PHOENIX—On Sunday mornings in the ballroom of a New Orleans country club, Ryan Rice Sr. preaches to about 55 worshippers at the Southern Baptist church he founded in 2015. The full-time pastor seeking his first seminary degree is among 12 leaders chosen to preach at the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference June 11-12 in Phoenix.
“I was humbled and surprised at being selected as a speaker for the pastors’ conference,” Rice, pastor of Life Church, told Baptist Press. “This is such a great honor to be on stage with other great men of God who have a desire to see Christ exalted.”
Rice, an African-American, is among a culturally diverse lineup of pastors including six Anglo, three African-Americans, one Jamaican-American, a Cuban-American and an Asian-American. And nearly all pastor churches that average well under 500 in Sunday morning worship attendance, said Pastors’ Conference President Dave Miller.
Their selection to preach at the event was the result of an intentional attempt to choose ethnically diverse leaders of what Miller describes as the “average-size” Southern Baptist church.
“I’m hoping to demonstrate that the Southern Baptist Convention has some great resources in churches of 150 and 200 and 250 people,” Miller told Baptist Press. “The smaller churches have some really high-quality leadership.”
The conference speaker selection team is not opposed to mega church pastors, Miller said, but simply chose to showcase the resources available in the average-size church. He also hopes the change will encourage the majority of Southern Baptist pastors.
“Just because a church is small doesn’t mean that the leadership is bad or that it’s defective,” Miller said. “There are some great guys out there laboring in [average-size] churches that because of the community, or because of some reason, the church stays a certain size.”
But Miller noted, “The star of the Pastors’ Conference is going to be the book of Philippians, and our men are going to preach through the text, and I believe that will be encouraging. It’s a great book, and it’s about a message we need to hear.”
In addition to Rice, who leads a multiethnic congregation of black, white and Hispanic members, other speakers—with ethnicity and SBC Annual Church Profile average attendance as available—are Jose Abella, Providence Road Baptist Church, Miami, Cuban American, 217; Michael Allen, Uptown Baptist Church, Chicago, Jamaican American, 164; Jamar Andrews, Word Baptist Church, Jonesboro, Ark., African-American; Bart Barber, First Baptist Church, Farmersville, Texas, Anglo, 375; David Choi, Church of the Beloved in Chicago, Asian American, 400; Chris Davis, Groveton Baptist Church, Alexandria, Va., Anglo; Shane Hall, First Southern Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, Okla., Anglo, 687; Jimmy Meek, Immanuel Baptist Church, El Dorado, Ark., Anglo, 390; John Onwuchekwa, Cornerstone Church in Atlanta, African-American; Spencer Plumlee, Riverview Baptist Church, Osage Beach, Mo., Anglo, 300; and Nathan Rose, Liberty Baptist Church, Liberty, Mo., Anglo, 171. Attendance numbers were not available for newest church plants.
There are many quality Southern Baptist expository preachers, Miller said.
“We just felt like it was time for the churches that comprise the Southern Baptist Convention to take a shot at this,” said Miller, who pastors Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa, with an average Sunday attendance of 140. “My experience has all been in these [average-size] churches, and I happen to know that there are some really good preaching and some really good people and some quality leadership in these churches.”
A total of 150 preachers were nominated as speakers, according to Pastors’ Conference statistics.
Adam Blosser, a member of the selection team, blogged about the selection process on SBCVoices.com.
“We began by making sure that every preacher was listened to by at least two members of our team. From there we were able to narrow the list of approximately 150 preachers down to about 40 preachers,” Blosser wrote. “These 40 preachers received additional consideration from some of the members of our team. We then gathered together in a hotel conference room in St. Louis, listened to sermons, discussed what we heard, and put together a list of 12 speakers for the conference.”