Reflections on Twenty Years of Founders MinistriesTom Ascol
The late James Boice once pointed out that we tend "to overestimate what God will do in one year and greatly underestimate what He will do in twenty." I have discovered that tendency in my own thinking about reformation and revival. It is hard to believe that the Southern Baptist Founders Conference has been around that long, but the recent meeting in Birmingham, Alabama constituted our twentieth gathering. The euphoria of the first conference caused some of us who were there to think that we were on the brink of a fresh outpouring of God's Spirit that would sweep across the nation and around the world in a matter of years if not months. By the time the fourth or fifth conference had come and gone, the organizing committee had to fight disillusionment and even entertained suggestions that what we were trying to do simply could not be done.
Now, twenty years later, we can look back with thanksgiving and praise to God for what He has done among us. During those years thousands of students, pastors and church leaders have participated in the annual conference. Before moving in 1991 to the campus of Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama the conference met for eight years on the campus of what is now Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. Many additional ministries have also emerged out of the conference since its inception.
Six regional conferences are currently meeting across the country. Founders Fraternals have been organized to encourage pastors in a more regular way and meet in 18 different locations. The Founders Journal is in its twelfth year of publication. Founders Press has published fifteen books. Our web site attracts over 200,000 hits each month. The Founders Internship ministry has provided for church-based training for several men who were preparing for the pastorate.
In addition to all this, Founders Ministries has also had a part in inspiring conferences and reformation efforts in several nations around the world. A growing number of pastors and churches are being encouraged to pursue biblical reformation in local congregations. That has been the goal of Founders from our inception--to see healthy churches joyfully and wholeheartedly pursuing that new life in Christ that the Bible clearly sets before us.
By God's grace, this is happening. The Gospel of God's grace is being rediscovered in our day. Churches are being renewed and reformed according to the Word of God. New churches are being planted with firm commitment to the doctrines of grace and biblical church order. A whole generation of younger pastors is being raised up by God to keep pressing forward in this great cause. The Lord has indeed done far more in the last twenty years than we could have imagined at the start. The advance of reformation transcends geographical and denominational boundaries. It is humbling and gratifying to look back and see how God has been pleased to use the efforts of Founders Ministries to make His truth known. That He has done so illustrates His revealed modus operandi of using "foolish," "weak," "base" and "despised" vessels to accomplish His purposes on the earth (1 Corinthians 1:27-28).
The twentieth meeting of the Founders Conference precedes by a few months the fiftieth issue of the Founders Journal. Both milestones are worth noting with praise and thanksgiving to God. The first conference was planned and organized as the result of a prayer meeting that took place on November 13, 1982. On that occasion seven men gathered in a motel room in Euless, Texas to consider what could be done to call pastors and church leaders back to the historic, biblical principles that had characterized Southern Baptist church life at the founding of the convention in 1845. After spending half of the day in prayer, those men agreed to plan a conference that would be based upon the doctrines of grace as they had been historically articulated by our Southern Baptist forebears.
It was an interesting collection of men in that room. Ernie Reisinger was the senior voice of experience. He was then serving as Pastor of North Pompano Baptist Church in North Pompano, Florida. Today he is retired and living in Cape Coral, Florida. R. F. Gates was a full-time evangelist from Shreveport, Louisiana. He still lives there, serving as an elder and evangelist in the Heritage Baptist Church. Tom Nettles was a Professor of Church History at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tennessee. Today he is a Professor of Historical Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Fred Malone was preparing for PhD studies at Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas and planting Heritage Baptist Church in that city. Today he is Pastor of First Baptist Church in Clinton, Louisiana. Bill Ascol was Assistant Pastor at Broadmoor Baptist Church in Shreveport. Today he is the Pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in that same city. Ben Mitchell was an MDiv student at Southwestern and was helping Fred with the church plant. Today, he is a professor of Ethics at Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois. I was also there that day. I was an Assistant Pastor at Spring Valley Baptist Church in Dallas and an MDiv student at Southwestern. Today I pastor the Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida.
Ernie Reisinger was the one who had given the most careful thought to our deliberations before we met. He made all the arrangements and prepared for us to read selected Psalms and hymns along with our prayers. Ben Mitchell chaired the meeting and led us through the agenda that Ernie had prepared. After several hours of considering concerns and challenges we agreed to organize a gathering for pastors and seminary students who were interested in seeing theological and spiritual renewal take place within the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.
A Statement of Principles was drafted, assignments were made, and the result was the first Southern Baptist Conference on the Faith of the Founders (quickly--and mercifully--shortened to "Founders Conference").
Following is the original Statement of Principles that was drafted in that hotel room:
The motive of the conference is to glorify God, honor His gospel, and strengthen His churches by providing encouragement to Southern Baptists in historical, biblical, theological, practical, and ecumenical studies.
The purpose of the conference is to establish and continue an annual meeting under the oversight of a local Southern Baptist Church for Southern Baptist ministers, elders, deacons, and theological students.
The desire is to be a balanced conference in respect to doctrine and devotion expressed in the doctrines of grace and their experimental application to the local church, particularly in the areas of worship and witness. This is to be accomplished through engaging a variety of speakers to present formal papers, sermons, expositions, and devotions, and through the recommendation and distribution of literature consistent with the nature of the conference.
The Subjects and Procedures
The theological foundation of the conference will be the doctrines of grace (election, depravity, atonement, effectual calling, and perseverance) and specifically related truths. These subjects will be presented doctrinally, expositionally, homiletically, and historically. Each conference will concentrate on the experimental and pastoral application of the respective doctrines.
After six years the conference was moved from the oversight of a local church to being governed by a board of trustees and supported by several local churches. Other than that, those same principles that were articulated to guide the conference continue to guide the expanded work of Founders Ministries today.
More than 250 presentations have been made at the National Founders Conference over the last two decades. That number is more than doubled when the Regional Conferences are considered. Such themes as Sanctification, Law and Gospel, World Missions, Biblical Evangelism, Preachers and Preaching, Pastoral Ministry, The Puritans, Baptist History and Heritage, The Invitation System, Ecclesiology and The Sufficiency of Scripture have been addressed.
The journal has similarly addressed a wide variety of topics from doctrinal, historical, biographical, expositional, devotional, pastoral and practical points of view. Even a cursory review of the individual conference messages and journal articles would immediately dispel the myth that Founders Ministries is only concerned with Calvinism. Our burden and aim has been and remains the recovery of the Gospel and the reformation and revival of local churches.
God has been pleased to strengthen the hands of the growing number of believers who have been captured by this vision. We have more reasons to be encouraged today than at any time in the previous twenty years. With all the good that we can observe taking place around us, there is still much more going on than can be measured. There is far more seed in the ground than there are plants that have already sprouted.
So join with us in giving thanks to the Lord for His faithfulness and blessing over the past twenty years. And pray that He will pour out His Spirit on us in a powerful, earth-shaking way as we press forward by His grace toward the next twenty.