January 14, 2003
SPRINGFIELD — Southern Baptists often criticize the worldly ways practiced by members of college fraternities and sororities. In many instances, the criticism is justified.
Several years ago, however, Scott Watson, minister of youth/college at First Baptist, Springfield, decided to take a different approach. Rather than disparage the "Greeks," he decided to recognize their good side by having "Greek Day" at the church.
For Watson, it became a matter of putting into practice the old Baptist cliché about "Jesus loving the sinner, not the sin."
And Watson’s approach today is paying dividends.
First Baptist scheduled its 14th annual Greek Day before students went home for the Christmas holidays. The result was about 1,500 members of the Greek communities at Southwest Missouri State University and Drury College, both located here, filling the First Baptist auditorium for a worship service in which 138 students came forward at invitation time to receive Christ.
"It was the most incredible day … a great day where God visited with us. I wasn’t really surprised, but it was really neat to see it unfold," Watson recalled. "It definitely wasn’t church as usual. These young people came from different churches and different denominations. Some had no denomination and no church."
The theme for Greek Day – 2002 was "More Than Sticks."
The logo consisted of nothing more than four stick characters, promoting the idea that college students are more than stick people.
"What we were saying to them was that when God made you, he made you more than a stick person. He put a heart in you to know you. When Jesus died on the cross, he died for people with hearts, not just stick people. People with names and faces," Watson said.
Joe White, founder and head of Kanakuk Camp in Branson, spoke to the Greeks. White got everyone’s attention when he entered from back of the traditional-style auditorium, struggling under the weight of a 14-foot log on his shoulder. White carried the log to the platform where he used a double-bit axe to fashion a cross.
Playing the role of the person who manufactured crosses for Roman crucifixions, White ridiculed Jesus for claiming to be the Son of God while chopping out a slot for the cross’ horizontal beam. White said he would be sure to be present on Friday to watch Jesus die and would also return on Sunday to see if He kept His promise about overcoming death.
"And it happened! It happened!" White shouted.
"Much to the surprise and disappointment … of tens of thousands of cynics, he (Jesus) is hardly forgotten," White continued. "We’re told today that 176,000 people in the world every day become followers of this man."
As a part of the invitation, White picked up a five-gallon bucket of chain links and asked all who wanted to link themselves to the cross to come and take one of the links from the bucket. Scores of the sorority and fraternity members streamed to the front to take one of the links.
"This was the most graphic sermon I ever heard," Watson said. "I even heard one missionary say he had never seen a service that was so memorable. We’re getting calls from around the state, asking for a video so they can see the service."
A church as far away as Columbia, S.C., has copied First Baptist’s idea of a special day for the Greek community.
Getting the special day off the ground in Springfield 14 years ago was not without some opposition.
"We heard a little criticism at first, but when our members saw the results, they have been completely supportive," Watson said. "The criticism only happened our first year.
"Understandably, the people were concerned about what the students stood for. It was a little threatening to them to have students come to a service where we recognized them. These students may have some things they are known for and stereotyped for but, in reality, these students are leaders on campus and accomplish things that a lot of churches could not do."