Pastors' Conf. launches scholarship opportunity

By David Roach (BP)

PHOENIX (BP) -- The Southern Baptist Convention Pastors' Conference has announced it will provide $1,000 travel scholarships to pastors of "average-sized churches" who cannot otherwise afford to attend the Pastors' Conference and SBC annual meeting this summer in Phoenix.

In keeping with the focus of this year's Pastors' Conference on pastors of small and midsized congregations, an estimated 5-20 scholarships will be available beginning April 10 on a "first-come basis," funded by donations from larger churches, the Pastors' Conference leadership team announced March 30 on the SBC Voices blog.

The leadership team noted 5-20 is only an estimate, with the actual number of scholarships linked to the volume of donations received.

The Pastors' Conference will feature preaching, worship and prayer to undergird the ministry of pastors and their wives. The sessions at the Phoenix Convention Center will be held June 11-12, prior to the SBC's June 13-14 annual meeting there. The 12 conference preachers pastor churches ranging in size from 60 to 500 worship attendees.

Pastors' Conference President Dave Miller told Baptist Press larger churches traditionally have helped fund the event. This year, however, conference costs have been covered by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary's Caskey Center for Church Excellence and other sponsors, freeing the conference's traditional sponsors to help in a new way.

"We decided to ask these churches and others to contribute in a different way," Miller, pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa, said in written comments. "Why not help smaller and average churches, who cannot afford to send their pastors to Phoenix, to do so? God has provided for the Pastors' Conference, so we are asking people to help by sending smaller and average church pastors who couldn't afford to come."

Churches that contribute to the scholarships will be recognized at the Pastors' Conference and in the event program, according to the SBC Voices blog post, written by conference leadership team member Brent Hobbs.

Pastors can apply for the scholarships at beginning Monday, April 10 at 11 a.m. Eastern Time.

"Applicants will be asked a series of questions to make sure they qualify for the scholarship," wrote Hobbs, pastor of New Song Fellowship in Virginia Beach, Va. "Those who qualify will be awarded on a first-come basis until the funds are exhausted."

To qualify for a scholarship, applicants must pastor churches with average worship attendance of fewer than 200 people, and the congregations they lead must be "either unable or unwilling to fund expenses" for Pastors' Conference attendance, Hobbs wrote.

"By 'unable' we mean that the church doesn't have enough money to feasibly fund needed expenses for a trip to Phoenix," Hobbs wrote. "By 'unwilling' we mean the church has the funds and the pastor has asked for convention expenses to be covered, but the church has refused the request."

The scholarship money may be used for travel, hotel, meals, book purchases and any other convention-related resources. Scholarship recipients must agree to attend all sessions of the Pastors' Conference and SBC annual meeting. Recipients who end up not traveling to Phoenix must return the full $1,000 award, according to SBC Voices.

Miller credited the conference leadership team, including fellow officers Paul Smith and Toby Frost, with taking the lead to make scholarships a reality after Miller raised the idea based on a friend's suggestion.

"I hope that the Pastors' Conference and the annual meeting will be blessings to us all," Miller said. "If we can get men there for the first time, maybe they will decide to come back time and again. Perhaps their involvement will increase through the years."