Last week I was in the Northeastern region of the United States. On Sept. 14, I was in Boston, giving the afternoon to meeting with pastors and leaders who are in the Greater Boston Baptist Association. After speaking briefly, I fielded their questions about the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) for over an hour.
That evening, I walked into a lecture room at the Harvard Law School, speaking to 200 students that filled the room to capacity. I had just received a tour of this historic campus that was founded in 1636 with the purpose to train ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. After having dinner in the Harvard Faculty Club, as guests of Daniel Cho and Rebekah Kim, both of whom are chaplains at Harvard and committed Southern Baptist leaders, I went to speak to these 200 students.
It was a surreal moment for Jeana and me – a boy, growing up in a Southern Baptist church of 30 to 40 people in a town of 5,000 people and a girl who was a preacher’s kid, whose mom and dad served Southern Baptist churches mostly in West Texas for 50 years.
Here we were at the Harvard Law School, walking into a lecture room filled with mostly Asian students from all over the world. Almost all were students at Harvard, but there were also a few from both MIT and Boston University.
Ronnie Floyd, SBC President
Many of them had already completed their bachelor’s degree and are working on their master’s or doctorate. Why did they want to hear me? One reason alone: prayer and spiritual awakening. When I got up to speak on “Lord, Do It in Our Generation,” their computers and iPads opened, and they vigorously took notes, even Googling historic figures I referenced along the way. We ended our time with 200 students and leaders calling out to God for the next great move of God to occur in our land, praying mostly that it would occur at Harvard.
Early the next morning, we drove three hours to Bennington, Vt., to speak in the chapel service of Northeastern Baptist College, a newly birthed college now in their third year. One of our own Executive Committee members, Mark Ballard, left a pastorate by faith, following a vision and a dream to begin a college that would equip ministers and laypeople to reach the Northeastern part of the United States for Jesus Christ. All of the capital cities of the New England states are within three hours of the college. Twenty percent of the American population lives within six and one-half hours of their campus. Most missiologists would verify that in the New England states, only 10 percent of the population would testify as fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. According to Mark Ballard, in the state of Vermont alone, that 10 percent could be lower than 2 percent of the population of that state.
Within 20 minutes of their campus is Williamstown, Mass. After having lunch with the board of trustees of the Northeastern Baptist College, we drove to Williamstown.
“We can do this, if we will.”
In 1806, there were five college students who had begun to pray twice a week for a mighty move of God to occur. The second Great Awakening had affected at least one of these five. College student Samuel Mills’ father had served as a pastor of a church that had been touched powerfully by this awakening. These five students of the Williams College in Williamstown had come together on a hot Saturday afternoon in August for their prayer meeting. They were going to discuss William Carey’s missionary manifesto, “An Enquiry Into the Obligations of Christians To Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.”
On their way to their prayer meeting, a major rainstorm began that was filled with wind, lightning and thunder. They ran to seek shelter and noticed a large haystack, which would provide them an opportunity to seek shelter from the wind, rain, and lightning. It was in that setting after discussing Carey’s missionary manifesto they went before God in prayer.
College student Samuel Mills proposed they would go on mission to India. While three of the five agreed with Mills to focus on reaching Asia, it was Harvey Loomis who believed deeply they must focus on reaching America first.
Listen carefully: From what is now known as the great Haystack Prayer Meeting, two years later in 1808 was the formulation of a group who became known as “The Brethren.” These five young men and others focused on praying and missions. After they had graduated, in 1810 they requested that a group send them to India as missionaries. The General Association of Massachusetts formed the first official missions organization in the United States in June of 1810. It was called the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.
By the way, Adoniram Judson and his wife as well as Luther Rice were some of the first missionaries commissioned and sent across the ocean by this new mission board. It was Judson who became known as the father of Baptist foreign missions.
It all began in a prayer meeting under a haystack.
We must remember that it really all goes back to the Haystack Prayer Meeting. After praying, these five young men sang a hymn together. It was then that Samuel Mills said loudly over the rain and the wind, “We can do this, if we will!” That moment changed those men forever. Many historians would tell you that all mission organizations trace their history back to the Haystack Prayer Meeting in some way. Yes, these men turned the world upside down. And it all began in a prayer meeting under a haystack.
