FIRST-PERSON: Making evangelism good news again
Soon someone is saved that shocks the city. Then another. And another. Then like a mighty wave, it spreads throughout North America and around the world. Thousands, then millions are saved. Culture is changed. History is shaped. The course of wars and the state of entire nations is altered. It is front page news everywhere.
What a dream, huh? Actually, it is not a dream, but a history lesson. It all began 150 years ago on Sept. 23, 1857, at the Dutch Reformed Church on Fulton Street in New York City. One man, a businessman and lay missionary, Jeremiah Lanphier had put up flyers inviting the men of the city to gather and pray at noon. For some 30 minutes no one showed at all and he prayed alone. But then five men joined him. They refused to give up. In the weeks ahead others joined them, but nothing could have prepared them for the flood that was about to occur. Within just a few months there were as many as 50,000 in the city alone praying daily for revival. Women joined in as well and from the very beginning, it was stated in writing that all races were welcome -- amazing for that time.
In the days ahead the movement spread across the continent. Entire books have been written about the effect it had on this country. It continued even into the Civil War and was certainly a factor in sustaining the country through that horrible time. It spread from this country to others and the amazing Christian movement in Korea today and in many other places is the lasting legacy of what God did. By most estimates, in 1858, more than 1 million unreached people were saved and baptized into evangelical churches.
Southern Baptists have talked a lot about baptizing a million. We long for it. We work for it. We set goals for it. But do we pray for it? I mean really pray as if we believe that God wants to do it again? And are we willing for Him to bring the changes that revival brings? God changes everything He touches, but for many Southern Baptist churches, change is a dirty word -– especially if it involves changing the things that we personally enjoy.
Are we willing for God to change the way we worship? Are we willing for God to break down our racial barriers? Are willing for our churches to grow so much that we don’t recognize the church we were comfortable with? Are we willing to see our pastors and leaders focus far more on the unreached than on our own needs? Are we willing to see God work across denominational lines, since there has never been a national revival among only one denomination? And most of all, are we willing to believe God again? God called us to the Great Commission. He promised us His power in Acts 1:8 if we will obey that commission. And He promised us that He will “do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). Will we believe this and act on it as a people? Will we be the church again? I believe that we will. I can sense a turning among the people called Southern Baptists. I pray -– and I believe that I will see it with my eyes. Will you join me in that prayer and that belief?
At the North American Mission Board we have just produced a video about the 1857-58 awakening. It is short, but we believe it can be a great tool for you and your church to understand what God has done in the past and to get ready for Him to move in power again. Would you download the video and watch it? Simply visit www.namb.net/FultonStreet and it will automatically play. You can also download it to your computer by clicking on the link under the video. You may burn as many DVDs as you need without any restriction. Then do all you can to see that this is shown in your church and in prayer groups and everywhere else you can think. And then act! Do what God leads you to do. Join Him where He is working. Schedule prayer conferences in your own areas or go to the 150th anniversary event in New York City in September. Just believe God. Then let’s see if 2007 could be the year that we remember as the beginning of something big -– something bigger than we can imagine or do in our own strength. Then maybe we will see God Himself make evangelism good news again.
John Avant is vice president for evangelization at the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.