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FIRST-PERSON: Making evangelism good news again

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–I reached my hotel room some time ago and called my wife as I always do. We were having a very nice, normal conversation when suddenly she broke out in a blood-curdling scream and dropped the phone.

My heart jumped into my throat as I shouted her name, trying to find out what in the world was going on. Then it got worse. My wife continued to scream and I heard a series of loud noises that sounded like gunfire. I didn’t know whether to hang up and call 911 or what to do.

Then I heard my son’s voice as he ran down the stairs to defend his mother against the deadly intruder that she was obviously doing battle with. My son shouted, “Mom, have you lost your mind?” And then he got on the phone. I could hardly understand him because he was laughing hysterically while my wife was crying in the background.

“What is going on?” I said.

“Mom saw a lizard,” my son’s said.

Now my wife is a wonderful, gifted, completely sane woman. But she does not like reptiles. At all. The loud sounds I had heard were actually my wife striking the lizard with some type of kitchen broom on the hardwood floor. The broom and the lizard are now deceased. I have asked my wife if she could develop two different screams -– one for truly life-threatening danger and another of lesser intensity for events involving such things as lizards. She is working on it.

That was my first false alarm of the week. The second happened in another hotel just a short time ago. About an hour before I had to get up, the loudest noise I have ever heard jolted me out of bed. The fire alarm was screaming just over my head. I knocked a lamp across the room and in my half-asleep condition started to exit the room. It turned out that a waffle iron in the kitchen had smoked too much and caused the commotion. Another false alarm. I hope it is the last for a while. But I doubt it.

In fact, I think I hear a lot of false alarms in Southern Baptist life these days. It is certainly no secret that our evangelistic statistics are way down. A larger and larger percentage of our nation is lost. Most of our churches are fundamentally unhealthy, reaching few if any truly unchurched people. We are losing our culture. But why?

What is really wrong with us? I hear theological alarms being sounded from people who say the problem is we are not committed enough to one theological position or another. Theology is important. I believe we would be far worse off if we had abandoned the full truth of Scripture. But having won the conservative resurgence, are we satisfied with the evangelistic results? Maybe our problem right now is not fundamentally theological. Maybe that’s a false alarm.

I hear methodological alarms going off from those who say the problem is we are not contemporary enough or we are not traditional enough. It seems to me that while we have thousands of churches practicing many different kinds of methodologies, no methodology has turned evangelism around in the SBC. Maybe our problem is not fundamentally methodological. Maybe that’s a false alarm.

I hear all kinds of other alarms — some say our worship style is wrong, the right people are not in key leadership roles or Southern Baptists aren’t giving enough money. But I tend to think that all these are false alarms.

Maybe we are not conservative enough or contemporary enough or traditional enough or relevant enough, but maybe those things aren’t our main problem. Maybe we are just not “Jesus enough.” In fact, maybe the problem is not with others at all –- with what they believe or how they worship or how much they give. Maybe the problem is just me. Maybe I am just not “Jesus enough.”

Jesus told me to love like He loves, to serve like He serves, to be holy as He is holy, to walk in humility as He walks. And Jesus also assures me that He is leaving the 99 at church to go find the one who is lost. But often I devote most of my time to solving all the problems of those who are already in the building.

Maybe the problem is just me. What might happen in SBC life if I just looked more like Jesus? And what if even a small number of us just stopped blaming everybody else and just started following Jesus together? I think I know what might happen. We can read about it in the New Testament –- a movement of power so intense that the whole world was transformed with no mass communication or technology. I think that is what we need. In fact, it is our only hope.

There are a lot of false alarms going off but if you will listen closely, I think you will hear one that is true -– and one that is both a warning and an invitation. I believe that Jesus is sounding an alarm and reminding us that there is not much time left to answer. But He is also calling us –- calling us to watch, to pray and to follow Him together to a world we really can reach. I hope we will wake up to the sound of His alarm. If we do, we can make evangelism good news again.
John Avant is vice president for evangelization at the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.

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  • John Avant