The State Evangelism Conference on Feb. 24 was aligned with the Baptist State Convention’s (BSC) five-year strategy, “Impacting Lostness through Disciple-Making.”
Held at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, speakers Bruce Ashford, Steve Corts, Derwin Gray and James Emery White addressed the identity of a disciple of Jesus, the quality and passion of a disciple and the love a disciple is to have.
Lynn Sasser, the BSC’s executive leader for evangelism and discipleship set the stage for the conference theme.
He said baptisms in North Carolina have been “pretty stable” in the last decade. But the overall trend line shows that while we have baptized about the same number of people in the last 10 years, the population of the state has grown by 22 percent.
“We are losing the battle for the souls of men, women and children in North Carolina,” Sasser said. “The time is right for God to raise up N.C. Baptists with a heart and a passion for impacting the lostness that surrounds us.”
BR photo by Michael McEwen
Stephen Wagoner, left, and his father Tom, center, were part of the State Evangelism Conference. Here, Brian Upshaw, right, disciple-making team leader for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, leads a dialogue about generational ministry differences.
Ashford, provost and dean of faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said, “The tide of public opinion has turned against Christianity. For the first time in the history of our country, historic Christianity is viewed as morally inferior and even as morally despicable. We are becoming more like the early church.”
He recalled the strong childhood influence he received from a newsletter that regularly came to his home from the underground church in Romania and Russia. It described believers who were persecuted, “ripped from their home and thrown in prison where they would soon die.”
For him it was “the first time I had been confronted with people for whom the cost was so high that they might die for the sake of being a disciple of Christ.”
The life and writings of Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand made a strong impact on the young Ashford.
He used stories from Wurmbrand’s 14 years in prison to illustrate both the cost and the impact of biblical disciple-making.
Ashford said, “As disciples we [must] proclaim him with our lips and promote him with our lives so that when we call people to salvation … they will have a very clear picture of what we are inviting them to.”
Corts, lead pastor of Center Grove Baptist Church near Winston-Salem, challenged the conference audience to examine Jesus’ discipleship plan.
“One of the reasons we’ve not been very effective when it comes to evangelism is that we haven’t had the passion that the Father has; we haven’t had the passion that the Son has,” he said. “We don’t see broken people the way God sees broken people. We see broken people as problems to be fixed, … as projects to be undertaken, so we are always trying to fix people.”
One of the ways to be effective in evangelism, said Gray, pastor of Transformation Church in Indian Land, S.C., is to love God and love all kinds of people. Teaching from Revelation 7:9, he said the church is to love all people, no matter one’s ethnic or cultural group.
“To make disciples,” Gray said, “Christians need to look and love more like Christ.”
Senior pastor and founder of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., White brought the conference attendees’ attention to a growing affiliation in the United States: the “Nones.”
These are individuals who have “no religious affiliation.” This category of people comprises the second largest “religious group” in the U.S. behind Roman Catholics.
Because the people we are trying to reach aren’t they same as they were four decades ago, White said, “it will be harder to reach people than ever before. … So, we must rethink our paradigms of event-evangelism, very common decades ago.
“We must recapture evangelism by utilizing a process-and-event evangelism. This requires long investment in the lives of these ‘Nones.’”
Father and son, Tom and Stephen Wagoner, discussed the issues related to generational differences in pastoral ministry and disciple-making with Brian Upshaw, team leader for the Disciple-Making Team at the BSC.
Tom has pastored Central Baptist Church in Dunn for 30 years and Stephen is a pastor of a missional community called the Church in the Triad.
Primarily due to geographical and cultural context, these pastors’ ministries are radically different.
Tom said, “We have seen God add to our church through the preaching of His Word. Our focus is to get people in the presence of the Lord, and if He shows up in His glory people will follow Him. Ultimately, we are a glory-seeking church.”
“Making disciples is not what we do at the Church in the Triad, but it is who we are,” said Stephen.
“With Acts 2 as our biblical foundation, we are trying to live our lives day-to-day on mission for Christ.”
The two talked transparently about some methodological differences when Stephen was first called to pastoral ministry. Tom said it was a great thing until he noticed that Stephen was being influenced by the Acts 29 network and popular young leaders who were outside of the more conservative traditions in which Stephen was raised.
“Now I get to watch these [younger] men,” Tom said, “who I have had a little influence in their lives plant churches and breathe new life into places. They do it way different from our generation. But I see the merit and value in what they’re doing. We [Stephen and I] joke about our [different] methods, but we are not making those a line in the sand, ever again.”