Pastors” Conf. officers provide diverse lineup addressing leadership and family

HOUSTON—There is nothing typical about the speakers headlining the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention’s annual Pastors’ Conference, including the conference president, Gregg Matte. He believes the diversity on the program will  undergird the singularity of the message presented.

Since 1935 Southern Baptist Convention pastors have gathered to encourage and edify one another in the days prior to the denomination’s annual meeting. This year’s conference—“Launch: Taking our hearts, homes, and ministries to a higher place”—will feature pastors from the East and West coasts, international churches and laymen who can add “texture” to the program, Matte said.

Understanding that the local church is the heart of the SBC and the epicenter for outreach to a community, the conference will equip pastors in developing a crucial balance between their leadership roles at church and home while reminding them of the interconnected nature of the denomination.

Matte admitted that his own path to leadership at Houston’s First Baptist Church was not typical. With a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Texas A&M and a master of divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Matte founded Breakaway Ministries at his alma mater. The weekly Bible study quickly grew from 12 to 4,000 students—the largest of its kind in the nation. From there he was called to lead the Houston mega-church following the retirement of long-time pastor John Bisagno.

“There’s 50 reasons why I am not the right guy and 49 why I am,” he said of his role as pastor since 2004.

It is through the varying pathways to leadership and the myriad backgrounds that Matte wants to showcase the unity of the Pastors’ Conference theme—the requisite skills of sound preaching, church leadership and family priorities.

Matte said, “If we lead well, preach the Word well, we’re going to have a great ministry.”

But, he added, if a pastor forsakes his family while building up his church, “then we’ve lost it.”

Technology allows people to stay plugged in to work and home simultaneously. But there must be a clear demarcation between the two. Matte, who coaches his son’s baseball team, said the church is for work and the home is for family. The 24-hour tension between the two demands established boundaries and priorities.

Scheduled to speak on that issue are Bryant and Anne Wright. He is pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, Marietta, Ga., and founder of Right from the Heart Ministries.

Recognizing that the local church impacts people from cradle to grave, Matte said he is committed to equipping the local church because it is the God-ordained fountainhead from which other ministries flow. And, he added, the Southern Baptists’ strong stance on the Word of God and the great theological foundation steels his commitment to the denomination.

God “wired” him to be a teacher and leader and equipping pastors in those roles is the essence of the Pastors’ Conference. Speaking on the nuts and bolts of effective preaching and leadership are pastors who have navigated the rough seas of change and have solid ministries to show for it. Rodney Woo, pastor of International Baptist Church, Singapore, led a dying suburban church back to life. The predominantly Anglo church sat in a neighborhood that no longer looked like its members. Matte said God has brought the world to America and pastors struggle in reaching people of different ethnicities. But Woo’s leadership brought new life to Wilcrest Baptist Church near Houston. Today the thriving congregation is home to a mix of Hispanic, African, African American, Caribbean and Anglo members.

Shepherding a church through change—successfully—is the mark of a good leader, Matte said.

He sought to bring leaders from different ethnicities, ages and stages of life who will speak on the themes of leadership, solid and effective preaching and the balance between the pastorate and family. Matte said the addition of non-pastors like Gary Rosberg, co-founder of America’s Family Coach, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee will add texture and creativity to the program, addressing the issues from a different frame of reference.

Eric Geiger, vice president of the Church Resources Division at LifeWay Christian Resources will speak on what churches are doing “in a macro sense.” The author of “Simple Church” and other speakers will connect pastors and their families with resources uniquely available through affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention.

“That’s what’s important to young [pastors],” Matte said.

If pastors can see the hallmarks of the denomination are theology and ministry, then they see the significance of denominational affiliation, Matte said. But, if it’s just tradition and “tipping your cap to an organization,” that’s not going to do it. The denomination was created to be a blessing to the local church but young pastors misunderstand that, he said. They switch it around in their mind—that the local church is just feeding the SBC.

Matte is convinced pastors who have not yet felt compelled to take part in the SBC Pastors’ Conference—especially young pastors—will find they’ve been missing out. The conference will help connect them to a pathway they can utilize throughout their lives and through all of their ministries.

“It gives us a connection with a pathway,” Matte said.

TEXAN Correspondent
Bonnie Pritchett
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