ATLANTA — If Southern Baptists want to see a “Great
Commission Resurgence,” Henry Blackaby believes they need to focus on the
relationship between disciples and the living Lord Jesus, not launch a new
emphasis on evangelism.
“I have felt for a long time that Southern Baptists have
focused on evangelism and missed discipleship,” Blackaby told Baptist Press May
11. “The most important part of the Great Commission is ‘teach them to practice
everything I have commanded you.’ That’s discipleship and that’s the heart of
the Great Commission. If we want to have a resurgence in the Great Commission,
there’s got to be a refocusing on the priorities of Christ for discipleship.”
Blackaby, a longtime pastor, college president and coauthor
of the “Experiencing God” series of Bible study materials, said declining
baptism and membership statistics in the Southern Baptist Convention reflect
not so much a lack of passion for Christ’s command to make disciples as a lack
of relationship with Jesus Christ.
“When you hear the Southern Baptist leadership being
concerned about baptisms and all that, those are a byproduct of discipleship,”
Blackaby said. “When you lead a person … into a relationship where Christ is
Lord, everything else follows. You don’t have to convince them they need to
spend time in God’s Word or prayer or in the fellowship or on mission. That’s a
spontaneous response to a relationship to the living Lord.”
Issuing a call for a resurgence of commitment to the Great
Commission triggers the wrong response in Christians who are focused on
religious activity, rather than a relationship with Christ, Blackaby added.
“Southern Baptists are program-oriented. We are missing the
relationship,” Blackaby said. “When you make a statement like (that), the first
thing most pastors look for is, ‘What program’s going to come down the pike to
help me do that?’ You don’t need a program to help you do that. You just need
the relationship to the living Lord. The reason we are not effective is because
we have moved from the relationship to a program activity.”
Reason for decline
Substituting activities for relationship also is why many
churches are in decline or on a plateau, Blackaby said.
“We are not leading people into that immediate relationship
with the living Lord. If you listen to most sermons, that intimate personal
relationship is missing,” Blackaby said. “If you talk to many church members,
they feel they are in the right relationship to God when they attend all the
worship services, they tithe, they go on a mission trip. And many a pastor
would evaluate a member, not from the intimate relationship with the Lord, but
for how faithful he is in all the activities of the church. And does he tithe?
“It’s activity. Many of God’s people have moved from the
relationship to religious activity,” Blackaby added. “We are content to live
without the manifest presence, power and activity of God.”
The place many churches need to begin is not with a call to
commitment and activity, but with a call to repentance, Blackaby explained.
“We don’t talk about repentance,” Blackaby said. “Repentance
is the essence of what God says throughout the Bible: ‘You have lost the
relationship. Return to Me and then you will experience Me returning to you.’
When that happens, the manifest presence and power and activity of God is very
Attempts at evangelism without relationship are artificial
and yield artificial fruit, Blackaby noted.
“If you try to bypass (relationship) and give them a
program, the Roman Road or another pattern for evangelism, you are creating an
artificial approach to evangelism. And of course it has that same kind of
fruit,” Blackaby explained. “Those who have been led to the Lord on a program are
very reluctant to respond to the lordship of Christ.”
Witnessing to the lost is supposed to be a spontaneous
response to a relationship with Christ, not an activity, Blackaby added.
“(The Bible) doesn’t say, ‘You are to do witnessing.’ It
says, ‘You are witnesses unto Me,’” Blackaby said. “‘Out of the relationship
with Me, you will have an enormous witness unto Me.’ If you’re not doing it now
just out of relationship to the Lord, don’t look for a program that would help
you do what you ought to be doing spontaneously.”
‘The greatest single need’
What would most help Southern Baptists experience renewed
passion for the Great Commission is solid biblical teaching about Christ as
head of the church, Blackaby contended.
“The reaching of the lost is a spontaneous response to the
lordship of Christ. If you bypass the lordship of Christ and you get God’s
people in a mode to take the gospel to a lost world … you’re going to have a
tough time,” he said. “I have talked to many, many people in the churches. They
have never had one message on the nature of the church. Not one. So they are
practicing religious activity and looking for a program, but the headship of
Christ, what that means and what it will look like and how we respond when
Christ exercises His headship, that’s just not being taught.
“I would say the greatest single need is to return to the
absolute lordship of Jesus Christ and all of the implications that come from
that,” Blackaby said. “If a church is in a spiritual mess, the only thing that
can get them out of that is a good, solid biblical exposition that leads them
into the deepest and most profound relationship with the living Lord.”
Ironically, calling on pastors to focus on evangelism
ultimately results in less evangelism if it causes a loss in focus on the
lordship of Christ, Blackaby noted.
“There’s a huge gap in the teaching ministry of pastors. We
have put on them a huge sense of the priority of evangelism. We had an
evangelist in our church not long ago. He said the thing I thought he would
say: that the No. 1 priority above everything else is to reach out to the
lost,” Blackaby said. “I would say that’s not true. The priority of every
congregation is the lordship of Christ and everything else will come out of
that. Many a pastor would not know how in the world to guide their church under
the lordship of Christ … because His life doesn’t function out of that
When church members begin living in a vital relationship
with Christ under His lordship, baptisms and membership growth will take care
of themselves, Blackaby said.
“Anybody coming under the lordship of Christ automatically
has a God-given DNA to be on mission with their Lord to touch a lost world,”
Blackaby said. “It’s not a matter of trying to get our churches back on the
program of the Great Commission, but rather into the relationship with the
living Lord who is on mission in our world.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Kelly is an assistant editor with
Baptist Press. Henry Blackaby is located on the Internet at blackaby.org.)