Spirited sermon enlivens church conference

Just in case the parable of the Prodigal Son went over anybody’s head, the preacher made sure the congregation got it.

“Stop pouting and starting shouting,” was the succinct version of the parable delivered Tuesday morning by Darren Willis, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Odessa.

Willis preached during the morning worship session at a combined conference of the Congress of Christian Education and the Original West Texas Baptist District Association. The two associations of African-American Baptist churches are meeting at the Abilene Convention Center through noon Friday. Up to 300 people are expected from churches as far away as Grand Prairie, El Paso, and Amarillo.

Each day will be filled with classes for all ages, fellowship, worship, and business meetings. Youth play a big role and will conclude the conference at noon Friday with praise, dance, and drill team competitions.

The associations represented are part of the National Baptist Convention and share its theme for 2017, “Envisioning the Future Exceptionally: A return to biblical standards through our commitment to Christian stewardship.”

Moderator for the Original West Texas Baptist District Association is James L. Collins, pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Amarillo. He was pleased to see even more people attending Tuesday than in the past. He credits word of mouth promotion for the increase in numbers.

“People who come here have a great experience,” he said, “and attract people who don’t normally come.”

Before Willis launched into his spirited sermon, Virgil Nesbit Jr., pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Wichita Falls, led the congregation in prayer. He set the tone for what was to come.

“We pray this day,” Nesbit said, “you will touch each and every one of us.”

The congregation responded as they clapped and shouted “Amen” to music by a large youth choir and then to Willis’ sermon.

Willis opened with a joke that didn’t apply to him or anyone listening to him. He told of a Sunday morning when a deacon fell asleep in church. The minister said to another deacon, “Wake that deacon up.” But the deacon who was awake was having none of it.

“You put him to sleep,” he said to the minister. “You wake him up.”

No one slept a wink during Willis’ sermon. From start to finish, he owned the crowd with his sermon on the Prodigal Son taken from the gospel of Luke. Being lost, Willis advised, doesn’t refer to where you are but rather “how” you are, he said.

“The Prodigal Son was not as lost as the pouting son,” he said.

When the Prodigal Son returns home, he is showered with finery — a ring, robe, shoes and, of course, a fatted calf feast. His brother wasn’t pleased. He had stayed home and worked but wasn’t rewarded like the wayward son. He didn’t get it.

With his rhythmic delivery style, Willis explained why the father was so thrilled to have the son he believed to be lost return home.

“God doesn’t care where you’ve been,” Willis said. “He’s just so glad you’re on your way back home.”