PHOENIX (BP) — Countering declining baptism numbers, improving preaching, combatting pornography and increasing women’s involvement in the Southern Baptist Convention were among topics discussed by panelists at the Cooperative Program booth during the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix.
A series of panel discussions hosted in the SBC exhibit hall June 12-14 celebrated Gospel advancement through the efforts of Southern Baptists, including ministries fueled by CP, Southern Baptists’ unified method of funding missions and ministries in North America and internationally.
Evangelism & baptisms
In response to news baptisms among Southern Baptist churches have decreased eight of the past 10 years, a panel encouraged pastors to offer more evangelistic training and share the Gospel more often.
North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell said the SBC’s baptism trend can be reversed by another “GCR” — a “Gospel conversation resurgence.”
“We have to have more Gospel conversations,” Ezell said. “… We have 47,000 SBC churches. If we had 47,000 pastors having one Gospel conversation a week, that’s almost 2.5 million Gospel conversations” annually.
Southern Baptists’ failure to lead more people to Christ “is a pastor issue,” Ezell said.
SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page said factors beyond a lack of evangelism likely have contributed to declining baptism numbers in the convention. The decreasing number of children in Southern Baptist families and a desire to guard against false professions of faith, he said, may influence the downward trend in baptisms.
Still, “the more you share” the Gospel, Page said, “the more there is openness [to believe it]. And yes, there are people who are waiting for somebody to tell them about the Lord.”
Milton Hollifield, executive director of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, cited “a lack of disciple making” in churches as one reason believers don’t share the Gospel more.
“One of the basic [elements] of making disciples is helping people understand the need to share the Gospel with other people,” Hollifield said. “It’s what the Lord has commanded us to do.”
SBC President Steve Gaines said Southern Baptists must call sinners to repent and believe the Gospel during worship services and other public events.
While a “come-forward altar call” is not the only means of calling people to salvation, churches must “give people the opportunity to get saved then and there,” said Gaines, pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn.
A wide-ranging panel discussion on preaching included discussion of, among other issues, how to schedule sermon preparation and how to give an evangelistic invitation.
Gaines and Page encouraged pastors to spend their mornings studying for sermons — though Page said he tends to study on airplanes much of the time in his current role. Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., said he devotes the last two full days of each week to sermon preparation.
James Merritt, pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga., said his sermon preparation always includes exegesis of the sermon text in its original language and reading the text in four or five English translations.
All four panelists spoke of planning out sermon texts and topics months in advance. When asked how long their sermons typically last, panelists’ answers ranged from 25-65 minutes.
Regarding evangelistic invitations, panelists spoke of presenting the Gospel at different junctures in the sermon, but all agreed on the necessity of calling for repentance and faith as part of every message.
“I always ask people to repent of their sins,” Gaines said, “believe savingly that Jesus died on the cross for their sins [and] rose from the dead to give them eternal life and receive Him by calling on the name of the Lord and being saved.”
A panel on “the Gospel and pornography” discussed the effect of pornography on churches and how to address the growing epidemic among Christians.
Ken Whitten, pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Fla., noted the pervasiveness of pornography. “We are talking about a ten billion dollar industry,” Whitten said. “We are talking about an industry that made more money than NBC, ABC, FOX and CBS put together. We are not [merely] talking about a lust issue here; we are talking about a worship issue. We are talking about idolatry.”
Daryl Crouch, pastor of Green Hill Church in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., said harsh denunciation is not always an effective first response to a believer ensnared in pornography.
“I think shock and shame is probably not the best response,” Crouch said. “I think [it is important] to be able to have some conversations about it and to build some theological foundations.”
Trevin Wax, Bible and reference publisher for LifeWay Christian Resources’ B&H arm, said true love should be presented as a better option than pornography.
“As pastors, we are only doing half the work if we say stay away without also painting the beautiful picture of what God intends sexuality to be,” Wax said. “The Bible’s view has to be more beautiful than the toxic, poisonous beauty [a man] thinks he is looking for when he is browsing the websites.”
Women & and the SBC
Another panel’s discussion revolved around the findings of the Women’s Advisory Council appointed by Page to study how women can be more involved in SBC life.
“I was just convinced,” Page said of his decision to appoint the council, “that our women in the SBC are underutilized and under-involved, and the truth is that they make up the majority of Southern Baptists.”
Council chair Rhonda Kelley “has done a phenomenal job in involving a wide variety of women across the convention to bring to me a report of how we can deepen the involvement of women, how we can encourage them in their ministry and how we can involve them more in SBC life,” Page said.
Kelley, wife of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley, discussed a survey the council distributed to state leaders for women to complete. Some 3,200 women from every state completed the survey, Kelley said.
“They provided for us a lot of helpful information … about the past, present and, we think, future involvement of women in and through our Southern Baptist churches, according to biblical guidelines, specifically to reach more women with the Gospel message,” Kelley said.
Ashlyn Portero, executive director at City Church in Tallahassee, Fla., suggested steps the SBC could take to get more women involved.
“I think part of it is bringing along more of our female staff members [to SBC annual meetings] and not just bringing them here to take it all in and get the experience, but to educate them on why it is important to be involved in Southern Baptist life,” Portero said.