By Marilyn Stewart, NOBTS publications and news communications office
NEW ORLEANS (NOBTS) – “Servant Leadership in Uncertain Times,” the theme of the first annual Prepare Here Conference hosted by the Jim Henry Leadership Institute of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, drew in 250 pastors, church ministry leaders, and spouses from across 10 states, October 12-13.
Featured speakers were Steve Gaines, senior pastor, Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis; Robby Gallaty, senior pastor, Long Hollow Church, Hendersonville, Tennessee; and Jamie Dew, NOBTS president.
“It’s my prayer that this conference will give [participants] opportunities and instruction, give them models, and give them the privilege to study with leaders and have the opportunity to look at the past and the present, and model their lives after Jesus so they can be the leaders the church desperately needs today,” Jim Henry said, in interview.
Breakout sessions addressed issues impacting the pastor’s ministry as well as the student, children’s, music, leadership and administration, and women’s ministries.
Kandi Gallaty, wife of Robby Gallaty and author of “Disciple Her” and the “Foundations New Testament” series of Bible reading plans; Tara Dew, president’s wife and director of Thrive, the NOBTS ministry wives certificate program; Elizabeth Luter, wife of Fred Luter, and director of the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church women’s ministry; and NOBTS professors and local pastors were breakout speakers.
The Jim Henry Institute was established last year in recognition of Henry’s long tenure in ministry and denominational service. Henry pastored churches in Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee before serving 29 years as senior pastor at First Baptist Church, Orlando, Florida.
At the denominational level, Henry served as Southern Baptist Convention president, 1994-1995, and as a trustee for the International Mission Board, Lifeway Christian Resources, GuideStone Financial Services, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and other roles.
Henry, 86, noted the importance of leadership in today’s culture.
“It’s a great opportunity for the gospel but it is a difficult time,” Henry said. “I’ve been in this over 60 years and it’s probably the most challenging time to minister in my lifetime. But it’s also the best time for the light to shine. The darkness is getting darker but the light can shine brighter.”
Steve Gaines drew from Acts 8:26-40 during the opening plenary session.
“Every Christian … is commanded by the Lord to verbally share the gospel of Jesus Christ with lost people in order to win them to faith in Christ,” Gaines said.
Gaines reminded listeners that listening to the Holy Spirit, keeping repentance central to the gospel presentation, and sharing with urgency were essentials of evangelism.
“God will lead you to the lost,” Gaines said. “They’re hungry. They know this world is broken. They know they need something besides what they have.”
“Who are you pleasing in ministry?” Robby Gallaty asked listeners in the evening plenary. Gallaty, an NOBTS alum, told of the impact of meeting at the chapel with others to pray during his student years.
Gallaty pointed to Hebrews 11:5 to remind believers and church leaders that they must work to “please an audience of one.” A leader cannot please others or promote self and please God, and a ministry that depends on the leader’s charisma may fail, Gallaty warned.
“It’s easy to fall in love with the ministry of Jesus and not in love with the Jesus of your ministry … Don’t fall into the trap of doing ministry for Jesus without having intimacy with Jesus,” Gallaty said.
Jamie Dew echoed Gallaty’s call to please God rather than self or others in the final plenary session. Dew drew from 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 to remind listeners they are servants and stewards of the gospel whose primary task is to be faithful to God.
“The fact of the matter is, in this particular moment of history, [the gospel] now resides in our hands,” Dew said. “This same gospel unfolding throughout the ages, manifesting in the person of Jesus Christ, preached by the fathers and the apostles has now been entrusted to us, and we hold it in stewardship.”
Dew charged listeners to remain faithful above all else.
“God’s judgment is all that matters … what matters most is the Lord’s opinion of me,” Dew said.
THE WAY FORWARD
At a men’s panel discussion to conclude the event, Henry told of the impact in his ministry of meeting once a week to disciple men.
“Those men became leaders in the home, leaders in the church, leaders in their business, leaders in the community,” Henry said. “If I had it to do over, I would do this two or three times a week with men.”
Luter agreed, adding that he would spend more time “discipling and developing leaders” if he could start his ministry over.
Gallaty added that he chose to disciple men who were not as involved in church as others, and as a result, saw their commitment to Christ and ministry grow.
“I think if more churches would do what we’re talking about, you would see immediate change in your church,” Gallaty said.
On the women’s panel, Kandi Gallaty, Elizabeth Luter, Emily Dean, assistant professor of ministry to women, and Stephanie Lyon, NOBTS Women’s Life Director, discussed women’s busy schedules, changing commitment levels, and the importance of women feeling connected to ministry.
Elizabeth Luter noted two moments when life shifted dramatically—after Hurricane Katrina and following Covid—and the congregation felt unconnected.
“Until we put people in a [leadership] position in the church, they wouldn’t come back. Until they knew they had a place to serve, they wouldn’t come back,” Elizabeth Luter said. “A lot of people’s commitment was based on their ability to serve.”