included Matt Chandler and David Platt.
BR photo by Shawn Hendricks
John Piper, center, shares during the Advance13 Conference in Raleigh. Piper, along with Tyler Jones, David Platt, J.D. Greear and Matt Chandler participated in a question and answer time. The conference focused on its theme: “Building a Faithful and Effective Church.”
“I’m not very … attune with Summit or [Vintage Church], or I’m not part of the Gospel Coalition. I’m not reformed. I’m not Calvinist … but I think that we have a lot in common,” Fiordelise said.
“Regardless of your slant on theology we’ve all been commissioned to share the love of Jesus,” he said. “We’ve got to get on board with what we agree on and get the gospel out everywhere.”
Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, contended churches need to be both “deep” in raising up disciples and “wide” in reaching more people for Christ.
“Churches that grow wide but not deep are not growing nearly as widely as they think,” he said. “And those who grow deep but not wide are probably not nearly as deep in the gospel as they think. Faithful churches must be concerned with both.”
If churches want to reach the next generation, they must be both “missional” and “attractional.”
“Every year the pie of people who will come to our churches, even for special events, that pie is shrinking,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of great shows trying to compete for a bigger slice of that shrinking pie.”
Greear emphasized that pastors and church leaders should also count the “right numbers.”
“So you baptized 300 people last year; do you know where they are?” he asked. “Have they showed that they are really saved and are walking as disciples?”
Pastors need to take more of a role in training up leaders who can disciple new believers. They also need to lose the “superman complex” – the belief that they are the only ones who can teach and lead in the church, said Tyler Jones, pastor of Vintage Church.
If not, they will reduce the workforce in their church from “potentially hundreds to just one.”
Pastors are servants – period, said Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas.
“I get nervous when a guy operates in such a way that he puts off the vibe that God should be grateful that He grabbed him,” Chandler said.
“What we all have in common is this, we are all servants of the most High God. And we are to regard ourselves as such.”
Chandler, who led The Village Church from 160 people to 10,000, said large crowds are nice, but there are many small church plants with strong ministries.
“If you’re laying a foundation on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, you are actively involved in fruitful ministry,” he said.
“You can throw out all the top 100 fast growing list. … And you can rest in the Bible’s weight that says you’re being faithful.”
During a panel discussion – that featured Piper, Platt, Chandler, Jones and Greear – speakers answered submitted questions that dealt with everything from the Great Commission to racial tensions.
Grace and communication are the key to dealing with conflict and reconciliation, said Piper, associate pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn.
“Stay at the table when the conversation is happening,” he said. “The most sad development is to watch people make an attempt … get hurt and walk away. And it happens in both directions. Don’t walk away.”
The evening before, Bryan Loritts, pastor of Fellowship Memphis Church in Memphis, shared about his multi-ethnic ministry and its impact on the city.
The church launched in 2003 and has blossomed into a congregation that is 65 percent Caucasian and 35 percent African-American.
“One of the most powerful witnesses to the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is when people who normally would not do life together come together,” he said.
“If we merely view diversity professionally, but we don’t integrate it into our own lives, we undo the very message we are trying to preach.”
Reaching other cultures, ethnic groups and unreached areas of the world isn’t merely a good idea, said David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala. It’s what we’re called by Jesus to do.
“We’re constantly putting before our folks [at Brook Hills] that our lives are a blank check on the table to be spent for his namesake in all nations,” said Platt during a panel discussion.
“As best we know, 6,000 people groups have yet to be reached with the gospel, and therefore if we’re going to be obedient to the great commission, there has to be an intentionality in our lives and ministries and the local church to go after all the nations.”
But making a difference comes down to brokenness, said speaker Brian Fikkert, co-author of the book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself.
While the need to share the gospel is great, and 2.6 billion people are living in poverty, Fikkert said materially wealthy Americans and materially poor coming together can be a “bad mix.”
“When people who are full of pride interact with people who have shame, the way that we speak toward them, the things that we say to them tend to communicate ‘you are broken and you need me to fix you,’” he said.
Both parties are worse off at the end of the day, Fikkert said.
“Poverty alleviation isn’t so much about me putting food in the hands of a beggar as much as taking the hand of beggar and saying, ‘I’m a begger too, but I’ve found the bread of life, and He can fix you and He can fix me. Let us feast on Him together.’”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Buddy Overman, a writer with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, contributed to this story.)