Pastors encouraged to ‘shepherd’ in love

Arkansas Baptist pastors focused on “The Heart of a Shepherd” at the annual Pastors’ Conference (PC) on Monday, Oct. 24 at First Baptist Church in Hot Springs. 

“Our theme this year, ‘The Heart of a Shepherd,’ was created out of a desire to encourage pastors to focus on loving people. Pastors hearing from other pastors in our state sharing their struggles, their experiences and their hearts was a huge blessing,” said Ronnie Deal, pastor of First Baptist Church in Greenwood and president of this year’s PC. “Spending a day with pastors from all across our state – worshipping together, sharing together and seeing pastors who have the heart of a shepherd – was a highlight for me.” 

The conference began with lunch in the family life center of the church, where pastors were randomly seated with other ministers from around the state for a time of fellowship.  

During the meal, attendees elected Grey Falanga, who serves as pastor of Walnut Street Baptist Church in Jonesboro, as president of the 2023 PC. Sean Mills, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Conway, and John Venable, pastor of New Life Baptist Church in Alexander, will serve as vice presidents on the 2023 PC Leadership Team. 

“I took from the pastors’ conference this year that we have a ton of great pastors across the state,” Falanga said.  

Following the lunch, pastors gathered in the sanctuary to worship and hear from God’s word. Jacob Ray, worship pastor at First Baptist Church in Greenwood, led worship with a team from there. John McCallum, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hot Springs, gave the introductory sermon, focusing on what the Bible says about love in 1 Corinthians 13. 

“Love is patient…if love is a stick of dynamite, it’s got a fuse a mile long,” McCallum said. “It does not blister each other on social media. Love doesn’t make ministry about me.” 

McCallum encouraged pastors to love their congregation, even the orneriest and most challenging of members; “love bears with goats as well as sheep.” 

Following each sermon, Deal interviewed a panel of pastors from around the state, discussing points made in the sermon and their personal experiences shepherding. 

Kim Bridges, pastor of First Baptist Church in Marmaduke, gave the closing sermon of the afternoon session, noting the importance of “loving the least,” “the lost,” “the lazy,” “the lonely,” “the leadership” and even “the lousy.” 

The evening session began with a sermon from Roderick Rogers, pastor of Surrender Church in Fordyce.  

“We are living in a time where if you don’t love God with all your heart, you aren’t going to make it very long [as a pastor],” Rogers said.  

Rogers spoke to the pastors who were down and heavy laden, telling those thinking about leaving the ministry that “you can’t quit what you didn’t call yourself too.” He also pleaded with pastors to give God not just their hands but also their hearts. 

“If you don’t love God with all your heart, it’s going to be hard to love all His people,” Rogers said. “Without love, relationship fades to religion.” 

Deal gave the concluding sermon of the conference, telling his personal story about not hearing the words, “I love you,” enough from men in his life. He then explained how vital it was that pastors tell their congregation this over and over again.  

“I really believe the greatest way we can lead our church in having a culture of love…is helping our people love God,” Deal said.  

To view this year’s PC, visit  

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