At the place where this meeting occurred, a monument stands today commemorating this historic God moment. At the top of that monument is the phrase, “THE FIELD IS THE WORLD.” Underneath those words is the following statement: “The Birthplace of American Foreign Missions. 1806.” It all happened from a prayer meeting.
This reminds me of the words written in Acts 4:31, “When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God’s message with boldness.” Prayer, the power of God, evangelism, and missions all go together. We need to get ourselves back under the haystack!
Over the rain, wind, lightning and claps of thunder when Samuel Mills declared to the other four young men, “We can do this, if we will!” he saw something before anyone else saw it. He saw that THE FIELD IS THE WORLD.
What do you see?
Let me ask you, “What do you see?” Do you realize that eight different times in scripture, we read the words: “What do you see?” King Saul asked this question to a woman and seven times, God asked this question to three different prophets. He asked Jeremiah, Amos, and Zechariah, “What do you see?” He asked it to Jeremiah before God’s people went into captivity and he asked it to Zechariah after the people left captivity.
1 Samuel 28:13, “But the King said to her, ‘Don’t be afraid. What do you see?’”
King Saul was out of order talking to a medium, but Samuel spoke from the dead to him, telling him that tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. By the way, they were.
Jeremiah 1:11, “Then the word of the Lord came to me asking, ‘What do you see, Jeremiah?’”
Jeremiah 1:13, “Again the word of the Lord came to me inquiring, ‘What do you see?’”
Jeremiah 24:3, “The Lord said to me, ‘What do you see, Jeremiah?’”
All three times, Jeremiah saw exactly what God wanted him to see.
Amos 7:8, “The Lord asked me, “‘What do you see, Amos?’”
Amos saw a plumb line and God affirmed what he saw.
Zechariah 4:2, “He asked me, ‘What do you see?’”
Zechariah 5:2, “‘What do you see?” he asked me.”
Both times Zechariah saw what God wanted him to see and then God explained it to him.
Why did God ask the question: “What do you see?”
Answer: God was going to give a vision to the prophets of God about what He was going to do.
This was a simple, clear, concise, and compelling question God asked them.
I am convinced this is the question God is asking us as leaders of our convention: What do you see? More specifically He is asking us, “What do you see in the future for the Southern Baptist Convention?” This is a question of vision. Vision is seeing it before you see it! We need to see it with our spiritual eyes before we will see it through our physical eyes.
As the president of our Southern Baptist Convention, how would I answer this question: What do I see in the future for the Southern Baptist Convention? I want to share with you some of what I see. It is time to see the need to:
1. AWAKEN AMERICA
Over these past 15 months as your president, I have gone from the Atlantic to the Pacific and even across the oceans, calling for us to pray for the next Great Awakening in America in an extraordinary way. While the ideologies and worldviews of our nation collide daily and the morality and character of our nation degrade daily, we must be more than faithful to call out to God for the next Great Spiritual Awakening. While the country sorts out the politics in the present battle for the presidency of the United States of America, we need to be faithful to always remember that our ultimate hope cannot be in the White House, nor the statehouse, nor the courthouse, but only in the work of God in the church house.
While each of us need to engage in each of these arenas in a way that honors God and our commitment to Holy Scripture, our greatest hope that we can bring in this hour is for us to see God awaken America. Many of our own would declare us hopeless and doomed. But as God reminded me this past Friday morning in my time with Him, the words of Jeremiah 32:17, “Oh, Lord God! You Yourself made the heavens and earth by Your great power and with Your outstretched arm. Nothing is too difficult for You!”
Before the awakenings and great movements of God in the past, many times God’s people have prayed as long as a decade or more before God moved mightily among the people. Therefore, I call upon us to return to the haystack!
We need to stop being so content doing ministry without moments under the haystack. We must return to the haystack, calling out to God extraordinarily, experiencing Him supernaturally, and exploding with a robust vision and commitment to advance the gospel exponentially everywhere. We also need to …
Renew our belief and commitment to the power of God!
It has always been a mystery to me how Baptists believe in the supernatural, miraculous experience of personal conversion; but after this occurs, we operate in our own power and knowledge naturally. I call upon every Southern Baptist, including our entity leaders, state convention leaders, pastors, church leaders and our laypeople to renew our belief and commitment to the power of God!
It is past time that we repent from our sophistication and pride and get back under the haystack. It is past time that we live and lead empowered by the almighty power of the Living God!
