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Evangelism should be natural for true Christians, Roesel says

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Evangelism is neither voluntary nor mandatory; it is inevitable for the true believer, Charles Roesel said during the Gurney Lectures on Evangelism at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Feb. 25-27.

“If Jesus Christ is living in our hearts, he’s going to be in our talk,” he said. “If he’s not in our talk we need to question whether he is reigning in our hearts.”

Roesel, pastor at First Baptist Church in Leesburg, Fla., encourages his church members to be intentional about sharing the message of Christ with a hurting world. In turn, his church has become a leader in the area of ministry evangelism — witnessing through meeting the needs of people.

“First Baptist Church of Leesburg truly is one of the most outstanding and unusual churches in the Southern Baptist Convention,” said NOBTS President Chuck Kelley. “The church is organized around a very simple philosophy; when you meet people’s needs you can tell them about Christ, and Christ will transform them.”

During the lectures, Roesel noted how well the early church shared their faith despite the many obstacles they faced. Led by uneducated fishermen, the first Christians were serious about the task of leading others to faith in Christ. Each day many people came into the kingdom of God.

Today outreach is different. The church has many material and financial resources at its fingertips and enjoys more freedom than the early church. More church leaders are being trained today than at any other time in history. Unlike the early church, Christians are not reaching many people, Roesel said.

“Something is drastically missing. We’ve got the programs, we’ve got the easy ways to do it but it isn’t being done,” he said. “Never has there been a time when we have failed so miserably in evangelism as we are doing today.”

Roesel pointed to a disturbing trend in the Southern Baptist Convention. Last year, 11,000 churches reported no baptisms and another 11,000 churches reported three or less.

First Baptist, Leesburg baptizes more than 200 people per year. More than 100 elderly people were saved last year, some of whom were not able to be baptized because of medical problems. The church is bucking the national trend in the area of evangelism.

Roesel reaches out to the mentally challenged, prostitutes, elderly, AIDS patients, the needy and the homeless. Many churches view these people as unreachable and focus their attention in other directions. Roesel believes that “anybody is reachable in the name of Jesus,” and God is blessing the efforts of this church.

“We are not going to reach a world for Christ … unless we have the love of Christ flowing through our lives as we love all kinds of people,” Roesel said. “In our church we celebrate everybody who comes. When someone walks the aisle, our entire church breaks out in applause of celebration.”

“When I see someone come to saving knowledge of Jesus I get excited,” he said. “If you ever get to a point that you don’t get excited about people being saved you are in trouble.”

Because of the types of people the church ministers to, many would think Leesburg is located in a metropolitan area. Not true. Leesburg is a town of 15,000. The problems that once plagued only large cities have come to small towns.

When he came to Leesburg in 1976, the town had 90 churches and First Baptist had about 200 members. During the past 27 years, God has brought dynamic growth. More than 6,000 members now worship and serve at First Baptist, Leesburg. Roesel is often asked why he believes God has so richly blessed the church in Leesburg.

“God wanted the most ordinary place and most ordinary preacher so everyone would have to say that is a God thing,” Roesel said. “I had no idea what God had in mind when went there, but I knew where God wanted me to be.”

Roesel’s church has started many ministries in order to reach out to more people who need to hear the gospel. They have a ministry village, which includes a rescue mission, women’s shelter, two children’s homes, a pregnancy care center, clothes closet, food pantry, medical center, AIDS clinic, counseling center and a day care center.

Their heart for ministry and evangelism does not stop within the borders of this country. First Baptist, Leesburg has built more than 70 churches and children’s homes in Romania, Brazil and Africa.

Roesel realizes that ministry evangelism is not for everyone, but the cost should not be the determining factor. People commonly ask Roesel about the expenses related to ministry-based evangelism. He said that seeking God’s will is more important than costs.

“The question is not, ‘Can we afford it?’” he said. “’Is this God’s will?’ is the question. I’ve got good news, if it is his will, he can afford it.”

In the lectures, Roesel applied the Lord’s Prayer to the task of evangelism. He said that the prayer reveals the heart Christ had from his Father and for other people.

“In this prayer the Lord reveals the attitude that must be in our hearts if we are going to have a passion for taking this world for Jesus Christ,” Roesel said. “I want to pray everyday that I will have the heart of God, that I will have concern about the things that concern him, hurt about the things that hurt him and that I will learn to pray.”

The Gurney Lectures on Evangelism were established by Thomas Gurney, a Baptist layman from Orlando, Fla. Gurney, a lawyer and member of First Baptist Church in Orlando, was a committed witness who boldly shared his faith. He gave an endowment in order to fund a lecture series on evangelism at NOBTS each spring.

NOBTS students will have the opportunity to see ministry evangelism in action at First Baptist Church of Leesburg, Fla. The course EVAN 6399 Ministry Evangelism/CESW 6364 Church and Community Ministries will be offered at the church July 14-18. For additional information, contact Perry Hancock, (504) 282-4455, ext. 3327; or Loretta Rivers, (504) 282-4455, ext. 3211. The registration deadline for the workshop is June 13.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: CARING AND SHARING.