By Brian Koonce
HANNIBAL – More than 125 people from northeast Missouri gathered at Calvary Baptist Church here for the second in a series of regional evangelism conferences.
The state-wide “main event” was Jan. 25-26 at First Baptist, Branson, and there have been regional, one-day conferences in St. Joseph and Hannibal. (The final one took place March 9 at Miner Baptist Church in Sikeston.)
Gary Taylor, director of evangelism for the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), said the regional format is working well, allowing people to drive in and return home in one day without booking a hotel room.
“It’s exceeding our expectations, especially in the breakout sessions,” he said. “I did not imagine we would have more than 100 but it looks like people are hungry for that practical training.”
Ken Hemphill, national strategist for Empowering Kingdom Growth for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), has been the featured speaker at the regional conferences. He challenged attendees with “life’s one-question final exam: Who do you say Jesus is?”
Hemphill’s answer came from Col. 1:13-22, with a look at the nature of Christ, especially as head of the Church.
“This is His Church, not our church,” he said.
Hemphill also took issue with the way many think about evangelism.
“We’ve made evangelism a program of the church,” he said. “The problem with that is it becomes ‘someone else’s program’ to be involved in. ‘My program is to sing in the choir, evangelism can be his program.’ It’s not a program; it’s a privilege of the believer!”
Representing the younger generations, Paul Purvis, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Forsyth, brought a challenge from the last chapter of Acts.
“We need to stop thinking of this as merely a historical account,” he said. “We must look at how our lives compare and then find out how to proceed.”
The answer, Purvis said, is to simply and boldly “go.”
“I’ve got news for you, Missouri Baptists, our time is limited,” he said. “The task is unfinished. What will you do? We have to ask the question, ‘Who’s going to write Acts 29 in my little corner of the world?’”
The designated “veteran” of the event, Ralph Sawyer, senior pastor of First Baptist, Wentzville, and a former president of the MBC, said Missouri Baptists must not be ashamed of the Gospel, that they must be ambassadors for Christ. Starting at 2 Cor. 5, He likened Christians to the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
“The Saints were the ambassadors of the city of New Orleans, but for many years they weren’t good ambassadors,” Sawyer said. “Fans wore bags over their heads because they were ashamed. But something changed in recent years. Now the Saints were bringing hope and life to a city that had been through so much. Well, we are ambassadors of Christ to a lost world, but we are often shameful to the One we represent. The world needs ambassadors to bring the message of the only One who can reconcile us to God, our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Evangelist and Member of Tower Grove, St. Louis, Jim McNeil gave the “testimony of Jesus” through a memorized sampling of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John detailing Jesus’s life: His birth, adolescence, baptism, ministry, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. After quoting scripture for 40 minutes, McNeil summarized the passages with just 10 words of his own:
“Jesus is the Son of God. I love Him. Amen.”