The fact that we recognize Sanctity of Human Life Sunday is a profound statement on the lostness of North America. Whether a Christian is a Democrat or a Republican, this conversation should not be necessary. But it is, because too many have a higher allegiance to political preferences than to the truth of scripture. The bottom line is lostness exists at every level of society – voters and leaders are blinded by man’s unredeemed sin nature.
Southern Baptists have been talking about pervasive lostness and decreasing baptisms for decades. What are we doing about it? More talk is meaningless, even if that talk is lamenting the demise of personal evangelism.
I want to offer some encouraging signs.
North Carolina native Dennis Nunn leads “Every Believer a Witness” (EBAW) training events in churches across the Southern Baptist Convention. Now based in the Atlanta area, Nunn is one of the strongest, most effective equippers of church-based witness training. Many North Carolina churches have used EBAW effectively.
In a recent e-newsletter to supporters and friends of his ministry, Nunn pointed to the low number of baptisms in our churches. He said, “Not since 1947 have Southern Baptists baptized so few a number of people! … and that is not good. What can be done? We have three choices: do nothing, do the same things we’ve been doing or do something new.”
What are we doing to help the people in our churches reach their friends, family and acquaintances? I fear that we are leaning heavily on “choice one” and “choice two.”
Clayton King is a widely used communicator in Baptist life. He is uniquely gifted to reach young audiences with the gospel and motivates them to share Christ in their circles.
On Tues., Dec. 29, Clayton sent a text message to me with great news about the response of teenagers where he spoke the day before. I called him to get more information.
For at least five years the Georgia Baptist Convention has sponsored a year-end youth evangelism conference. King was the keynote speaker at three of these. This year the conference was labeled “Move15” and was held in the Macon CentrePlex. The sold-out event drew 7,500 youth and church leaders.
King said, “We saw a tremendous response to the gospel. I think everybody was surprised at the youth and adults that responded.” Early estimates by youth pastors who served as counselors said 1,000 to 1,200 made first-time commitments to follow Christ.
The message he preached addressed addiction, depression, identity and other issues that students face. In the first of two sermons he preached on the subject “Stronger,” which is the title of his recently released book.
“Our weakness can push us to our knees and help us see how much we need God, so I preached from 2 Corinthians 12:7-10,” he said. “Our weakness is a pathway to God’s strength.”
A few days later on Jan. 1, King sent another text to me. He said on New Year’s Eve at Liberty University’s Winterfest in Lynchburg, Va., 975 students responded to the gospel. He wrote, “God has saved over 2,000 people in the past 4 four days. It’s been the biggest harvest I’ve ever seen. Over 22,000 people responded to the gospel in 2015.”
This is very encouraging. We may be seeing a new movement among younger generations. I hope so – I pray so.
Todd Houston, senior pastor of Beach Road Baptist Church in Southport, invited me to participate in a very unique church event that was born out of a vision for personal evangelism.
The church’s pastors were looking for a way to launch the new year with a focus on personal evangelism.
“In our planning we kept coming back to the understanding people must have – that everything is based on the Word,” Houston said. “Also, we wanted to emphasize to those who struggle with personal evangelism, that the power is not in our performance of delivering the gospel. The power is in the message of the gospel itself – it’s in the Word.”
Since the foundation for evangelism is the truth scripture, they asked the church family to do two things.
First, everyone should read through the Bible in one year. That is not unusual, but the second part of the strategy is different. The church reserved 77 consecutive hours for the public reading of the entire Bible beginning Thursday, Jan. 7 at 7 a.m. and concluding on Sunday morning, Jan. 10 in the 10 a.m. worship service. They called it “Rise 2016.”
Houston said, “The Bible emphasizes the reading and the hearing of the Word. We recruited the readers, and we asked the church to sign up to come and listen. For 77 hours someone was reading the Word, and we had people in the sanctuary hearing the Word.”
The goal of the church leadership is to have a specific biblical principle as the target of every ministry and event.
“This was more a focus on getting God’s attention than getting the church’s attention,” Houston explained. “We tried to say to God, ‘We are consecrating ourselves – setting ourselves apart – to be committed to Your Word this year.’”
The pastor preached only one sermon – the Sunday before – to introduce the event. He said Mark 2:1-5 reports that Jesus went into a house in Capernaum and large crowds gathered to hear him. The large crowd caused some men to pull the roof back and lower their sick friend into the home.
When the people heard that Jesus was in the house, so many people gathered that everyone could not get in the house. Houston said, “So many times in church we get focused on filling the house. That should never be our focus. We should focus on the verse that says, ‘Jesus was in the house.’ When He is in the house, the house is filled. The people weren’t drawn to a place; they were being drawn to a person.”
The result was that sins were forgiven, lives were changed. That’s evangelism, said Houston.
The pastors asked, “How will people know that Jesus is in the house? How do we experience the manifest presence of Christ?”
“The most tangible way we can do that is to fill the place with the Word of God,” Houston said. “So, that’s what we did.”
They began by reading Psalm 119, then went to Genesis and read through the Bible with the exception of two segments. The letter of Ephesians and the last chapter of Revelation were read in the Sunday morning worship service as the conclusion of Rise 2016.
James Zik, Beach Road’s pastor of discipleship, evangelism and administration, said, “The purpose was for us to come into 2016 to give an offering to the Lord; to let Him know that we are unashamedly committed to His Word, and we want to align our lives with it.”
He said Rise 2016 was all about “God’s Word and the lost.”
When the invitation went out for “readers” to cover the 77 hours, 75 men responded. He said, “As we were talking through this, we thought that men should lead out because for so long, men have abdicated their spiritual roles in the home,” He said it wasn’t that women couldn’t participate, but that it is “time for men to step up and lead.”
Houston added, “One thing we did not anticipate is how this has emboldened the men.” Many men that where not heavily involved in the church volunteered to be a reader. Their wives came to support them as they read the Bible.
“Many women wept and said, ‘I have never seen my husband do anything like this before.’ It really encouraged the men,” he said. “It moved them from being spectators to being participants.
“I don’t think I have ever personally been involved in anything where the church was more excited. The church and the community will be talking about this for a long, long time.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Contact Todd Houston at [email protected].)