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FIRST-PERSON: Making evangelism good news again


ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–I had so much to be thankful for at Thanksgiving it was just ridiculous. I gathered around a table full of great food, in a comfortable house in a free country surrounded by a great family and great friends. Then I was as lazy as I could possibly be and watched all the football I could squeeze into one day.

I fully realize that most of the world doesn’t have these incredible blessings. But these things are easy to be thankful for. It’s not as easy to be thankful for things that are not pleasant and comfortable. But Scripture tells us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

We have all known people who face adversity with joy and grace. People like this always amaze me. I have been privileged to know many through the years. People like Virgil Gray who was dying of a debilitating disease and could not hold his head up, but always challenged me to take him to share the Gospel with someone. Or Paul Stewart who was the sickest man I ever knew who was still alive. He had so many things wrong with him but his spirit made me believe that everything was right with him. Paul was the only person I ever met who enjoyed dialysis. I am sure he didn’t enjoy the procedure itself, but he told me that they put him in a room with other people who were also undergoing dialysis and he could share Jesus with them. Paul enjoyed the fact that they couldn’t get away.

Lately I have been wondering if Southern Baptists need another kind of Thanksgiving. Maybe we need to learn to be thankful for things we don’t like about each other. I hear a lot of criticism going around these days, and most of it is friendly fire –- verbal attacks from Southern Baptists against other Southern Baptists. I’m sure a lot of this is deserved. I know I deserve my share. When I am criticized I often wonder what my critic would say if he knew how bad I really am! But even if it is accurate and warranted, I wonder if it is healthy. I even wonder if it is biblical. We are certainly challenged in Scripture to “gently correct” those we feel are wrong, but it sure seems like most of us are far more interested in being the corrector than the correctee.

And what do we do with passages like Philippians 2:14-15? It says, “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.” Doesn’t this passage clearly teach that the way we relate to each other is so important that it will determine whether or not we have a real witness to this generation in which we live? That creates a direct link between our decisions about criticizing each other and the effectiveness of our evangelism.

It sure seems to me that if we are going to be thankful in everything, and if we are going to do everything without complaining and arguing, we will have to be thankful for some things that we don’t like, with which we don’t even agree. I am not very good at this but I would like to be better. So I will offer for your consideration my Top 10 list of reasons I should be thankful for things I don’t like about Southern Baptists:


10. Though I don’t like the theology of every Southern Baptist, all of our seminaries now uphold the inerrancy of Scripture. Thank you Lord!

9. Though I don’t like everything that some contemporary Southern Baptists do, they are reaching and baptizing many people. Thank you Lord!

8. Though I don’t like everything some traditional Southern Baptists do, they are strongly supportive of the denomination that led me to Jesus. Thank you Lord!

7. Though I don’t like the results of every election we have in SBC life, every leader I have seen elected for years is a solid, Bible-believing man. Thank you Lord!

6. Though I don’t like some of the new music I hear in SBC life, I am learning to sing a new song. Thank you Lord!

5. Though I don’t like singing only hymns, churches that do this are keeping a heritage of God’s great music for our future. Thank you Lord!

4. Though I don’t like some of the fights we have over theology, I am being stretched to grow in my own understanding of the greatness and glory of God. Thank you Lord!

3. Though I don’t like the way many good people in the SBC have been criticized and maligned, God is using these times to bring brokenness and a greater dependence on Him. Thank you Lord!

2. Though I don’t like the many church splits resulting from our fights, in God’s mercy, He uses even this to start new churches that reach many people. Thank you Lord!

1. Though I don’t like it when someone criticizes me personally or even treats me as an enemy, when I respond biblically, I become more like Christ. Thank you Lord!

This kind of Thanksgiving is not easy is it? But I wonder what might happen if we all tried it as a substitute for our criticism. Just maybe if we talked less about each other we would have more time to talk to God -– and to those who don’t know Him. And it sure seems to me that this would make evangelism good news again.
John Avant is vice president for evangelization at the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.