Although it was a one-day evangelism rally, organizers are envisioning it as a catalyst for stirring Southern Baptists to share their faith.
The West Tennessee Evangelism Rally at Union University drew more than 800 attendees to hear key pastors and evangelists relay advice and encouragement for local Baptists’ evangelistic efforts.
“This is one of the best things I have been a part of in years,” said Steve Gaines, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church.
“It shows me that people are still hungry to learn how to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Gaines, one of the rally’s breakout leaders, said working with churches through local Baptist associations and the Tennessee Baptist Convention brought many to the rally.
Saying he hopes similar evangelism rallies will be initiated in other locations, Gaines noted, “You have to have leaders with hearts for evangelism. If they don’t have a heart for it, it’s not going to work.”
Union University President Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver said Union wants to serve as a resource and partner in Southern Baptist life and with likeminded Christians.
“We had a great night with a unity of spirit among the 800 or so attendees, and we believe it can be a model for other such initiatives around the country,” Oliver said. “Of course, we hope the flame of evangelism was fanned among those who were part of the rally, and that the fruit of that flame will be many more people sharing the gospel.”
Ernest Easley, professor of evangelism at Union, organized the Feb. 21 event.
Fred Luter, senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, was the rally’s keynote speaker.
“We need to understand how critical, how important it is that we make evangelism a priority,” Luter said.
The rally included eight breakout sessions in addition to Luter’s address focused on the church in the book of Acts. Believers in the early church were so effective in carrying out the Great Commission that the Bible recounts that they turned the world upside down, Luter said.
“Not only their neighborhood, not only their community, not only their city, not only their state, not only their nation, but these believers have the reputation of turning the world upside down.” Luter said. “In other words, they shook some stuff up.”
Luter said the small group of believers could not have pulled off such a mighty task on their own. They were able to do it because they waited on the promise of God, the Holy Spirit.
“They had received the power of the Holy Spirit,” he said, “and now they were able to do in Him what they could not do of themselves by themselves.”
The believers in Acts were small in number and limited in resources, but they accomplished great things, Luter said. They were the same ones who were timid and hiding when Jesus was crucified before the power of the Holy Spirit gave them new boldness, strength and courage.
“They didn’t have any of that stuff that we claim we need to reach people with the gospel today,” Luter said. “But they turned the world upside down.”
And they had a new purpose.
“Once you’re empowered by the Holy Spirit, you begin to realize it’s not about you.” Luter said. “It’s not about your agenda. It’s not about your ideas. It’s not about your title … Their purpose was to witness to the lost …
“The same power that God gave to the disciples on the day of Pentecost is the same power that He’s given us tonight,” Luter said.
In addition to Gaines, the rally’s breakout sessions were led by Darrell Robinson, Michael Ellis, Brian Mills, John Powers, David Evans, Hal Poe and Jerry Drace on various aspects of evangelism, including evangelism strategies, prayer, evangelism in pop culture, revivals and giving invitations.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Nathan Handley is a writer for Union University.)