Willis challenges MBC staff to bear much fruit
JEFFERSON CITY – “Are you willing to pick up your cross daily and follow Jesus?” asked Avery Willis to the Missouri Baptist Convention staff Feb. 7. “That is the only way you will become a true disciple.
Willis served as pastor of three churches in Oklahoma and Texas for 10 years before serving with his wife, Shirley, and their children as missionaries to Indonesia for 14 years. He may be best known for creating the MasterLife discipleship materials in Indonesia while serving as the president of the Indonesian Baptist Theological Seminary. During the next 15 years it was translated into more than 50 languages and used in more than 100 countries while he led the adult discipleship department for LifeWay Christian Resources. He then served 10 years as senior vice president for the International Mission Board.
Willis spent most of his time in John 15, where Christ compares Himself to the “true vine” and his followers as the branches. In order to be disciples, they must bear fruit. If a branch does not bear fruit, the gardener, the Father, will cut it off.
“It’s all about that relationship of acceptance and forgiveness,” he said. “You cannot bear fruit as a Christian unless you maintain that relationship with Jesus, unless you are part of the Vine. This is the way God is glorified; the way you bear much fruit. So staying connected to the vine is the key to bearing whether you bear no fruit, some fruit, more fruit and then much fruit. Which one are you? The empty basket that needs to be trimmed or the vine that is heavy with grapes?”
Willis said that while he had been a Christian for many years, he did not begin to be a true disciple until his years as a student at Oklahoma Baptist University.
“The Lord began to speak to me and I realized that I was a nominal Christian,” he said. “I was a good Southern Baptist, my father was a pastor, I went to church five times a week and I tithed, but I was a nominal Christian. I wasn’t denying myself and taking up my cross daily. Finally I came to a critical decision: either I was going to be a real disciple of Christ or I would be a mediocre Christian all my life. I knew those were the stakes.
“I gave God all the excuses we all give, but the Lord gave me a verse: II Chronicles 16:9. ‘For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.’ God is looking all over for someone with a perfect heart toward Him. We can’t be perfect because of our sin, but I think He’s asking for someone who is so obedient they’ll do anything the Lord will tell them to do, whenever, wherever and however He tells them to do it. He’s looking for somebody – no, anybody – who is willing to fully surrender. God says that when he finds that person, that ‘[He] will show [His] strength on their behalf’ and they will bear much fruit.”