Jeremy Pierre, who recently became the dean of students at Southern Seminary, introduced the all-day Personal and Family Vigilance conference, explaining the importance of students taking care of their spiritual life — even while in seminary.
“Following Christ first in your personal life and in your family is not automatic,” said Pierre, who is also assistant professor of biblical counseling at Southern Seminary. “It takes effort and it takes vigilance, grace enabled effort and vigilance, but vigilance nonetheless. We don’t want any of our students to shipwreck their faith through the negligence of their soul, because following Jesus while studying him is not automatic.”
Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. led the first plenary session, exhorting students about the health of their private and spiritual lives. Mohler preached from 1 Timothy 4:12-16, warning about the dangers of ministry and the tragedy when someone leaves ministry because of poor personal and spiritual vigilance.
Mohler said that people learn much about an institution by how it begins its semester. He gave an example of a secular school that recently began its semester with a mandatory meeting about “safe sex” among the students. In contrast, Southern Seminary began its new year by focusing on the soul care of its students.
“We need to train ourselves for the pattern of sound steps and the pattern of a sound life,” Mohler said. “If we fail in terms of the private life, then we fail utterly.”
Mohler stressed that people are always watching those in ministry to see how they live. He said that wherever the minister or leader goes, eyes follow to watch if his words match his actions.
He read an open letter from a former student who, instead of graduating, signed divorce papers. The letter, which appeared in a 2011 issue of the seminary’s news magazine, Towers, illustrated the importance of the conference and its message of personal and family watchfulness while in seminary, Mohler said.
“All of us together, whatever our age, need to be determined to right now feed the virtues and starve the vices by God’s grace,” he said. “It’s in the mirror that doctrine and character meet. The defense of the truth requires the same virtues as the defense of character.”
Heath Lambert, associate professor of biblical counseling at Boyce College, the seminary’s undergraduate school, led a plenary session directed toward men about the dangers of pornography. Lambert’s recent book, Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace, addresses the issue of pornography within today’s Christian culture. The seminary gave attendees a free copy of the book. (A question and answer about Lambert’s new book is available here.)
Lambert, who is also the executive director of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors, said that he believes this is a time of crisis. “Pornography is the most significant problem in the church. … Today people in our churches have to be vigilant against a phantom,” he said, talking about pornography’s anonymous, ease of access on the Internet.
Purity in the churches begins with the pastor, he said.
“God has raised you up to be leaders in your home and church,” Lambert said. “If our homes and churches are to be pure, they are going to be led by men who are pure.”
Lambert preached from Romans 6, telling students that the necessary power to be pure is found in the passage, which addresses a believer’s deadness to sin and life in Christ through the Holy Spirit.
He noted three truths that empower men struggling with pornography, saying that a Christian cannot confess Christ’s resurrection and not fight for holiness; the power for purity is found in the fight against sin; and the fight against sin includes the need for Christians to stop resenting sin and to present themselves to God as raised-to-life believers.
Lambert told students to protect themselves by putting protective systems on computers, cell phones and even television in order to avoid temptations to sin.
Men should begin to present themselves to God as instruments of righteousness by service to others and the church, said Lambert. Fighting for purity requires spending time with Jesus.
He also encouraged the attendees to sing gospel-centered music when tempted to sin.
“God has wired us that there’s something about singing that ignites our affections,” Lambert said.
His final call to action encouraged men to find someone and tell them the truth, emphasizing the importance of grace and honesty in the effort to fight sin.
The conference also featured four breakout sessions led by seminary professors. Michael A. G. Haykin, professor of church history and biblical spirituality, led a session about vigilance in soul care; Pierre led a session about ministering to those who need to confess sin; Bruce A. Ware, professor of Christian theology, spoke to students about how couples can pursue purity together; and Brian J. Vickers, associate professor of New Testament interpretation, led a session about moving past guilt and the step toward grace
The conference is the first to be co-sponsored by the Rick Bordas Fund for Student Discipleship, established June, 2013, and the John and Debbie Bethancourt Lectures for Ministerial Ethics.
Audio and video from the conference are available at sbts.edu/resources.