JACKSON, Tenn. – Oct. 13, 2009 – Union University professors Ray Van Neste and Jerry Tidwell addressed concerns within the Southern Baptist Convention by examining the history of where the church has been and how it can best prepare for the future.
Amidst discussion of the decline of denominations and what the evangelical and Baptist communities should be doing in response to this, Van Neste offered insight into the smaller scope of the local church, while Tidwell explored the history of the four Great Awakenings at the “Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism” conference held at Union University Oct. 6-9.
Van Neste, director of the R.C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies and associate professor of Christian studies, focused on the role of pastors in a changing age in his Oct. 7 address.
“Preaching is not the heart of pastoral ministry,” Van Neste said. “Preaching is an outflow of oversight. We do not guard souls in order to preach. Rather, we preach as one means of guarding souls.”
He reminded pastors, professors and leading intellectuals in the evangelical community of the greatest responsibility of a pastor: “Our central task is not managing good programs, drawing large crowds or even delivering powerful messages,” Van Neste said. “Our central task is shepherding souls as they depart the city of destruction and hazard their way toward the celestial city.”
Van Neste argued that ministry to the individual, such as in-home visits and personal knowledge of members in the congregation, is just as vital as ministry to the masses.
He explained that in Colossians 1:24-29, Paul is places an emphasis on each person.
“Too often today leaders are content with seeing maturity or even attendance in a ‘significant percentage’ of the membership,” Van Neste said. “But this is not Paul’s aim. We are to labor and suffer to see that each one attains maturity in Christ.”
God has entrusted pastors with the great task of taking care of his people, Van Neste believes, and pastors will be held accountable for how they have acted toward them.
“On the final day we will be called to give an account before God himself and he will not inquire of our buildings and programs,” Van Neste said. “He has told us ahead of time that he will examine how we cared for the souls of those entrusted to our care. Let us consider this soberly and pursue our ministries accordingly.”
Tidwell, director of the R.G. Lee Center for Christian ministries, assistant professor of pastoral ministry and senior vice president for church relations, shifted the focus from pastors to the subject of the four Great Awakenings, the results of these awakenings and what sparked these spiritual renewals.
The heart of his message focused on the last 400 years when God’s people were willing to allow God to use them to change the world and as a result, bring revival to those seeking his face. Tidwell clarified certain myths commonly believed regarding the awakenings and then related the results of the revivals, particularly to the Southern Baptist denomination.
Tidwell said no one can dispute the fact that the awakenings “led to a more fervent commitment to evangelism and missions.” They also led Baptists to cooperate with other evangelicals of the day and also resulted in a greater realization of the need for education for all, he added. Other outcomes of the revivals were antislavery views and a “greater responsibility felt toward slaves and Indians.”
After reviewing the Baptist heritage in relation to the Great Awakenings that took place across the world, Tidwell concluded with a look at what sparked revivals and what is necessary for another revival in this day and age.
“In the Awakening, people had a fresh vision of God’s sovereignty and God’s holiness just like Isaiah [in Isaiah 6] and it became a ‘woe is me’ moment, and God visited his people,” Tidwell said.
He continued, “It is my heart’s desire that the next cry that we hear from the Baptist family will be ‘Woe is me, for we have seen the king, the Lord of hosts’ and may we once again become the body of believers where the life of Christ flows not just to us, but through us.”
Audio from both addresses and other conference speakers is available at www.uu.edu/audio/event.cfm?ID=2515.
By Kimberlee Hauss (’11)