FROM THE STATES: Texas and Alabama evangelism/mission news; Churches must refocus on 'telling,' panel says
Today's From the States features items from:
Southern Baptist Texan
Evangelism panel: Churches
must refocus on 'telling'
By David Roach
IRVING, Texas (Southern Baptist Texan) -- A recurring theme emerged during a panel discussion March 5 at the Empower Evangelism Conference in Irving: Churches need to refocus on telling the lost about Jesus, regardless of which evangelistic method they use.
"The issue is whether we'll be part of what God is doing or sit on the sidelines and watch," Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., said. "If our hearts are right, any strategy will work ... It will work because we have a love for Christ and lost people that compels us to share."
Along with Akin, the panel included Ronnie Hill, a vocational evangelist from Fort Worth; David Wheeler, evangelism professor at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Va.; and Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research in Nashville, Tenn. SBTC Evangelism Director Nathan Lorick moderated.
The recent decline in baptisms among Southern Baptist churches is due partly to demographics, Stetzer said, noting that many SBC congregations are in areas where the population is stagnant or declining. But part of the problem is also a lack of witnessing, he said.
"The promise of the Conservative Resurgence was that we would eventually agree on enough together that could we go reach the world for Jesus," Stetzer said. "I'm ready for that to happen."
Reversing the decline "is not going to happen on a seminary or LifeWay level," he added. "Churches have to say, 'We've been redeemed. This is worth telling.' Southern Baptists need to tell the old story all over again."
Though some argue door-to-door witnessing no longer works, panelists said it is still a viable method of evangelism, with Southerners being more open to home visits than people in any other region, Stetzer said.
Hill has been doing door-to-door witnessing for 10 years "and it still works," he said, "but with organization. You've got to plan. But we've had results and we've seen people saved."
Wheeler recommended combining servant evangelism with knocking on neighbors' doors. He said service has created witnessing opportunities with his own neighbors, some of whom recently committed their lives to Christ. By giving them apple dumplings, raking leaves in their yard and performing other acts of service, he and his wife drove them to ask the motivation for such kindness—a perfect door for sharing Jesus, he said.
"Adopt five to 10 neighbors," Wheeler said. "Start praying and ask God to give you opportunities to serve them."
In terms of mass evangelism, panelists agreed that preachers must extend an invitation for people to repent of their sins and trust Christ for salvation. But they said an invitation must not always involve people walking to the front of a room to indicate commitment to Jesus.
"I don't always ask people to come forward," Akin said. "You don't have to change geographic space to get them to respond. But I give an invitation when I do a wedding or a funeral. I teach students that when given an opportunity to speak to lost people, you're guilty of ministerial malpractice if you don't present the gospel and invite people to respond."
Hill said a "come-forward invitation" is his preferred method of inviting people to trust Christ for salvation because it allows someone to counsel and pray with a new convert. He also advocated baptizing new believers as quickly as possible.
One key to evangelistic invitations is not manipulating people, Wheeler said. But in an effort not to manipulate, some Christians have overcorrected by stopping invitations altogether, he said.
Another point of agreement among panelists was the usefulness of vocational evangelists in the postmodern era. Stetzer noted that "the revival is a newer phenomenon than the gift of the evangelist" and said all churches don't have to hold revival meetings. But Scripture commands evangelists to equip churches for the work of ministry, he said, and evangelists should train believers how to share their faith.
"We need more evangelists functioning in our churches than ever before," he said.
On the question of how to begin an evangelistic conversation, the panelists said Christians should not always use the same lead-in to the gospel but discover a lost person's needs and speak authentically.
Wheeler cited Jesus' conversation with the woman at the well as an example of how to relate to a non-believer interpersonally before delving into sin, repentance and faith.
"It's not the cutesy little lines," Wheeler said. "It's the authenticity. The woman at the well wanted to know who Jesus was because a man hadn't looked at her who didn't want something from her," but Jesus was willing "to engage" and "affirm her humanity."
In the end, every church does not need to have the same evangelistic strategy, but every church must do something to reach lost people for Christ, panelists said, even if that means diverting energy and resources away from other worthy programs.
"We have churches that are really, really, really busy doing lots of good, good, good things, but to the neglect of the most important things," Akin said. "And I would rather see our churches do less and do the most important things better than do many things and do many things well and leave the most important things neglected."
This article appeared in the Southern Baptist Texan (texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. David Roach is a freelancer for the Southern Baptist Texan. With reporting by Tammi Ledbetter.
'Thrilling' Evangelism Conference
draws big crowd, online viewers
By Grace Thornton and Julie Payne
TRUSSVILLE, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) -- "Alabama Baptists are not dead yet."
