Effective evangelism draws focus at Pastors' Conf.
Tuesday, Jun 14, 2016
ST. LOUIS, Missouri (BP) -- The 2016 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors' Conference continued with exposition of 2 Timothy 4:5-6 during afternoon and evening sessions June 13.
Five speakers further explained the words of the apostle Paul, urging pastors to "do the work of an evangelist and fulfill your ministry." The conference preceded the SBC annual meeting in America's Center in St. Louis.
Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, urged Pastors' Conference attendees to fulfill their ministry calling, to be faithful, to be fruitful in their efforts, and to finish well. They way to accomplish these tasks is to "do the work of an evangelist," Graham said.
Basing his message from 2 Timothy 4:5-8, Graham offered 10 principle ways to create an evangelistic environment and culture within the local church, including: evangelism begins with the pastor; an invitational culture should be encouraged and developed within a church; authenticity is critical; the power of the Gospel must be trusted; do whatever it takes to reach people for Christ; train believers to share their faith; give a public invitation; baptize believers as often as you can; engage in event evangelism, and participate in mission trips and church planting.
"Pastors and people in ministry are called to ... keep showing up and being faithful," Graham said, emphasizing his point about pastors setting the tone for the evangelistic climate of their churches. "It all starts with us -- with our attitude, our holy ambitions, and the enthusiasm, eagerness and passion to preach the Word and to do the work of an evangelist."
Graham noted evangelism should permeate the atmosphere of a church. The ideology of it is more caught than taught, he said, so a high expectation should be set for church members to be invitational.
Additionally, Graham called for petty differences to be put aside when working to share the Gospel within a community.
"The time is now to come together -- to do away with the distractions and divisions, to set aside petty differences -- and get on our knees, get together, and get people to Jesus," he said.
When it comes to evangelism being carried out in the local church, Graham exhorted the group: "You gotta finish. Live this! (Evangelism) is our life; it is our legacy. I'm not interested in leaving a legacy; I'm interested in living a legacy and doing what God has called me to do."
Southern Baptist churches should develop new strategies for evangelism to reach an unbelieving world, said Ed Stetzer, who was appointed in May as executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill.
"Brothers and sisters, Jesus' last words have to be our first priority," Stetzer said of the Great Commission, the biblical mandate to evangelize unbelievers. "And yet, our evangelism effectiveness continues to decline."
The church has become increasingly ineffective despite an unchurched community that is largely willing to listen to the Christian message, he said.
According to LifeWay Research, 89 percent of unchurched people in their 20s say they are willing to listen to someone explain Christianity, while most Protestant churchgoers have never told anyone how to become a Christian, Stetzer said. Stetzer spent nine years at LifeWay, most recently as executive director of LifeWay Research and will assume his post at Wheaton on July 1.
"We have a nation with open hearts and a church with closed mouths," he said.
Southern Baptist evangelism strategies that were widely effective in the 1950s no longer work, Stetzer said, and Southern Baptist churches need to change their approach. Southern Baptist churches need to reevaluate how they "do church," Stetzer said, or risk losing their place in God's plan for the universal church.
"God has not promised a future to Southern Baptists, he has promised a future to His church," Stetzer said. "The question is: Will we be part of the future of His church? Or will we ourselves embrace the inevitable decline that will come if we refuse to change?"
Kicking off the Monday evening session of the Pastors' Conference, Jimmy Scroggins, pastor of Family Church (formerly First Baptist) in West Palm Beach, Fla., drew a sharp contrast between his previous ministry in Kentucky and that in South Florida, "way below the Bible Belt."
The "multicultural, multigenerational and multi-campus church" is "seeing people saved" and has been identified as the ninth fastest growing church in the United States, Scroggins said.
"Yet we are not making a dent in the millions and millions of lost people in South Florida," he said. "And as a Southern Baptist family, we are not making a dent in millions and millions of lost persons in the world."
He cited 2 Timothy 4:6, saying as Paul entered the last days of his ministry, after having poured himself out in the race of evangelism, much like a sacrificial drink offering, he passes the baton to Timothy.
Paul is giving Southern Baptists the same message, Scroggins said, "to pour ourselves out."
He urged Southern Baptists to pour themselves into gospel conversations, gospel congregations, and gospel prayers. Millions of Southern Baptists must have millions of gospel conversations, Scroggins said.
"Let us see something in our generation," he said. "Let us be poured out for the sake of Jesus Christ."
Preaching on "Enthusiastically Reaching My Journey's End" from 2 Timothy 4:6, Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., declared, "If I'm still alive, then God's not through with me."
In 2 Timothy, the apostle Paul, knowing he was in his final season of life, wrote to Timothy that his life was "being poured out as a drink offering," the final act in the Old Testament sacrificial ceremony outlined in Numbers 15. Paul wanted to encourage Timothy "in what he already knew" about continuing in obedience to God, Hunt said.
"It's not the truth we know that changes us; it's the truth we obey," Hunt said, adding that Christians should desire to hear God tell them, "well done," rather than "well known," when appearing before God's judgment seat.
"It's a long way from here to where God wants to take you," he said.
Hunt closed his message by referring to Joshua 14:7-12. When Caleb, at 85 years old, was near his life's end, "He still wanted (then) what he wanted when he started," Hunt explained.
"It's not the promises you've made to God that are important; it's the promises God has made to you," Hunt said.
A strong call for revival was Greg Laurie's message to pastors in his keynote address closing the 2016 Pastors' Conference Monday night, saying that believers want to see an awakening in America, but that revival must first start in the church and among church leaders.
Laurie is senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., and recently led what is reported to be the largest single presentation of the Gospel in American history in Dallas. According to Harvest America, the event drew more than 350,000 people to the live event and related webcasts, and more than 25,000 professions of faith were recorded.
"God is giving our country some wake-up calls," Laurie told the pastors. "But it is not going to be solved by politicians. Are we going to wake up and pay attention?"
Laurie said that we often use the words "awakening" and "revival" interchangeably. He noted, however there is a difference between the two, saying that awakening happens in a church, and revival happens to a nation.
"We point our fingers to D.C., and to Hollywood, but the breakdown is in God's house," he said, telling pastors that he was praying for "stunning spiritual awakening."
Laurie noted that the church never "defaults to quality, always to mediocrity," and challenged pastors to recognize that the church, and pastors in particular, have fallen asleep. "Revival is waking up from sleep. And when you are sleeping, you don't even recognize that you are asleep," he said. "But nothing can happen through you until it happens to you. We must ourselves be revived."
He encouraged pastors to recommit themselves to preaching the Gospel and to giving clear, concise, public invitations. "It will excite your people when they see people walking forward and accepting Christ," Laurie said. "We can evangelize or we can fossilize."
Laurie said as we begin to look forward to a revival in our nation, we must have a sense of expectancy, and we must begin to apply "revival principles" in our churches today. He told pastors we must teach the Word of God, have people participate in worship, have people bring non-believers to our churches and extend invitations, and we must believe that Christ is coming back.
"Stories of revivals spark revivals," Laurie said. "Can we see it again? How desperate are we? Do we really want it that bad?"
Dave Miller, senior pastor of Southern Hill Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa, was elected president of the 2017 Pastors' Conference in Phoenix. Paul Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church of Chandler, Ariz., was elected vice president, and Toby Frost, pastor of South Main Baptist Church, Greenwood, S.C., was elected treasurer.
Andrew J.W. Smith of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary compiled this article with reporting by Pat Hudson of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Barbara Denman of Florida Baptist Convention; Margaret Colson of Baptist Communicators Association, and Marc Ira Hooks of the Collin Baptist Association in the northeast Dallas area.