Teaching sessions central to pastors’ conference


Southerland encourages pastors to actively lead change

“We’re going to learn how to do church for the unchurched,” keynote speaker Dan Southerland told pastoral staff members in his opening comments at the 2008 Pastors’ Conference held July 23-25 at Hyatt Hotel in Wichita, Kan.

Southerland said he would take the 164 pastors, spouses and guests through the eight-step process that he developed after successfully leading his own congregation through a series of changes that resulted in dramatic numeric growth, a focus on reaching the lost coupled with small group discipleship, a shift to “extremely” contemporary worship and the planting of 23 “mission churches.” Southerland said he would incorporate stories from these experiences into his four sessions, but he added a disclaimer about who deserves the credit. “I know me and I’m not impressed. I am impressed with God,” said Southerland.

Southerland’s leadership principles were taken from the book of Nehemiah and are developed Transitioning: Leading Your Church Through Change, Southerland’s book that was given to each pastoral team. His teaching sessions were easy to listen to, illustrated often with humorous stories and sprinkled with the request to “Turn to your neighbor and say….”

Leadership begins with the pastor, said Southerland, who devoted the first session to pastoral preparation for change. “The issue in the American church is not the sheep; it’s the shepherd,” he said. Southerland encouraged pastors to develop relationships with unchurched people, to “weep for your community,” to fast and pray and to be patient about initiating change.

The opening session also introduced Danny Oertli as the Pastors’ Conference worship leader. Using just his guitar, Oertli led the group in familiar hymns and contemporary songs and shared several of his original songs during which he intrigued the audience with his unique guitar-generated sound effects. 

In his second session, Southerland told the pastors that the goal for any congregation is to “figure out God’s plan for the church.” Preparing a congregation to become what God intends involves understanding the group’s unique purpose and mission, defining their target and determining how to reach that group.

The five steps involved in implementing change were the focus of Southerland’s third session. When instilling a new vision among church leaders, pastors need to make to take care of their own emotional health. “Wounded leaders make wounded decisions,” he cautioned them. He also emphasized the importance of implementing changes slowly. “I am so frustrated by the train wreck stories I hear about the church,” he said. “You must go slow.”

The final session focused on evaluating the changes a congregation makes. Evaluation involves dealing with opposition. “Anytime you have 100 percent affirmation, someone lied,” Southerland said. It also involves making adjustments and that means that the pastoral staff members need to “stay among the people.” Southerland encouraged pastors to be vulnerable, saying “People are looking for a real person with an abnormal love for God.” When changes are accomplished, Southerland reminded pastors that God deserves all the credit. “Stay humble,” he said, “and God will do amazing things.”

The conference also included three breakout sessions Thursday morning. Southerland led a seminar targeted at pastors. He began by listing the four things that encourage him as a pastor: close friends, a constant mentor, private time with God and time away from ministry. For the remainder of the time, pastors asked Southerland questions, ranging from the value of church planting in highly “churched” communities, to the role of church committees, “must read’ writers, worship style and social justice concerns.

A seminar led by Oertli focused on ministering with sincerity. He began by saying sincerity is easy to define and hard to do. So rather than offer how-to tips, Oertli told stories interspersed with songs that demonstrated what sincerity looks like and why it matters. “Sometimes our most sincere worship comes in the form of tears,” he said. Oertli gave examples of people who ministered to him with sincerity and encouraged attendees to think of people in their lives who had done likewise. In an example of the kind of ministry Oertli was advocating, attendees spontaneously circled Oertli at the end of the session to pray for him, his family and his ministry.

A seminar for pastors’ wives featured Joyce Williams, a pastor’s wife from Wichita who with her husband has founded a renewal ministry for pastors and their families. Williams reminded the women that ministry challenges “force us to grow spiritually.” She encouraged the women to “live victoriously.” She closed by reminding pastors’ wives to “stay true to ourselves,” listing unrealized expectations, scrutiny by the congregation, loneliness, finding balance in life and loving wayward children as elements of doing so. Lori Walsh, who recently moved to Wichita with her husband Chris who is on the First MB Church pastoral staff, shared her testimony. “Transitions are not always our plans,” she said, “but they are God’s.”

The conference schedule also included a block of family free time Thursday afternoon. A golf tournament, tours to area attractions and a tour of area shopping venues were the organized options. Thursday’s schedule also included an evening concert by Oertli. Friday’s closing session included a drawing for two $800 travel vouchers courtesy of MB Foundation. Winners were Jacob and Rachel Baccus of Memorial Road Church, Edmond, Okla., and Rod and Kim Koening, Community Bible Fellowship of Bellingham, Wash.

U.S. Conference Executive Director Ed Boschman closed the Pastors’ Conference Friday sharing “a couple of things from my heart.” He talked about his belief that God has “great plans” for U.S. Mennonite Brethren. He encouraged pastors to watch for indicators that they are “spiritually dry.”

He emphasized the importance of spending time with their spouse and specifically of avoiding pornography. He reminded them that God calls pastors to “connect with lost people in your neighborhoods.” He asked that participants close the conference by praying around their tables.


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