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Bridle in hand, SBC President Bobby Welch focuses on Jesus’ heart for reaching the lost


SPARTANBURG, S.C. (BP)–An old Kentucky mule bridle hangs behind the passenger seat on the rented bus taking Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch across the country to bolster the cause of evangelism.

Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, has used the down-home teaching tool at each of the churches on the trip that began at the Florida church Aug. 29. Taking the brown leather bridle out of the bus, he places it near the pulpit so he can refer to its blinders near the end of his message, which on Monday he delivered at Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., and First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, S.C.

A former chairman of the deacons at the Daytona Beach church, Jim Brown, had expressed a willingness to do anything he could to aid his pastor’s national venture, so Welch told him to return to his rural Kentucky homeland to dig out a bridle “from under some old, dilapidated barn.” Brown cleaned it up so that the words “SEEK” and “SAVE” could be painted in white on each side, with Welch’s initials in the middle.

The idea is to give Welch a symbolic reminder to maintain his focus on the message of salvation found in Luke 19:10.

Jesus, as Welch plans to point out on every stop of the 50-state tour, came to seek and to save that which was lost. The tour, accordingly, is a kickoff to “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” next June, with a goal to “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” in one year in the 16-million-member denomination.

“This is why we are here,” Welch said.

Welch’s days continued to include informal discussions with Baptist leaders who board the bus in their states. In the morning, sitting on sofas that face each other, Welch met with three leaders from the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina; in the late afternoon, six from the South Carolina Baptist Convention came aboard.

“He’s just sold out to winning people to Christ,” said Jim Royston, executive director of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

Royston said Welch’s “Six Points of Challenge” are right on target: training and equipping for witnessing and discipleship; witnessing to and winning non-Christians; baptizing new converts; emphasizing stewardship; leading Vacation Bible Schools to focus on evangelism; and starting new Sunday School classes and/or planting churches.

“The six points that he dwelled on are just pivotal,” Royston said. “I like his spirit. I just wish him every success in the world. I think if we could rally Baptists around this kind of enterprise it could make a huge difference.”

Carlisle Driggers, executive director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, presented Welch with a medallion commemorating the 1821 formation of the state convention — the oldest state Baptist convention in America. The oldest Baptist church in the South also is in South Carolina — First Baptist in Charleston, organized around 1683-1695.

Driggers affirmed Welch’s initiative in promoting Kingdom growth.

“Certainly that means leading people to Christ,” Driggers said. “Certainly that means stewardship. Certainly that means starting new Bible study units. That is fleshing out Kingdom growth as I think Jesus called for.”

Don Wilton, pastor of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, estimated that 400 people showed up for Monday night visitation. He and Welch approached three adult men in the town square about their need for Christ and were delighted to discover that they were Christians. Another group of three witnesses led an 18-year-old boy to Christ as Pastor Greg Davidson of First Baptist Church in Landrum, shared the Gospel.

“Their prayers made the difference,” said Davidson, mentioning the key roles that his wife, Malone, and witnessing partner Ping Toney, a member of First Spartanburg, played in winning one soul to Jesus.

Part of the mosaic that Welch hopes to create by preaching about Jesus’ intent to seek and save people includes reaching out to Southern Baptist youth. At Hickory Grove Baptist Church, he grabbed a cordless microphone like a daytime talk show host and made his way into pews filled with Hickory Grove Baptist Christian School students who had just gone out on visitation. Three gave positive reports.

Brittany Cowan, 17, one of about 60 seniors in the school, said she had never heard of Welch before Monday. She found him to be authentic, and his message, she said, was clear.

“There’s a lot of people out in the world today that don’t go to church,” she said. “They don’t know the Gospel of Christ, and we’re here to share the Gospel. That’s what the Great Commission is.”

About 10,000 of the 43,000 Southern Baptist churches did not baptize a single person last year. As the president of the SBC keeps rolling along, preparing for a stretch of the trip he calls “three-a-days” — three stops a day in the New England states — his goal is to try, because: When Christians try, God triumphs, Welch said.

“Just try your best,” he said.
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  • Allen Palmeri