LOUISVILLE (KT) – What pastors need, perhaps more so than at any time in modern memory, is the encouragement to persevere and remain faithful to their ministry call, says Dan Summerlin.
As president of the Kentucky Baptist Pastors’ Conference, the Paducah pastor hopes encouragement is exactly what fellow ministers will find when they gather next month in Owensboro.
“Our goal this year is to encourage and strengthen pastors in the ministry,” said Summerlin, senior pastor at Lone Oak First Baptist Church. “I witnessed many ministers wanting to quit the ministry, failing morally, or suffering burnout. I pray for the pastor who is tired and wanting to quit. I pray for him to be renewed and refreshed in the ministry in order to be faithful.”
Pastors are people, too, and when something like COVID-19 upsets their comforting routines and carefully laid plans – the unavoidable stress can be draining or even debilitating.
A month into the pandemic lockdown, LifeWay Christian Research reported 94 percent of Protestant pastors surveyed felt “under pressure.” About one in four said they worried about finances, while smaller percentages said they were concerned about how they would offer pastoral care from a distance or take on new challenges in using technology to connect with members.
In a word, pastors were overwhelmed, and still many are. They are amazed by continuing slates of decisions that need to be made – all while knowing their choices will never satisfy every need, want, or tightly held opinion.
“Every decision being made, regardless of the decision, is being criticized by a segment of the church,” Summerlin said. “If a pastor is careful with COVID-19 and mentions masks, then he is viewed as not having faith, but if the pastor doesn’t mention masks or take any precautions, then he is viewed upon as unloving and uncaring.”
Summerlin cited other examples adding to pastors’ stress levels. Many are learning how to preach to an empty room without any of the feedback they would normally receive from people in the pews. Many are preaching multiple services for the first time and learning to minister without being there in person. Many longstanding ministries in the church have been canceled, causing church members to lament. Couple this with family issues, economic problems, and a volatile political climate and 2020 has been a difficult season for churches and pastors.
However, even before COVID was a word the world would use to encompass this season of self-quarantines and daily death totals, Summerlin said the pastoral profession was facing its own crisis. “We were seeing ministers leaving the ministry, having a moral failure in their marriages, or suffering burnout and it seems no one was helping the local pastor address these issues,” he said. “I realized the timing of this theme was truly providential.”
Summerlin said his desire during the pastors’ conference is to encourage Kentucky Baptist pastors “through godly men who will address four key areas to which we should be faithful: our Master, our mental health, our marriages, and our ministry.”
Kicking off the conference program on Nov. 9 will be Willie McLaurin, the vice president for Great Commission Relations and Mobilization at the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. He will be speaking on the topic of remaining “Faithful to the Master.”
Following McLaurin will be former LaGrange Baptist Church Pastor Tony Rose, who founded Tony Rose Relational Leadership, a ministry designed to help church leaders stay healthy in their own souls, relationships and leadership. He will be speaking about faithfulness to one’s own mental health.
Hershael York, dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, begins the evening portion of the conference by discussing the topic of faithfulness in one’s marriage. He also serves as pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort.
Rounding out the “Faithful” conference will be Michael Catt, senior pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., as he talks about remaining faithful to ministry. Catt is the author of several books including Upgrade, Courageous Living, and Fireproof Your Life. He also served as the executive producer of the Sherwood Pictures’ films Flywheel, Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous.
An election for the pastors’ conference 2022 president-elect will be held around 3:20 p.m. (CDT). Kyle Noffsinger, pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Princeton, is the only nominee. John Lucas, pastor of First Baptist Church of Pikeville, is the current president-elect and will preside over the 2021 Kentucky Baptist Pastors’ Conference in Elizabethtown.
Summerlin said participants at next month’s conference will be required to adhere to the health and safety guidelines set by host Bellevue Baptist Church, the city of Owensboro and the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
“We will have social distancing in the service, temperatures will be checked before entering and masks should be worn when people are moving around,” he said. “Because of COVID-19 we will not be giving away books, as we have done in the past, or taking up an offering.”
Learn more about the Kentucky Baptist Pastors’ Conference and speakers at www.kybaptist.org/pastorsconference.