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FIRST-PERSON: Making evangelism good news again

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–I have almost decided not to read the newspaper or watch the news during the Southern Baptist Convention. I cringe every time the headlines make us sound like a marching horde of hate-mongers. I worry that our negative publicity may make it more difficult for the churches to do evangelism once we are gone.

And it bothers me that we bring some of this on ourselves. We sometimes manage to sound as if we are at war with lost people rather than in love with them. Matthew tells us that when Jesus saw the lost world He was sick with compassion for them (9:36). We, on the other hand, just seem sick of them. Wouldn’t it be something if one year all of our motions and resolutions had to do with how we will love, serve and share Good News with homosexuals, abortionists, politicians and public schools instead of how to oppose them? Just an idea.

But hey, don’t take me for a pessimist. Anyone who couldn’t see good news at this convention is blind. Our annual meeting is far more than a few business sessions. Take Crossover, for instance. That’s our annual effort to love the convention city by sharing the Good News in the days before the convention begins. This year, nearly 7,000 volunteers came from all over the country to be a part. That’s a record, folks! They joined thousands of area volunteers in block parties, festivals, childrens’ events, inner-city ministry, hunger relief, servant evangelism and door-to-door witnessing. We won’t have all the reports in for weeks but we already have 2,544 reported professions of faith and will almost certainly reach 3,000! Thanks to our president, Bobby Welch, for putting such a strong focus on evangelism. And for those of you who think you could never be a part of something like this because you are not comfortable knocking on a stranger’s door, you should know that about 70 percent of those who came to Christ did so in relational contexts such as block parties. These same kinds of opportunities are waiting for you every day where you live, work and go to school.

The people reached in Nashville aren’t numbers. They are real people with new lives. People like Larry, the drug dealer who prayed on the street to meet Jesus and become a blessing instead of a curse to his city. People like Dorothy, a grandmother who said she had been seeking God but needed someone to tell her how to know Him. People like Steve, who followed a friend of mine to his car after overhearing him witness to someone else and met Christ himself. And people like my new friend Ralph, who found freedom in Christ to replace his slavery to alcohol.

There was plenty of good news at this convention and I’m writing this just as the actual business is getting started. But I have already seen things that I have longed to see. I have seen an older generation listening to a younger one, even learning from them. I heard affirmation of them instead of attack. I watched Southern Baptists from 15 different language groups come together to reach their communities. In the same room, I shared with a Chinese family, a Laotian family, a Korean woman, and a Sudanese man! It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in Southern Baptist life. I met with one of the most wonderful and sacrificial groups you will ever meet -– our Southern Baptist evangelists -– and listened to them embrace a passion for the whole world. I shared a meal with our chaplains from across the globe and heard the most amazing stories of God’s power, love and grace. Can’t wait to tell you some of those.

I shared time with treasured friends. I made new friends. I listened to our heroes of the faith. And I saw the bright young eyes of the heroes of the future. I love you Southern Baptists! With all your stumbles and fumbles, you are still the most beautiful people on earth. And I just don’t want anyone to miss out on what we share together. You don’t want that either, do you? Then follow Jesus and love people today -– and let’s make evangelism good news again.
John Avant is vice president for evangelization at the North American Mission Board.

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  • John Avant