Mark Clifton knows the challenges that come with pastoring a small, struggling church where he’s counted the cars in the parking lot because he worried how many people would show up.
Clifton asserted that 800 churches are dying annually, and too many people are missing out on the true power of the gospel. For more than 40 years Clifton has served as a pastor, church planter, strategist and mentor for church leaders around the nation to help churches survive and thrive.
Preaching from Colossians 1:1–8, Clifton spoke on June 12, the first night of the 2022 Pastors Conference in Anaheim, California. This year’s theme of the conference is “We Proclaim Him,” and this year’s slate of pastors are working through Colossians.
“Where the gospel is, it is alive,” said Clifton, senior director of church replanting and rural strategy at the North American Mission Board. “And where it is alive, it spreads. And where the gospel is, there is fruit. And the fruit is love and compassion.”
Churches of all sizes matter
“No matter where you serve, it matters to God — and it should matter to you,” said Clifton, who also serves as replanting pastor of Linwood Baptist Church in Kansas. “God knows where you are, and that is all that matters … God loves small places. God embraces those places.”
He noted the adversary tries to take advantage of the insecurities that pastors often feel.
“If he can make us feel isolated and alone and cut off and unimportant and small, he can keep us where he wants us,” Clifton said. “Let me tell you, you are not isolated, you are not alone and you are not small. You have all the power of the risen Christ with you.”
Clifton noted that a key determining factor of whether we are truly a people of the gospel is spiritual fruit.
Too often dying churches are guilty of caring more about “their needs than the needs of the lost around them,” he said.
“They say, ‘Mark, can you help us find a young pastor?’” he noted. He said these churches believe that a young pastor will solve their problems and attract families. He said the church is often lacking repentance in their hearts and is consumed with the wrong motives.
“If you don’t have any young people, I can take you to a church where there are plenty of young people,” he added. “Young people go to church; they just don’t go to your church.”
It’s the gospel — not focusing on attracting young people or something else — that brings churches back to life, he said.
“Until you and I as pastors get compassion for our city, compassion for the lost, compassion for people who hate us, we will never fully understand the gospel. It is all about compassion.”
Clifton concluded, “Friends, we win in the end. The gospel will be proclaimed. It’s just up to us whether we’re a part of it or not.
“I pray that we will.”
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For more stories from the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting, visit thebaptistpaper.org/sbc2022.