BOWLING GREEN, Ky. -- After more than 45 years of pastoral ministry, Jim Henry has plenty of experience working with deacons and other church leaders.

Henry, who retired last year after nearly 30 years as pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., drew on that experience as the keynote speaker for the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s Feb. 2-3 Pastor/Deacon/Spouse Retreat in Bowling Green.

In addition to Henry leading three sessions on effective deacon ministry, his wife Jeanette led a pair of sessions for spouses on “Dealing with Life Issues in Ministry.”

Affirming that “I have a high esteem for the office of deacon as well as high esteem for the office of pastor,” Henry emphasized the importance of pursuing unity in the body of Christ.

Noting that 1,300 Southern Baptist pastors and church staff members were fired or forced to resign last year, the former Southern Baptist Convention president said, “There’s something not healthy going on in our churches.... We’re having a whole lot of heartaches and problems in our local churches.

“How do we stay together?” he asked before noting, “The pastors and the deacons have a critical role to play in that in the church.”

Citing the Apostle Paul’s teachings in Philippians 1, Henry said the first element of unity is prayer.

“What holds us together? It’s prayer,” he declared. “I can’t tell you the strength that comes from prayer for one another.”

Paul also emphasized the importance of being partners in ministry, Henry continued.

“We’re all together in this. We’re partners in ministry, sharing fellowship together,” he said. “We’re in it together, to sink or swim.

“There’s a self-sacrificing in ministry... in order that Christ can live through us,” he added. “That’s a powerful thing to remember.

“You can have differences, difficulties and disappointments,” Henry acknowledged, “but if you are partners, you will not have disruptions.”

Pastors and deacons also “are bound together in a persevering faith,” Henry said.

Citing such historic Baptist doctrines as the divinity of Christ, salvation through Christ alone and the security of the believer, he added, “What holds us together? Jesus Christ and some commonness in some basic doctrinal issues.”

In addition to prayer, partnership and a persevering faith, Henry said, “A very practical thing that holds us together is compassion for each other.

“When we practically say, ‘You’re my brother and you’re my sister and I love you,’ it will keep the church growing stronger and will get us through the disagreements that come.”

Reiterating Paul’s call for Christian unity, Henry declared, “Unity is the highest expression of the Christian faith. When they see unity in a world that is disunified, it’s like a magnet drawing people to Christ.”

Henry said unity is essential in today’s church in order to overcome spiritual warfare and strengthen our relationship to Jesus.

Detailing the difference between unity and uniformity, he noted, “Uniformity comes from pressure from the outside. Unity comes from pressure from the inside and the pressure from the inside is the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the One who compels us to do everything we can do bring unity into the body of Christ.

“It’s the blood of the cross that holds us together,” he said. “When we realize where we are at the cross of Jesus Christ, we understand the call for unity.”

In a session geared toward pastors, Henry shared a list of ways “you can be a pastor your deacons will love to work with and follow.” Among his suggestions for pastors to “be the leader God intends you to be” were:

  • Understand the heart of your people. That includes understanding each congregation’s unique culture and learning the church’s expectations, Henry said.
  • Serve with a shepherd/servant heart. “Some of our pastors think they are too big to get in there with the people and have a CEO mentality,” he cautioned. “It’s very important to be close to your people; they’ve got to know you love them.”
  • Listen to wise counsel. “All of us preachers make mistakes. We have clay feet. We don’t know everything,” he acknowledged. “Get close to the wise men of the church.”
  • Wear humility as a badge of honor. “All of us have to fight the demon of pride,” Henry said. “If you’re going to pastor in a noble way, you must do it with humility.”
  • “Make your own butter.” He exhorted pastors, “Don’t preach somebody else’s sermons. Avoid plagiarism.” He added, “Pastor, you have to make prayer and study a priority. That requires three things: work, discipline and a plan.”
  • Be careful about chasing the latest church fad. “God does not take a cookie cutter and say, ‘This is what I want to happen in every church.’”
  • Make much of Jesus. “After we’re gone, Jesus is still there,” Henry concluded. “It’s all about Jesus; it’s not about us. We’re just His messenger boys for a season.”

Trennis Henderson is editor of the Western Recorder, newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention

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