ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–A few years ago, a boy came to me one Sunday and said, “Would you pray for my uncle? He had a real bad day yesterday.” “Sure,” I said, “What happened to him?” “He died,” the boy answered, “and he lost his job!”
Died and lost his job –- now that’s a bad day! Some bad news just can’t be fixed. But other times bad news can be transformed into good news -– if the right people will care enough to do it. Such is the case with the bad news about Southern Baptist baptisms for 2005. They dropped to the lowest level in 12 years. We are in deep trouble and it remains to be seen if we care. But I am certain that this bad news can be transformed into good news. God loves people more than we do, and if He calls us to reach them He will give us the power to do so!
So how do we turn this around? I don’t claim to have all the answers. But I will share my prayerful thoughts. Here, I believe are some of the keys:
— Cry out to God.
When was the last time you personally cried out to God to save someone? And have you noticed that most of our prayers in our churches are for God to heal the sick? Nothing wrong with that — except that it is temporary. Everyone who gets healed still dies! Cry out to God to heal someone eternally. The secret of the New Testament revival that started with powerless peasants and transformed the world is found in Acts 4:31: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” Revival begins with repentance. There is no greater sin of Southern Baptists than to let those around us go to hell without even attempting to share with them. We must repent of this -– and cry out to God together.
— Disagree in biblical love.
I am amazed at the way so many Southern Baptists treat each other. It really is not surprising that most lost people want nothing to do with us. If we have a problem with another believer, the Bible tells us exactly how to deal with it (Matthew 18). We should try demonstrating the extravagant, grace-filled, unifying love of Jesus -– even when we disagree. The world might run to see that.
— Become churches, not country clubs.
Think about it. In a country club, you pay dues to get your comforts. You want good programs for your family, quality facilities and to associate with people like you. In a church you are called to give your offerings and your life, to sacrifice anything, and to be a mission force to people different from you. Look around where you worship this Sunday -– are you a church or a country club? I see churches across America that believe the essence of “church” is not found only in a worship service. After all, the word church means “the called-out ones,” not “the called-in ones.” These churches are taking the Good News everywhere they go. They are loving, serving and sharing Jesus with people who need Him. These are the churches that will lead us forward finally to change our evangelistic decline.
— Change our methods.
I am happy that anyone will share the Good News in any way they choose. But it is unbiblical to keep using methods that have not resulted in the power God promises in Acts 1:8. Many traditional evangelistic methods are still mighty tools of God. But if in a given area, one way of presenting the Gospel is poorly received, we should do what Paul did. In Acts 19:8-10, Paul first “spoke boldly.” But then “some became obstinate.” What did Paul do? Did he keep doing the same thing harder? No. “So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.” The results were that everyone heard the Gospel! Which is biblical — bold preaching or relational discussion? Both of course, depending upon the audience. It seems to me that the strongest criticism is aimed often at those who reach more than others. As long as someone is doctrinally sound, I am not going to criticize them while they are reaching more than I am. Let’s get creative and ask the Creator to pour out His ideas for powerful evangelism in today’s world.
— Like people.
It is easy to say that we “love people,” but do we like them? Doesn’t it seem that Jesus really liked people? He stopped to talk to a little guy in a tree and then went to his house. He talked to a woman at a well when no one else would. He went to a tax collector’s party and was criticized for enjoying it. Jesus liked people. Do we even know people who don’t know Christ? In our strongest churches it is rare to see 15 percent of the people ever involved in any evangelistic program. We should empower that 15 percent but the 85 percent have to be unleashed! Ask God every day to give you someone to like, a friend you can share with. He will bring you right to them if you will just watch and pray. If that is still scary to you, ask to work with children or youth in your church and share the Gospel with them. Nothing could be easier or more wonderful. And if all we did was begin to reach children and students as Southern Baptists once did, we would see tremendous change.
This bad news can be changed. I do not believe, though, that we have much more time to turn this ship. The real question is this: Do we care if we are reaching fewer and fewer people? We know where Jesus is going. He is leaving then 99 to go after the one. Will Southern Baptists follow Jesus? You are the only one who can make evangelism good news again.
John Avant is vice president for evangelization at the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.