We not only need to pursue God, entreating Him with our all daily to awaken America, but we also need to:
2. REACH THE WORLD
Where is the vision to reach our own villages, towns and cities in America? This is the world we live in now. Sometimes we conduct ourselves like a bunch of theological Universalists who believe it will all work out okay for everyone. We must begin to believe in lostness again.
People need the gospel of Jesus Christ beginning in our own villages, towns and cities. Our pastors need to be injected with a vision and strategy to reach their own villages, towns and cities.
According to missiologists, we live in a nation where three out of four people do not have a personal relationship with Christ. We live in a world with 7.275 billion people. Of these 7.275 billion people, just over 3 billion of these people are unreached. There is an additional 1.25 billion of these people who are engaged nominally. If we even come close to understanding the spiritual condition of our world and the need for the gospel, we are facing a daunting challenge.
This is why we need to return to the haystack and come out from underneath it with a renewed belief and commitment to the power of God. Without His power, the task is overwhelming. Without His power, our insufficiency is exposed to the world.
It is time we emerge from underneath the haystack again and with the vision: THE FIELD IS THE WORLD. It is time we emerge from the haystack again with convictional, God-inspired leadership that declares as Samuel Mills did in 1806: “We can do this, if we will!”
With God’s power, we can reach America’s villages, towns, and cities. With God’s power, we can reach the world, penetrating the darkness of lostness globally. The field is the world … We can do this, if we will!
Imagine with me for a moment that someone walked up to you and told you that they wanted to give you $7 billion over the next 10 years so you can do whatever it takes to reach the 7.275 billion people in the world … reaching them for Jesus Christ. You respond, “Now you are telling me that you are going to give me over the next 10 years, $7 billion to do whatever it takes to reach the 7.275 billion people around the globe?” This person says, “Yes, but I am also telling you, I have the money committed to it already. It is in the bank and I will allocate it to you annually. And, as God provides and if you are effective in reaching the world for Christ, there may be more money I give you toward this vision, perhaps another billion or so. I also want to reinforce to you that all these monies must be used for this singular purpose of doing all it takes and whatever it takes to reach the world for Christ.”
Now you are thinking, “Ronnie, you have lost it out there on the road. This would never happen.” Oh really? It has already happened and prayerfully will continue to happen. Did you know that over this past decade and hopefully in the decade to come, through the Cooperative Program, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, and the Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Missions, our 51,094 churches and congregations have given just over $7 billion?
They have entrusted just over $7 billion to our state conventions and our Southern Baptist Convention telling us just that: All this needs to go to reach the world for Jesus Christ! Whatever it takes, we trust you to allocate it where the need is greatest and it all must be allocated to the singular vision of reaching the world for Christ. They are telling us they believe that we must present the gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and make disciples of all the nations.
Listen very carefully to what I am about to say to you: Yes, our laypeople and pastors must give more personally; in fact, each of us need to practice giving no less than 10 percent of all God has entrusted to us annually, giving it through our local church. To give less is disobedience to God. God has called us to love Him, not rob Him; He has called us to be generous, not greedy. Pastors, stand in your churches and call your people to obeying God’s Word about giving the first-tenth and beyond to the Lord.
Additionally, our churches must give more collectively. Southern Baptists believe in the autonomy of the local church and cannot dictate what a church gives to the work of the Great Commission through the Cooperative Program. However, if we want to change the trajectory of bringing 600-800 missionaries home and begin aggressively deploying a new wave of missionaries, then our churches must find a way to give more money than ever before through our Cooperative Program. But state convention leaders and Southern Baptist leaders, I say to you in all honesty the following words: While tithing and generosity of our people to our churches needs to increase dramatically and our churches must learn again what it means to give sacrificially, we need to be humbled by the reality that our churches, at the pace of their giving today, are entrusting at least $7 billion to us already to truly reach the entire world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. And I personally believe when we get our heart right, our vision focused, and our leadership both strategic and optimistic, there may be another billion or more they will entrust to us in the future, IF we are truly reaching our world here in America in our own villages, towns, and cities, and advancing the gospel across the entire globe.
Yes, we could play number games with how much more we would receive from our churches if the individual members walked in personal obedience, practicing both tithing and generosity. We could continue to play number games, talking about how much more churches ought to give and yes, we should. But let’s start where we are right now. God is entrusting at least $7 billion to us over the next decade to reach the world for Christ. All evangelical and mainline denominations and other mission ministries in America wish they could say that. Therefore, let’s be overflowing with gratitude to God, thanking our churches, but also challenging Christians to practice tithing and generosity and churches to give more now than ever before.
