Passion for lost focus of evangelism meeting
ARNOLD—The State Evangelism Conference at First Baptist Church here Jan. 28-29 was all about trying to restore a passion for sharing the Gospel that quite obviously is lacking.
The numbers don’t lie. With the 2007 baptism total plummeting to 11,071, the level of immersions is as low as it has been since 1943. For five consecutive years, baptisms have fallen.
World War II was a long time ago. Passion is now a precious commodity in Missouri Baptist life. Water in the desert is rare. Methods of finding water in such a place can sometimes sound extreme, like when one speaker urged folks to “quit evangelizing” and start to simply “be the people of God.”
Jimmy Kinnaird, North American Mission Board (NAMB) personal and event evangelism manager, chose to preach on the cross. Christ achieved two very important things there, Kinnaird said. His cross satisfied the righteous justice of God, and His cross keeps on providing complete salvation for every believer.
He broke out the word “propitiation” and instructed people not to fear it. Propitiation as found in Romans 3:25 describes the sacrifice that bears God’s wrath against sin and turns God’s wrath into favor. This is Christ. This is God doing something that is horrific, courageous and loving. Passion, then, is restored in the life of the believer by means of the outcome.
The cross should be the sum of our boasting, and the cross should be the subject of our witness, he said. The sequence of restored passion is appreciation, gratitude, responsibility, and a concern for the lost. “Let’s get to it,” Kinnaird said.
Bob Caldwell, pastor of outreach for the host church, spoke highly of the integrity of Elijah, who was totally dependent on God. Elijah had the power of God, Caldwell said, and he also managed to communicate constantly with God without falling into a pattern of lying.
Gary Hollingsworth, pastor, Immanuel Baptist Church, Little Rock, Ark., reminded attendees that the Great Commission is in all four Gospels. He quoted Matt. 28:18-20, Mark 16:15-18, Luke 24:47, and John 3:16 in a manner that emphasized the mission of every believer is to be passionate about the lost. White-hot zeal for the elect among the 1.6 billion lost souls who do not have access to the Gospel in 2008 ought to restore the passion in every believer and create an overwhelming sense of urgency, he said.
“Wherever you are, you preach the Gospel and let God do the work,” Hollingsworth said.
Sammy Gilbreath, state evangelism director for the Alabama Baptist State Convention, preached twice, sprinkling his messages with humor even as he delved into some very serious content.
In the closing message Jan. 28, he told about how his heart is literally dying and that because of his “Sudden Heart Failure Syndrome” he has learned to live like he is dying.
“Passion is no problem when you believe that today is the last day you’ll ever have,” he said.
He talked about how he has had to prepare his wife, Carol, and their two children for his death, getting various documents in order and planning his funeral. He has been told that the only way he can survive is to receive a heart transplant, which is precisely what happens spiritually in the life of a lost person when he is born again. A special DVD which can be purchased at www.HeartTransplants.us for $2.50 was shown in which Dr. Clay Burnett, a heart surgeon, shares the Gospel.
“God, I pray it would be a new day, with a new passion like we’ve never known before,” Gilbreath prayed in the midst of the Monday night invitation.
The next day he preached out of Luke 4 and 5, where Jesus defined the priority of his purpose, where he demonstrated the power of his presence, and where he demanded participation in a program. “Catching people” (Luke 5:10) is accomplished through evangelism and biblical discipleship where converts are taught to obey and to put into practice the principles of spiritual growth.
Reggie McNeal, missional leadership specialist for Leadership Network of Dallas, came with a message to “quit evangelizing.” By that he meant that “the world today requires that we have a demonstration of the Gospel in order for a proclamation of the Gospel to make any sense.”
Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) baptism statistics, while depressing, mirror those from other state conventions, McNeal said. He described this phenomenon as “the collapse of the church culture.” What is needed is a different way to witness where the church goes to the people by means of a Great Commission type of animal that is about as common right now in North America as the kangaroo.
Based on Genesis 12, where God blessed Abraham so he could bless all families of the earth, McNeal said an excellent way to evangelize in 2008 would be to plot and apply how to bless the lost. In the process, an environment can be created in Missouri where people can get to know the God who blesses. For example, asking the question “Can I pray for you?” would be a way to get this new animal bouncing on the streets, he said.
“I’m talking about intentional acts of kindness that demonstrate the heart of God,” McNeal said.
The final speaker, Fred Luter of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, told of how he, as a displaced pastor, is trusting God these days even as he hopes to return in March to a rebuilt sanctuary. He expressed his gratitude to Missouri Baptists for giving of their time, labor, and money in various relief efforts in Louisiana.
“I just wanted to, from my heart, thank each and every one of you,” Luter said.
He preached that restoring a passion for the Gospel in the New Testament was connected to waiting for the Father’s promise (Acts 1:4).
“You need to know that there’s a blessing in waiting,” Luter said.
Lifting up the Lord Jesus Christ is our purpose, Luter preached.
“That’s how the early church did it,” he said.
Before Luter spoke, Iris Blue of Lucas, Texas, delivered a testimony of God’s potent grace that is sufficient to conquer even the vilest sins of life.
MBC State Evangelism Director Gary Taylor closed the conference by praying for an anointing of God to help Missouri Baptists see 13,071 baptisms in 2008. Taylor, who came on staff last April, was pleased with how his first state evangelism conference turned out.
MBC Interim Executive Director David Tolliver agreed that the conference was good.
“It gave us opportunities for inspiration as well as instruction,” he said.
A total of 800 registered for the conference, which is 50 more than the 2007 conference in Springfield. The numbers are down from 1,301 registrants in 2006 and 1,030 in 2005.
One of the Jan. 28 highlights was a special time of prayer for young leaders (under age 40). They lined up at the altar and older men and women came forward to lay hands on them as leaders on the platform prayed.
Charles Billingsley, worship pastor for Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., led worship both days, assisted by his pianist and the choir and orchestra of the host church.
The 2009 State Evangelism Conference will be held Jan. 26-27 at Second Baptist Church, Springfield.