NASHVILLE – I love the local church. Local church ministry is in my blood. It is my calling. It is my passion.
During my report at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting on June 11, I said that the headquarters of the SBC is not in Nashville. It is not in Richmond. It is not in Alpharetta or Dallas or Louisville or Wake Forest or New Orleans or Kansas City or Mill Valley or Fort Worth.
The headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention is the local church!
It has names like …
- Rock Springs, Geyer Springs, Quail Springs or Spring Hill
- Hillcrest, Ridgecrest or Southcrest
- Green Acres, Green Hills or Great Hills
- Emmanuel (with an E) or Immanuel (with an I);
- Lone Oak, Hickory Grove or Fruit Cove.
- Chets Creek, Red Bank or Southcliff
- Crestview, Clearview, Fairview or Longview Heights
- Kingsland or Kingwood
- Istrouma, Anastasia or Hibernia
and scores upon scores of First Baptist churches scattered across the nation.
It is located on busy thoroughfares and neighborhood streets of cities across the nation. It can be found at the intersection of winding roads crisscrossing the countryside. It is a storefront church in the inner city or a house church in an apartment complex. It is a gathering of bikers, cowboys or white-collar professionals. It is my church. It is your church.
I love personal evangelism. Sharing Jesus with the lost is in my blood. It is my mission. It is my passion.
I was able to get out for a few hours on Saturday afternoon during Crossover Houston and share the gospel with a precious family who did not know the Lord. Now they do.
We conducted a lot of Convention business during those days in Houston but nothing was more important – or exciting – than this Kingdom business!
And yet, days before the annual meeting, a distressing report was released by LifeWay. Our Annual Church Profile report showed the lowest number of baptisms reported by our churches since the 1940s! While the percentage of churches that actually submit an annual church profile is on the decline (only about 82 percent this year), the evangelistic effectiveness this statistical snapshot shows is definitely a cause for concern.
I have pulled together some sad figures. In 1962, our 32,892 churches baptized 381,510 souls for Christ, an average of more than 11 baptisms per church. Fifty years later in 2012, our 46,034 churches reported 314,956 baptisms, an average of less than seven baptisms per church.
Friends, this breaks my heart! We are in desperate need of personal revival and church renewal that results in evangelistic fervor and passion!
David got the order right in his Psalm of Penitence:
“God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
“Do not banish me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me.
“Restore the joy of Your salvation to me, and give me a willing spirit.
“Then I will teach the rebellious Your ways, and sinners will return to You.”
(Psalm 51:10-13, emphasis supplied)
When our hearts are clean, our spirits are steadfast, His Spirit brings assurance, and our joy makes melody in our hearts, we will have willing spirits and sinners will be responsive!
Is the converse true? If sinners are not responsive, does this say something about us? Maybe the joy and assurance of His Spirit have been overwhelmed by spiritual apathy, weariness or malaise. It could be our hearts are not truly cleansed before the Lord in daily surrender. Perhaps our spirits are neither steadfast nor willing.
The normative Christian life is a productive Christian life. The qualitative soil of Jesus’ parables always bore quantitative, measureable fruit! If fruit is not being borne, something is desperately wrong.
We must pray as never before!
So, how do we pray?
Yes, we join NAMB in praying the TenTwo – at 10:02 each day – morning or night – to pray that that the Lord will send forth laborers into His harvest (Luke 10:2).
Yes, we join IMB in the School of Prayer for All Nations – to walk closer with God, to pray more fervently for spiritual awakening, to intercede more effectively for missionaries and the nations, to mobilize others to join you in prayer.
Let us pray that God will expand our lost friendship network in our own city through intentional efforts. Most people are won to faith in Christ by friends. If we have no lost friends, no wonder we see no fruit!
Let us pray that God will lessen our fears and loosen our tongues to speak of His great salvation. The one thing all verbs that describe witnessing encounters in scripture have in common is that they are verbal, that is they are spoken. There is no such thing as a “silent witness.”
Let us pray that God will guide us to a “chance” encounter with someone today who longs to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are out there. Until He returns, His Spirit will not end His wooing work in the hearts of the lost.
Let us pray that God will nudge me to find someone in our church family (whom He will also nudge to join me) as a “witnesser in training.” Both evangelistic fervency and evangelistic fluency are more caught than taught. The Lord will use us to guide others into the wonderful, joyful work of evangelism.
Let us pray the Lord will lead our pastor to form an accountability friendship with another pastor, that the two of them will spur one another on “to love and good works”(Hebrews 10:25). Spurgeon said it well in “The Soul-Winner” – “God uses the faith of his ministers to breed faith in other people.”
Let us pray that not a Sunday will go by without the baptismal waters being stirred in our church! We believe God answers prayer. When we earnestly beseech Him for souls, He will respond.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Frank Page is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. See SBC 2013 for more about the annual meeting.)