The wide, sunlit halls of Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro rang with the camaraderie of hundreds of pastors from around the state who gathered last week for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention's Pastors Conference.
The ministers -- some of whom attended with family members -- attested to the joys and described the challenges of their profession throughout the second day of gatherings at the convention.
Greg Addison, the convention's associate executive director, said that while the convention typically includes some out-of-state speakers, this year focused on the voices of Arkansas pastors.
"Everyone that's here is an Arkansas person, and we share the same needs, the same wants, the same struggles, same desires," the Rev. Aaron Matthews, pastor of First Baptist Church in Lowell, said in leading a discussion on the personal character of pastors.
"I've heard [integrity] defined as just the very thing that you are when no one else is looking ... and it seems that we're taking a turn for the worse in our world today," Matthews said. "Even role models don't seem to care a whole lot about integrity or moral values."
"If I understand the Scriptures correctly, we've been chosen, called, justified, sanctified ... [as pastors], meaning in the mind of God, it's a done deal," said the Rev. Don Chandler, a pastor for the past 39 years and senior pastor of Central Baptist Church in Conway. "When I consider ... what [God] has done for me, how could I possibly do less than to try to discipline myself and keep myself pure before him ... by where I go, what I do and who I associate with?
"I cannot lead any of my people to a place I have not been."
Ministers who have experienced loss, illness, injury or other adverse situations spoke openly about how they have handled their circumstances personally and through the lens of their faith in a discussion on "The Pastor and Brokenness."
The Rev. Mike Seabaugh, pastor of First Baptist Church in Magnolia, said that he thought back in a "transformational moment" to the first sermon he gave when, earlier this year, his 21-year-old daughter died in her sleep.
"I started [my sermons] using John the Baptist in prayer: He must increase and I must decrease," said Seabaugh, referring to John 3:30, in which John, who baptized Jesus, states that he must become "less" so that Jesus can become "more."
"It's been through this journey that I realized that decreasing is the price of brokenness and the willing[ness] to be broken, and to recognize I'm at the end of myself," said Seabaugh, who said he still believes he has work to do in the name of God.
" ... If the bus to heaven pulls up, I'm going to get on it. I'm not going to jump in front of it, but heaven is real, so if I'm still here I've got a chance to take some more people with me."
The Rev. Izah Broadus, who established New Faith Baptist Church in Helen-West Helena in 2015 and is set to open a second church in Little Rock in January, was one of the panelists who spoke about the experience of being a black pastor in Arkansas.
"We deal with a lot of issues -- mental health, lack of fathers in homes, drug addictions," said Broadus, who said he believes the top issue with black churches is a lack of resources.
"We could introduce [people] to Jesus and what we have to offer ... other than just church on Sunday -- yeah, that helps -- but we need ministry during the week so we can give them more ... than sending them back into the same deal they're trying to get away from."
"One of the things that we really, really need is partners ... who will [join] with us and not look at yesterday, but focus on tomorrow," said Basil Joiner, pastor of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Bay.
Joiner called on ministers to partner with black churches not only in the Delta -- where partnerships have been made, he noted -- but in "places like Little Rock."
"There's a word that we use in our culture. It's not in the 'hood.' We go beyond the 'hood; we say in the gut," Joiner said. "The gut is really where ... the issues are."
Pastors can be limited on resources, said Joshua Townsend, director of development at the Arkansas Baptist Convention Homes and Family Ministries. Along with providing long-term and foster care and transitional housing, the nonprofit also hosts training seminars for pastors and provides counseling to them and their families.
"The local pastor is one of the most under-recognized assets of a local community, because they are fulfilling a number of roles and often they are there in life's deepest, most tragic and most celebrated moments," Townsend said. "That takes a unique individual, a unique calling, and a tremendous amount of responsibility and grace as well."
NAN Religion on 11/03/2018
Print Headline: Pastoral care