The past year has been difficult. The world we live in today looks quite different than it did just 18 months ago. Many things we were accustomed to doing have either disappeared, been restricted, or have changed, for better or worse.

One of the biggest changes was the separation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of that separation, many of the events we have grown to love were canceled. Unfortunately, that meant our Pastors’ Conference for 2020 did not happen.

I just have to say this out loud — I missed it. I have always heard it said that “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” If there is one thing that 2020 taught me, it is that the things I take for granted are the things I miss the most when they are not available. That is why I am so excited about 2021.

There will be a North Carolina Baptist Pastors’ Conference Nov. 7-8 at the Koury Convention Center this year, and you do not want to miss it. It will begin at 5:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon and will conclude at 3 p.m. on Monday, just in time for you to attend the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina annual meeting, which starts Monday evening at the convention center.

The Pastors’ Conference will have a diverse lineup of speakers. There will be powerful times of praise and worship, and we may even have a special pop-in guest that you will want to meet. We will also have Pastors’ Conference officer elections for 2022 and 2023. What excites me most about this year’s conference is how it came about and what God did in me through the process.

The theme for this year’s conference is “A Place at the Table.” The theme came from a question I have had in my heart concerning the Pastors’ Conference and even the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

I am a bivocational pastor of a small rural church in Yamacraw, North Carolina. Now before you get your maps out to find the town, understand it is just a crossroad and probably will not show up on your map. So, we use the next biggest town as our location and for our mailing address, the town of Currie. Again, you may have a hard time locating that. It is located in western Pender County and is a great little rural community.

I have fallen in love with the community and the people who call it home. The church I serve is primarily made up of families that have been a part of that church for years. Everybody knows everybody, and each Sunday is like a family reunion.

I give you those details so you can understand how God worked in my heart. I have always enjoyed and found great benefit in going to the Pastors’ Conference. God has always met the need in my heart through someone or something that was said at the conference. Every year I came away edified and uplifted.

But there was this question that stuck in my mind, and I just could not seem to shake it. As much as I enjoyed and even looked up to the preachers that spoke every year, I couldn’t help but wonder, why are none of the speakers like me? Why does everyone who is invited to speak have a list of degrees as long as my arm? Why does every preacher have a 5,000+ member church?

What excites me most about this year’s conference is how it came about and what God did in me through the process.

When I asked those questions, I was given an answer that did not sit well in my spirit. I was told that unless you had big, recognizable names on the speakers list, no one would come.

In my heart I knew that could not be true. There had to be others who felt like I did and would love to hear from preachers who were just like them. After I shared that burden with some of my friends and mentors, I found out that they felt much like I did.

Maybe as you are reading this you can relate. Maybe you have asked some of the same questions. Maybe you have wondered why the small church pastor is never on the program.

As I began to talk to other pastors and leaders, I realized that the small church pastor sometimes feels like they are second string, and sometimes they are not involved because they feel like they can’t be involved. I felt much the same way.

And that is when a friend of mine approached me about being the president of the Pastors’ Conference this year. I must confess, my first response was not, “That’s a great idea.” No, my first response was, “I can’t do that.” I had fallen into the trap that I was second string.

That is when I was reminded that we all have a place at the table of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When He called us to be ministers of the gospel, He equipped us to carry out whatever He has in store for us. All that we do should be in His strength and for His glory because we do it for Him.

This year’s conference will be a time of edification and renewal of the calling God has placed on each of our lives, no matter our background, the size of our church, where we minister or who we minister to.

I am reminded that Jesus called His disciples, not from the elite of the day, but from the ordinary. Each of those men came from differing backgrounds that gave them a unique ability to minister to a diverse group of people, and Jesus used their differing backgrounds and personalities to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth.

You will be blessed this year to hear the stories of seven of those men, and those stories will be told by seven vastly different pastors with quite different backgrounds and ministries. I have asked each preacher to give a summation of the life of their chosen apostle, and then bring us a word from God on a single passage that highlights the ministry of that apostle.

I believe God will use our time together to speak to our hearts about what He has in store for us as we follow His call on our lives. What is that call? I believe it is best seen in what Jesus said to His disciples: “The harvest is truly plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38). We are the called to be laborers in God’s harvest.

I encourage you to register for the 2021 Pastors’ Conference today. Then, spend time each day praying for those who will be bringing God’s word to us. In your time of prayer ask God to begin a work in your heart to prepare you for our time together.

God has called you to the ministry because He chose to, and He desires to work in and through you to glorify Himself and to further His kingdom. I pray you will come and take your “place at the table.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Roger Barnes is serving as president of the 2021 N.C. Baptist Pastors’ Conference.