NEW ORLEANS (BP)–National and state Southern Baptist evangelism leaders from across North America met in New Orleans Dec. 2-4 for their annual evangelism winter meeting, which this year was focused on the new “God’s Plan for Sharing” (GPS) denomination-wide evangelism emphasis.
The gathering was a continuation of what has been two years of planning, designing and strategizing for the evangelism emphasis that will run from 2010 to 2020. The campaign — a product of a partnership between NAMB and state and local evangelism leaders within the SBC — has a goal of having “every believer sharing” and “every person hearing” in North America by 2020.
More than 100 attended the meeting, which included state directors of evangelism, state prayer coordinators, leaders of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists (COSBE) and NAMB staff.
Author and Bible teacher Henry Blackaby addressed the group, as did Chuck Kelley, president of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS). Attendees spent much of their time in workgroups related to GPS, discussing goals and needed actions leading up to the campaign’s 2010 launch.
But the primary focus of the evangelism conference was prayer — the first of four “mileposts” that make up GPS. The other mileposts are “engaging,” “sowing” and “harvesting.” Throughout the conference, prayer and reliance upon God were front-and-center.
“Prayer is a non-negotiable,” said Ron Clement, the Colorado Baptist General Convention director of evangelism. “King David said to the people, ‘Seek God’s face always.’ Jesus said in Luke 11: ‘Always pray and never give up.'”
Clement, who was charged with outlining GPS to attendees, also challenged the group to pray earnestly to God and actively seek God. He led the group in a time of focused prayers of repentance and preparation for the future.
Amid a sense of preparation and participation, Blackaby addressed the crowd. His tone was markedly direct and serious.
“Jesus said in John 20:21: ‘As the Father has sent me, so send I you,'” Blackaby said. “Do you feel the weight of that assignment that God has granted you? It’s actually the same as He gave His Son. And that’s why God is seeking to conform us to the image of His Son.”
The gravity of God’s calling warrants serious prayer, Blackaby said. He pointed specifically to Solomon’s prayer and God’s reaction to it recorded in 2 Chronicles 7 as a model for every believer’s prayer life.
“I want you to see a pattern in the life of Solomon, which is a pattern you and I need to look at very carefully,” Blackaby said.
Second Chronicles 7 begins with the phrase “When Solomon finished praying” and goes on to record God’s response to that prayer, he noted.
“That’s the key,” Blackaby said. “All that happened next was because of the prayer life of Solomon. So I ask myself the question, ‘How central to my relationship with God and His assignment for me is my prayer life? Is God responding to my praying?'”
Blackaby also drew attention to the God-sent fire that consumed the sacrifices Solomon had placed on the altar. He compared the sacrifice of Solomon to offerings — both tangible and intangible — that individual Christians offer today.
“We pray without any offerings,” he said. “Ask God what you need to already have on the altar. The fire cannot consume what you have not put on the altar.”
The centrality of prayer — the first GPS milepost — is key to evangelism, because prayer gives birth to evangelism, Blackaby said.
Making an analogy between agriculture and the four GPS “mileposts,” Kelley drew on history to highlight how successful evangelism campaigns had been for Southern Baptists up through the mid-1970s. Kelley, who studied the history of Southern Baptist evangelism as part of his doctoral work, described how, from 1955 to the mid-1970s, yearly baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention crested near 450,000 in 1974 and quickly fell off.
“I watched that passion [for evangelism] become institutionalized,” Kelley said of the mid-1970s. “From 1955, when we baptized 415,000 people, until today, we have never baptized 450,000 people. More churches, more Southern Baptists, more money, more resources, more missionaries, more strategies. More of everything but fruit. What happened to the harvest?”
Kelley compared the state of Southern Baptist evangelism and baptism today to “grandchildren of farmers keeping the farming stories alive over dessert and coffee at family reunions.” Despite the challenges ahead, there are great opportunities, Kelley said. One such opportunity especially true in New Orleans, Kelley said, is social turmoil resulting in openness to the Gospel.
Joe McKeever, associational director of the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans, led the group in a time of prayer for the New Orleans area.
“There has never been a revival in New Orleans,” McKeever said, quoting Kelley. “But since Katrina, with thousands of your people coming to minister and share their faith, now I believe we are on the verge of a great revival. No city in America has been seeded with the Gospel like New Orleans.”
Michael McCormack is a writer for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. For more information on God’s Plan for Sharing, visit www.nei2020.com