When pastors and church leaders gather for the State Evangelism Conference in Raleigh, organizer Brian Upshaw wants everyone to receive a fresh, motivating vision for New Testament evangelism and disciple-making. The event will be held in the facilities of Providence Baptist Church on Monday, Feb. 24.
“We want this conference to be a time of inspiration for pastors and encouragement for them to know they are not alone,” Upshaw said. He is the team leader for the Disciple-Making Team at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC).
Upshaw believes the sessions will encourage pastors as they equip their church “… to share the gospel, to win others to Christ and to see those they have won to Christ to grow and develop until they are also making disciples. We want to see a movement in North Carolina of disciples who make disciples.”
The focus of the BSC for the next five years is impacting lostness through disciple-making. According to Upshaw the convention staff knows the work is not just a pastor’s responsibility. It is the role of every believer. Every believer has received the Great Commission from Jesus to make disciples.
But the ministry of evangelism and making disciples can be done in many different ways.
“One of the things I am most excited about is the feature we are doing in an afternoon dialogue with the father-son team of Tom and Stephen Wagoner,” Upshaw said. “Tom is the father. He is the pastor of a traditional church in Dunn. His son, Stephen, is a pastor of a missional community called the Church in the Triad.”
Their ministries are radically different. “They have a tremendous story of God’s grace in their own relationship,” he said. “Even though they do ministry differently, they are [doing] the same thing, which is reaching people with the gospel and making disciples.”
Tom Wagoner has pastored Central Baptist Church in Dunn for 30 years. He describes himself as “a country preacher” with “a big choir and a rural church.”
God called his son, Stephen, to preach. That was a great thing until he saw Stephen going in a direction that was not consistent with his upbringing. The younger Wagoner was heavily influenced by the Acts 29 network and popular young leaders who were outside of the traditions he learned growing up.
“It was tough on me. It was a struggle. Our relationship became very strained,” the senior Wagoner said. “I grew up very conservative. When my son began going in that direction, it was a nightmare.”
His close friends Greg Mathis and Kenneth Ridings advised Wagoner not to worry. They consoled him with the belief that based on the solid foundation of Stephen’s life, “God will work it out.”
Just as his friends said, God worked it out. Today the two pastors have a message of reconciliation and a healthy respect for different styles of ministry.
“The Lord stretched me some, and I now see merit and value in the work Stephen is doing,” Wagoner said. “He loves God, he loves to share the gospel, and he has a passion for discipleship. The more my son grows, the more he sees merit in what we are doing in this rural community.”
When the father and son share their story at the conference, they want to help pastors see the value in ministries that are different from their own as long as the goal is on impacting lostness through disciple-making.
“Stephen and I want to see God glorified in people who are unique and different,” he said. “We want others to be able to partner and love each other as we do the great work of evangelism and discipleship.”
Because of his son’s influence, Wagoner has taken steps to reach people in different ways. He said, “We started a Hispanic congregation last week and 50 attended. We have a theater campus now with a couple hundred students from Campbell University in another part of our community. The music there is more acoustic and contemporary. We have a young Southeastern Seminary graduate who is preaching there, and he has the power of God on his life.”
At the same time he emphasizes that at the church’s home campus, “we still have a country choir and all the rest. It’s been a help to me for Stephen to be different. I would just love for everybody at the conference to see the value and appreciate the uniqueness in each other.”
Upshaw believes the Wagoners’ story will help church leaders focus less on methodology and more on achieving the goal of disciples who make disciples.
“It is my hope and prayer that this becomes a bridge conversation across our state where different generations of pastors see the value in how another generation does ministry,” he said.
There is a need for church leaders to think about ministry in different ways, while affirming that there are some ways Baptists have done ministry for generations that can continue, according to Upshaw.
“I think there are a lot of pastors in our state who are called to make disciples – they’ve been called to preach, they’ve been called to pastor – but they know in their heart they are called to make disciples,” he said.
“But many feel burdened by unrealistic expectations from their members or the community. We are seeing quite a bit of discouragement.
“We believe the way to see pastors encouraged is to affirm to them that the ‘main thing’ is the main thing. What they were called by God to do at the beginning of their ministries is still the thing they need to be about – that’s winning the lost and developing them into disciple makers. So we hope they will feel … affirmation that we are with them and behind them. What they were called to do is our focus of the state convention.”
Conference speakers include Bruce Ashford of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest. His message will focus on the theological foundation for disciple-making and how he is engaging the next generation.
Derwin Gray, lead pastor of Transformation Church in the Charlotte area, will focus on disciples who make disciples in a multi-cultural context.
James Emery White, lead pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, will address how to engage the group called the “nones.” Researchers have identified this group’s religious preference as “None of the above.” Pastors will hear how to engage a culture that is irreligious and apathetic toward any and all faiths.
Steve Corts, senior pastor of Center Grove Baptist Church in Clemmons, will share from his experience in disciple-making as a pastor. Corts said the focus of his message will be “… the intimate but often misunderstood connection between a life of following and a life of ‘fishing’ for men.”
He believes there is little effective evangelism without a passion for lost people. He said, “A passion for people always begins – and remains – with a passion for Jesus. A passion for seeking the lost flows out of a passionate pursuit of Him.
“I hope to give pastors ‘permission’ to think and labor differently and become more effective evangelistically,” he said. “I want to encourage them to move past the guilt method of evangelism that rarely works to the method of evangelism that changed the world – making disciples – disciples who passionately love Christ and then other people … and pushing back the darkness.”
Upshaw said there are nine breakout sessions designed to give practical direction for taking the next steps in every ministry of the church. The sessions will provide “hands-on take-a-ways, where a church leader can leave the conference, not just hearing an inspired word, but with a tool for the toolbox to say, ‘now I have something I can apply when I get home.’”
Milton Hollifield, executive director-treasurer of the BSC, said “The State Evangelism Conference has always been an opportunity for N.C. Baptists to come together for inspiration, equipping and especially encouragement. Pastors and others who attend this year will hear solid biblical preaching to advance the call to impact North Carolina with the message of the gospel through making disciples who will make disciples.
“They will hear from speakers who are diverse in age and approach to ministry, but united in their desire to see lives changed by the power of Jesus Christ. My prayer for those who attend the conference is that they will be refreshed by the Spirit of God and return to their ministries with a fresh anointing to carry out the mission of our Lord.”
Preregistration is requested but not required. To register and for details on the conference, visit ncbaptist.org/sec.