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Evangelist’s weekend sessions focus on undergirding a church’s families

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–As Southern Baptist evangelist Jerry Drace traveled the country in the early 1990s, he asked pastors he met, “Who’s hurting the most in your church?”
“Almost 100 percent said the family.” So Drace decided to take action.
The current president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists (COSBE) and father of two teenagers used his background in psychology and spiritual values to develop “Families Are Individuals Touching Hearts” (FAITH) weekends to address specific concerns of individuals in the local church — from teenagers to single moms to senior citizens.
“The family today is hurting, and that affects our churches,” said the founder of the Jerry Drace Evangelistic Association in Jackson, Tenn. “It doesn’t matter if you have a church of 50 members or 50,000 members; if you don’t have solid families, you don’t have a solid church.”
In 1993, Drace began conducting the FAITH weekends, which today fill nearly half of his evangelistic team’s yearly schedule. A typical weekend begins with a Friday night married couples banquet. Drace shares “80 Ways to Strengthen Your Marriage” from a booklet he developed which doubles as an 80-day devotional guide.
Family devotions are the key, Drace said. “I’ve heard that 92 percent of Southern Baptist families don’t have family devotions consistently, and 43 percent never do. That’s why our churches are in such trouble today.”
Brian Ivey, senior pastor of Highland Baptist Church, Vicksburg, Miss., said that message was exactly what his 750-member congregation needed to hear. “A lot of our families know that they need to do devotions together, and the FAITH weekend’s focus on making God and prayer time a priority in their home lives was a nice reminder to do that again,” he said.
On Saturday morning, Drace invites senior citizens to a session called “Myths of Old Age,” which challenges them to see the potential of their elder years. Later in the day, Drace holds a “Dynamics of Divorce” seminar for separated and divorced church members addressing practical issues of time management and career demands, forgiving an ex-spouse and supporting children impacted by family strife.
A contemporary Christian music concert featuring Drace’s music ministry team, Ken and Lois Holland, usually takes place on Saturday night. Afterwards, teenagers attend a session with Drace on such issues as sex, dating and divorce, with an invitation to a first-time commitment to Christ or a recommitment closing the evening.
“It’s sad when you hear that more church kids watch MTV than non-church kids and that the abortion rate is the same,” Drace said. “When I go to eat in people’s homes on these FAITH weekends, I always ask the kids if I can see their rooms. You wouldn’t believe the stuff on their walls, MegaDeath, Madonna. These kids wake up every morning and see this stuff staring them in the face, and the parents are saying, ‘What? It really matters?’ Yes! It does!”
“There is a continuing need for family ministry because of the problems they face today,” said Ken Harmon, pastor of First Baptist Church, Newberry, S.C., who hosted Drace’s FAITH weekend team in mid-August.
“We have periodic emphases such as divorce ministry and discussion groups for parents of teens, but this was the first time we’d had a large-scale event which covered so many areas. Our church members were challenged by it.”
During the Sunday school time, Drace talks with single young adults to age 30 who have never been married. “We discuss careers, the challenges of being single and choices of a mate,” the evangelist said. “Many young adults don’t realize that God cares deeply about these decisions. I tell them he cares not just for their souls, but for everything in their lives.”
Drace’s sermon on Sunday morning targets the local church’s moms and dads.
“I preach on the American family building a home life, how men should be spiritual leaders, and I always give an invitation for families who will commit to daily Bible reading. I ask the husbands to come forward, but sometimes whole families do. At the end of the service, the front of the church and the aisles are packed with people.”
Drace received a letter recently from a man in Mississippi who had committed to family devotions during one of the FAITH weekends in 1996. “He wanted to say thank you and tell me that they hadn’t missed a day of devotions in two years,” Drace said.
On Sunday afternoons, parents of pre-teens and teenagers learn about the characteristics of teenagers, how to communicate with their children and how to discipline. When the parents ask questions, Drace often lets other moms and dads from the audience field them. That way, all the parents in the church know they’re in this together, he said.
On Sunday evening, Drace talks about different people Jesus met in his ministry and how he communicated with them. “Moms, dads and children need to know that Jesus is our model for communication,” Drace said. “After the sermon, I ask the people if there is someone in the room who they need to communicate with better. Do they need to say I’m sorry or I love you? That’s when the real barriers come down.”
The weekend’s aim of opening lines of communication and learning once again the importance of the family has inspired and challenged participating churches to become more involved in family ministries.
“Since our faith weekend in late August, our church’s spirit has been really great,” Brian Ivey said. “It gave us a boost in every way. We are already planning more family oriented events such as a marriage banquet and a parenting skills seminar. We want to help our families who are struggling to keep God first in their lives and in their homes. An entire weekend devoted to the family and each member’s individual concerns helped us refocus.”
While churches should do more for the family, Drace said Southern Baptist evangelists also have a responsibility. To enlarge their vision, Drace, as president of COSBE, accepted an invitation from James Dobson to bring two dozen COSBE members and North American Mission Board staff to the Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., last August to learn more about vital issues facing the American family — in hopes that the information would help them reach more hurting people.
“I think evangelists who are qualified need to use their ministries to address family issues,” Drace said. “If we all work together and recommit to making the Lord the center of our families, I believe we’ll soon be a stronger church, a stronger nation and a stronger world.”

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  • Kelli Williams