Some updates from Advance the Church
The Advance the Church conference on April 26-27 brought together pastors and church leaders to discuss the implications of the Gospel in the new urban South. The sessions are available online at advancethechurch.com. Some Southeastern profs and alumni were involved, including Ed Stetzer, J.D. Greear, and Johnny Hunt.
Greear addressed the issues at the heart of church decline, saying that without a right understanding and proclamation of the gospel, moralism is all churches will ever teach. Therefore, he said, pastors must preach the gospel for both justification and sanctification.
“The gospel not only saves us from our pasts and secures our futures, but it sanctifies us in our present,” Greear said. “The gospel changes us from within. It changes us by changing our hearts. Any other change is superficial. The gospel doesn’t just trim off the fruits of sin – it pulls up the roots.”
Stetzer discussed some difficulties southern pastors and church planters will face in ministry. “In the South today, there’s a negative perception of church. Most people aren’t unchurched, they’re de-churched,” he said. Rather than having never heard the gospel or never been in church, Stetzer said most people in the South confuse the gospel with moralism and legalism, and this has driven them out of churches they may have grown up in or gone to.
He said the traditional view of the church in the South is, “Building plus clergy plus programs equals the church. We have to redefine it as a body sent on mission for the kingdom. God has called us to lead people to engage in mission, not to lead them to go to church. We have to stop seeking to moralize the converted and instead convert the immoral.”
Later on the in conference, Hunt reflected on his life in ministry and ways he has seen God move throughout his time as a pastor and preacher. Twenty-four years of Hunt’s time as pastor have been at FBC Woodstock, and he said, “Nothing gives you staying power like knowing where God has called you. When the Lord changed my life, he gave me purpose and direction in my life – seeing people converted. I want to see God continue to do it. I want to be faithful in my latter days.”
Hunt said he has been profoundly impacted by reading the biblical account of Caleb, which has convicted him to be faithful into old age. “We cannot proclaim a truth with confidence until we have experienced the truth. We’re bearers of the message – not the message itself,” he said.