NEW ORLEANS (BP)–After an all-night prayer vigil and morning chapel message, Bobby Welch and students and faculty from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary took the Gospel to the streets Feb. 2.
The Southern Baptist Convention president and about 100 members of the seminary family fanned out to share the Gospel in the community around NOBTS on a cool, damp day. Twelve people made professions of faith in Christ.
Last fall, Welch traveled across the country on an “Everyone Can” tour to promote a renewed focus on evangelism among Baptists. In only 25 days, he visited all 50 states and even ventured into Canada. He has called Baptists to a lofty goal — “Witness, Win and Baptize” 1 million new believers during the 2005-06 church year. Welch continued his call to evangelism in chapel services at his alma mater.
Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., spoke to NOBTS students, faculty and staff members in Leavell Chapel before going out to witness. Using the harvest motif as an illustration for evangelism, Welch said evangelism requires the work ethic of harvesters who know that the harvest will last only a short time. Harvesters begin working as soon as they can see in the morning, Welch said, and they don’t stop until they can’t see at night.
Whether or not the church realizes it, many people are waiting for the harvesters to come, Welch said.
“There is a longing out there in the harvest field like I have never seen before,” he said. “There is a movement of God in the harvest field.”
Welch said he saw this longing firsthand in his trip across the country. At each stop, often with reporters from newspapers and television networks looking on, many of the people to whom Welch witnessed responded to the Gospel. The SBC president said this longing in the world keeps him focused on the task of evangelism.
“The world is waiting for us to come with the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said. “There are people out there with whom God is dealing.”
Welch said he saw all the markings of revival during his trek across the country, though he had hoped to see more signs of revival within the church itself.
“What if God is trying to have a revival out there where they are hungering, thirsting, longing and looking and we will not move out of here?” Welch asked. “What if we miss what God is doing out there because we refuse to go?”
Welch pointed to the teaching about evangelism in Matthew 9:37 in which Jesus said workers were needed to bring in the plentiful harvest. Leaders must equip church members to share, Welch noted.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you don’t plant wheat inside the barn. Jesus said, ‘I’ve got to have laborers,'” Welch said. “The good news is that we have the Lord of the harvest. We can’t save anyone, we are just going out there to be good news and to let the Lord work through us.”
Welch compared his challenge to the church with Peter walking on the water. Peter could not walk on water by himself, and Welch said he believes God’s hand supported Peter in every step. But, he noted, it was Peter who got out of the boat.
“The problem we are having in the Southern Baptist Convention and the reason we’ve declined four straight years in baptisms is because folks like you, me and the others won’t get out of the ‘boat,'” Welch said. “If we would get out of the ‘boat,’ God would do for us what He did for Peter. He would do His miraculous work in people’s lives.”
Welch encouraged the seminary community to commit to training, witnessing, baptizing, giving, starting new units and participating in Vacation Bible School. Work in these six areas is essential, he said, if the SBC is to reach the goal of 1 million baptisms in one year.
The goal can be reached, Welch said, if people commit to be witnesses of Jesus. He asked each person to make a commitment to promote and participate in these six keys areas. Welch plans to take the commitment cards gathered throughout the country with him to the 2005 SBC annual meeting in Nashville. He said the cards will illustrate that thousands of Baptists agree that it is time to get serious about evangelism.
The subsequent evangelism blitz served as a way to cement the commitments made during the chapel service.
David Platt, instructor of evangelism at NOBTS, described the evangelism blitz as a great success. “Not only did 12 people place their faith in Christ, but God taught the students and faculty of our seminary once again that there are people all around us with open hearts toward the Gospel,” he said.
Platt, who organized the event along with associate professor Bill Day, said the teams had many opportunities for ministry during the afternoon. One team prayed with a mother who recently lost two sons to the city’s violence. Another team used sign language to witness to a deaf man.
“Even in conversations that did not end up in salvation decisions, the work of our students and faculty was incredible,” Platt said. “The people in this community are needy and they are ready to hear the Gospel. The harvest truly is plentiful in New Orleans; God does have many people in this city!”
Platt said that many of the students who participated will be involved in the follow-up process. In addition, the names of individuals who responded to the Gospel will be given to area churches and ministries for follow-up.