Sammy Gilbreath made that declaration with a smile to a full house at First Baptist Church, Trussville, on the opening night of the State Evangelism Conference.
"I pray the record books will record that revival broke out from Mobile to Huntsville, Gadsden to Tuscaloosa; that churches once declining are now standing straight and tall, and it all started with a group at First Baptist Church, Trussville, on a Monday night," said Gilbreath, director of the office of evangelism for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.
The conference, held Feb. 25–26, drew a crowd of more than 1,000. More than 500 also watched online. And those present weren't a quiet crowd — the house resounded with amens, applause, comments and loud singing as a range of speakers and musicians challenged them to be the Church and reach the lost.
"A lot of churches today are hiding out," said Jonathan Falwell, senior pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church, Lynchburg, Va.
Many Baptists got used to the "glory days" of the Southern Baptist Convention, when people were "coming out of the woodwork" to get saved and Baptists had to build bigger churches, Falwell said.
"They were coming and coming and coming, and they're not coming anymore. Why not? Because we kept expecting them to come and we forgot somewhere along the way that we're supposed to go," he said.
The uttermost parts of the earth are never found within the walls of the church, Falwell said.
"When we are walking with God, talking with Him, learning from Him and passionately sharing Him with everyone ... that's when the church stops being stoppable and starts being the Church," he said.
Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, said the Church first began to see its mission when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, an event found in Acts 2:1–13.
It's a power-filled moment the Church needs to get back to, he said. "We don't need gadgets [and] we don't need schemes. We need Kingdom power."
With Kingdom power, a movement begins, he said.
"You not only see the movement born, you see the advance of the movement occur -- the kingdom of God began to advance in the Spirit of God through the Church of God around the world when those people left the city of Jerusalem."
Floyd told the audience that God wants to "use you to take His message" to every people group, both internationally and locally.
Robert Smith, professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School of Samford University in Birmingham, added that God has been for the redemption of all nations from the very beginning, as evidenced by the story of Rahab the prostitute.
As recorded in Joshua 2, Rahab saved the Israelite spies in Jericho by letting them out of the city through her window, and as a result, they saved her whole family when Israel destroyed the city.
"Rahab shows us a different kind of ecclesiology. She didn't know Galatians 3:28 -- that was about 1,400 years later," Smith said. "But she did experience that in Christ there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free."
She risked her life to save the Israelite spies because of what she had heard about their God, and for that faith she is commended in Hebrews 11:31. So Rahab -- a "mess" -- lived with Israel and became part of the genealogy of Christ, Smith said.
"She is commended for her faith and yet can't shake that designation (of being a prostitute)," he said. "But she makes her mess her message. Her faith is real, but it is flawed. We are all growing in grace."
And all believers can experience the provision of God as the spies did, Smith said. "When people close doors on you, God can open a window."
Christians need to be willing to ask persistently for Him to do just that, said William Rice, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Clearwater, Fla.
Rice spoke of Jesus' story beginning in Luke 11:5 about the person who knocks on a neighbor's door at midnight and asks for three loaves of bread. The neighbor gives the bread, not because of friendship but because of that person's shameless audacity, Rice said.
In Luke 18, Jesus tells a similar story about a judge who first refuses to grant a widow justice against her adversary, but after her continued requests the judge finally gives her what she asks for. Rice said Jesus tells this story because He "wants you to pray and wants you ... to keep on praying and to never give up praying."
"God is eager to answer your prayer," Rice said. He explained that unlike the characters in the two passages, God "is eager to open a door for you."
"When will we be desperate (enough) to ask and keep on asking and seek and keep on seeking and knock and keep on knocking till our final breath ... for God's (work) to be done? It's that audacity, it's that faith, that Jesus is looking for in us," Rice said.
He is also looking for a people, a church sold out to Him as their Lord, said Herb Reavis Jr., pastor of North Jacksonville Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fla.
"What needs to happen is a Holy Ghost revival where God's people get on the altar and give up their lives," he said. "It's about getting out of the way and letting Jesus take charge and take us where He wants to go."
Jesus doesn't want to be your co-pilot -- He wants to be your pilot, Reavis said.
"This false way of looking at the Christian life has infected way too many of our people," he said. "They see Jesus as hell insurance and shove Him in a closet somewhere as if He's a fire extinguisher and just hope you never have to use it."
Salvation is a gift, Reavis said, but Jesus can't be Savior without also being Lord.
"Time is growing near. The end is coming. The answer is Jesus Christ," he said. "And what God needs is a man or woman who dares to abandon themselves fully to the lordship of Jesus."