What if we had a renewal in teaching biblical stewardship to our people, calling them boldly to 10 percent giving through their church and move forward beyond this onto the ramp of generosity? What if we had churches give more sacrificially than ever before, starting this as soon as possible annually, and give more each year through the year 2020? And what if each state convention went to 50-50 before the end of the year of 2020 or even before the end of this year? For the state conventions at this level already, what if you increased your giving at least 1 to 2 percent through the national Cooperative Program before the end of 2020? If we did these specific things simultaneously, I submit to you that we would see a mission explosion both nationally and internationally. THE FIELD IS THE WORLD! We would be sending more missionaries across the world aggressively. Listen carefully: “We can do this, if we will!”
I really believe if you give Baptists a choice of losing 800 staff members from our churches and state conventions and Southern Baptist entities versus losing 800 missionaries from the foreign mission field, they would choose losing personnel here versus there. Therefore, what God has given to us biblically and missionally, we need to refuse to lose it financially.
Yes, we need God to awaken America. Yes, we need to reach the world for Christ. And because of these great needs, there is one more thing we must do more than ever before. We need to:
3. GATHER OUR SOUTHERN BAPTIST FAMILY IN ST. LOUIS ON JUNE 14-15, 2016
Within hours of the conclusion of our 2015 Columbus convention, shots rang out in a church in Charleston, S.C., taking the lives of nine people. Within nine days of the conclusion of our 2015 Columbus convention, the United States Supreme Court redefined marriage. When you think of all that has occurred in our nation since these two tragedies, we do not even live in the same America that existed while we were in Columbus. The entire landscape has changed.
This is why we must gather more people than we have gathered in many years to our upcoming convention in St. Louis. We need to do all we can with all we are and all we have to gather them by the thousands.
With all that is at stake in America in 2016, from the ongoing battles we face regarding religious liberty, to the approaching United States presidential election, to the reality that over 74 percent of our own churches are plateaued or declining, to the deep need for revival in the church, to the racial violence in our nation, to the tragic killing of the unborn that has now been exposed publicly, to the persecuted Christians around the world, to the tragic growing refugee crisis globally with an estimated 7.6 million displaced in Syria and northern Iraq alone over the last five years, to the depth of the lostness of the world, and to the decreasing of our own mission force across the world in this most urgent hour, we need Southern Baptists to come to St. Louis. It is time to gather the family like never before. We are in a crisis and we must come home.
I cannot and will not walk away from continuing a strong call and leading forward toward the need for the Third Great Awakening in our nation and to reach the world for Christ.
Therefore, our theme for the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention will be: “Awaken America, Reach the World.” Yes, we need to also: “AGREE … UNITE … PRAY.” The logo for our 2016 Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis is done in midnight blue, indicating the midnight hour that we find ourselves in today and the urgency to see God awaken America and reach the world! You are thinking that this is very similar to last year’s theme. You are correct. It is. I am convinced it is God’s heart for us and we must agree, unite, and pray for God to awaken America and that we will reach the world for Christ.
Our Scripture for the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention is Acts 4:31, “When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God’s message with boldness.”
On Monday, Aug. 10, I met with approximately 200 pastors and leaders in Ferguson, Mo., for the purpose of casting the vision for our upcoming 2016 St. Louis convention. This was one day past the anniversary of the death of Michael Brown. This Monday was the very day that a state of emergency was declared in Ferguson and in all of St. Louis, but the pastors still came from across the region.
Later that afternoon, after touring the convention center, we shot a brief video that I hope each state convention, association, and SBC entity will show their trustees and others, calling them to St. Louis. Please help us. We need to show this video in every Southern Baptist church. Please help us get it out there on social networking. The call needs to be issued now all the way to June. The video and link will go on our own SBC website tonight and also on the website tonight at ronniefloyd.com.
I submit this entire presentation to you humbly. I surrender it to God fully. This is what I see. With this, I conclude. Pray for St. Louis. I will see you in St. Louis.
(EDITOR'S NOTE – Ronnie Floyd is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and senior pastor of Cross Church in Springdale, Ark.)