RIDGECREST — Nazi soldiers forced prisoners to wear a uniform and number to strip away individual identity. Satan utilizes a similar tactic today among Christians, according to Eric Geiger.
Geiger, executive pastor of Christ Fellowship in Miami, Fla., was among speakers during the Transformed Hearts Conference at Ridgecrest Baptist Assembly in August, who helped participants focus on how to be disciples of Christ so they can make disciples for Christ.
During a year in which national Baptist statistics indicate declines in important categories of baptism, membership and giving, leadership has turned the focus from events, slogans and programs to the essential, individual responsibility of each Christian to possess and nurture a transformed heart.
Lynn Sasser, Baptist State Convention (BSC) executive leader for congregational services, the area most directly associated with church programs, said his team’s goal in planning the Transformed Hearts conference was “a renewed emphasis not on programs but on a heart aligned with God.”
Too many Christians fit the condemnation of Rev. 2:4, “… you have forsaken your first love,” Sasser said. He wanted to gather people “to experience God together in the context of disciple making.”
All of the more than 250 participants — who Sasser said were widely diverse ethnically — were offered personal coaching as a follow-up to the conference, to help them solidify and implement the learnings from it in their lives and ministries. About 10 percent of participants signed up for coaching.
Finding identity in Christ
Geiger explained that lives cannot be transformed and believers cannot be disciple-makers until they first recapture a sense of what it means to find identity in Jesus Christ. Speaking about a topic addressed in his latest book, Identity, Geiger encouraged participants to remember that as believers they are God’s children.
When Satan destroys the understanding of who believers are in Christ they will “merely exist” and live a “demoralized life,” Geiger said.
Eddie Hammett and Randy Pierce spoke about ideas from their popular book, Reaching People Under 40 While Keeping People Over 60. Hammett, a senior consultant with the BSC, explained the difference between church culture and post-modern culture and how to reach people for Christ who live in either environment. The 70 percent who live in the post-modern culture want to ask questions and discover spiritual truths on their own — they do not want to be told what to believe.
Pierce said it is important to give this population a place where they can be authentic, talk about their pain and not be judged, and have a “soft place to land.” Pierce, who left the church after college and came to know Jesus Christ after years of meeting with Hammett, studying scripture and asking questions, said church cannot be a place where people “pretend everything is OK.”
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s strategy for reducing crime was to pay attention to little things such as fixing broken windows and cleaning graffiti. John Trent, author of The 2-degree Difference and president of the Center for Strong Families, used this illustration to show how life transformation often comes by taking small steps toward fixing a big problem.
Trent encouraged people not to be overwhelmed by life’s problems and to avoid trying to change their life with one quick fix. Change comes slowly and it comes by making two-degree changes. For example, growing in knowledge of God and His word will not happen overnight, but it will come as the believer commits to daily study and to daily spending more time in the word.
Trent said the No. 1 one reason people give for not making changes in their lives is lack of time — the two-degree practice eliminates that excuse.
Avery Willis, former missionary to Indonesia and creator of the MasterLife discipleship series, spoke about the biblical mandate to make disciples. “That is the one thing God told us and the Lord Jesus told us in the very last command He gave,” Willis said. You only talk about the “important things” when you give the last command, he said.
Willis said God is searching for those who will have a perfect heart toward Him, meaning a heart that is completely surrendered, so He can “show Himself strong” and allow His “power to manifest through their lives.” A surrendered heart is the mark of a disciple.
Willis reminded those attending that the product of Jesus’ ministry was making disciples. Everything he did was to make disciples. Therefore, everything believers do should be for the ultimate goal of making disciples and glorifying the name of the Lord.
Making disciples is not done from the pulpit, Willis said. Making disciples is done in small groups and by intentionally investing in the lives of others. Jesus’ disciples learned by just being around Him. So it should be in the lives of Christians. As believers spend time with other believers and with nonbelievers, God’s love and glory should shine through in such splendor that all will want to know and become more like Jesus Christ who reigns in their hearts.