That man or woman will be the bearer of good news to a world with no hope, said Dan Lanier, pastor of Northcrest Baptist Church, Meridian, Miss.
"In a world filled with discouragement, disillusionment and doubt, we need to herald the good news," he said. "We should be living for the other world, because we are pilgrims passing through."
We are to be in the business of reaching people for Jesus, Lanier said.
"Folks, there is something better than what we have here," he said, telling those present that heaven is real and "beyond our comprehension."
"Let's go and tell every man, woman, boy and girl that there is One who is mighty to save," Lanier said.
This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Grace Thornton is assistant editor of The Alabama Baptist. Julie Payne is a news writer for The Alabama Baptist.
'Death of discipleship'
reason for SBC's nosedive, Kelley says
By Jennifer Davis Rash
TRUSSVILLE, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) -- Southern Baptists may indeed be planning their own funeral as a convention if something doesn't change and change soon.
Chuck Kelley didn't use those exact words, but the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary president sent that message to the more than 1,000 Alabama Baptists attending the opening session of the State Evangelism Conference at First Baptist Church, Trussville, on Feb. 25.
"On the whole our Great Commission momentum as a convention has disappeared," Kelley said during his "State of evangelism in the SBC" sermon. Even while the convention spent two years talking about the Great Commission Resurgence, "we died on the vine," he noted.
It all comes down to discipleship, or rather the lack of, Kelley explained.
"The most significant and influential death in the modern history of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was the death of our discipleship program.
"We are like the grandchildren of farmers keeping harvest stories alive over coffee and dessert at family reunions," he said.
Pointing to baptism numbers from the 1940s and 1950s when Southern Baptists were untouchable, Kelley explained that the evangelistic growth during the "greatest" era happened because most Southern Baptist churches had more discipleship activities than evangelism activities.
"Aggressive evangelism was matched by aggressive discipleship. We were disciplistic (a word created by Kelley to mean an evangelistic discipleship that continually seeks to incorporate both evangelism and discipleship at the same time)."
The emphasis on discipleship began to fade in the 1960s and has dropped steadily since then.
"We should have paid more attention to our discipleship process," he said. "As time went by and the world changed, that biblical worldview inspiring evangelistic discipleship dropped between SBC generations. The heart for evangelism remained strong, but the concern for discipleship was significantly weakened.
"Time had its impact. It always does."
Kelley pointed out that Southern Baptists have more of everything -- churches, Baptists, ministries, missionaries, resources -- than they've ever had, but they are bearing less fruit.
"The focus of our attention has become more internal, inside the church, than external, in the field," he said.
It's not about methods or money or even the power of the gospel, Kelley said. "The Bible speaks little of methods. ... Having more money will not turn things around. ... The gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of incredible power still today."
So what is the problem?
"Discipleship is the crucial issue," he said, noting the typical Southern Baptist church is no longer anointed and Southern Baptists are distracted.
"Our behavior, the way we live our lives, is blending more and more with our culture," Kelley said. "Our problem is not that more of us don't witness to our neighbors. Our problem is that more of us do not look like and live like Jesus.
"If we do not produce children, youth and adults who live out a biblical worldview, no strategy for doing church will make us salt and light in the world," he said. "Baptist believers must be taught how to be the distinctive presence of Christ in the culture.
"In times past God has worked through our Southern Baptist churches in a mighty way. In times present God is not working in a mighty way through most of our churches," Kelley said. "How are we going to respond to this?"
Noting the "if my people ... pray" Scripture in 2 Chronicles 7:14–15 and showing a photo of the Western Wall of Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Kelley zeroed in on his closing point.
At the Western Wall, also known as the wailing wall, "Jews and pilgrims from all over the world come to see and weep over what was lost and pray that one day all will be restored," he said.
"If [Southern Baptists] do not respond, if we continue on this road we are traveling, there is only one question left: To what wall will our children and grandchildren go to weep and remember what Southern Baptists once were?
"There is no silver bullet," Kelley said. "There is no plan of three things to do to turn your church around. There is no book I can put in your hand.
"There is only this: We pray about what we care about. If someone you know and love is in a crisis, you pray for them. If your church is facing a great crisis, you pray for it," he explained. "Question is: How many of us care?"
During a preconference dinner, Kelley shared five major shifts in Southern Baptist life to help Alabama Baptists dialogue about the future of the SBC. To watch the video, visit www.alsbom.org/resources/videos and select "Dinner with Chuck Kelley."
This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Jennifer Davis Rash is executive editor of The Alabama Baptist.