INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–Conservative evangelicals around the world are welcoming the new Southern Baptist initiative to build relationships with “likeminded brothers and sisters in Christ,” Bobby Welch told messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 10 in Indianapolis.
Welch, who was named global evangelical relations strategist for the SBC’s Executive Committee in 2007, said he has been moved by the warm reception he has received during travels that have taken him to six continents.
“During this time — it’s going to be hard to believe — I have had over 1,000 meetings with people all around the world on this subject of our broadening our commitment to global evangelical relationships,” Welch said. “I am more than thrilled to say to you today that, all around the world, [there is] appreciation and thanksgiving for your initiative as Southern Baptists to expand our relationships. In fact, not only is it overwhelmingly appreciated, it is clearly said they believe it is extremely timely that we have moved to this place.”
Welch said he had just returned from an “encouragement conference” in Germany in which several Southern Baptist leaders met with conservative evangelical leaders and attended a pastors’ conference.
“Before that meeting was over, the press and attenders had declared that it was in fact an historic action taken in the family of God,” Welch said. “The reason was because these groups of people had never, ever come together like that to focus on what we have in common for the sake of the Gospel around the world.
“That is a pattern that will be followed in the days, months and years ahead,” Welch added. “Southern Baptists are well-pleased to be at tables like that around the world, where likeminded brothers and sisters come together for the glory of God, and we are there as agents of global relations and connectivity.”
The strategist position Welch holds was created after messengers to the SBC’s 2004 annual meeting in Indianapolis voted to withdraw from the Baptist World Alliance. Funding formerly designated for the BWA was reassigned for the new international initiative and remains within the Southern Baptist Convention operating budget. At the time, critics charged the withdrawal revealed a spirit of isolationism in the convention.
“We have said it over and over as a convention, that in no way, no form, no fashion is the Southern Baptist Convention entertaining any idea of being isolationist,” Welch said. “We intend to stay on the cutting edge, as long as God gives us breath, to reach more people in this world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The most important reason for launching the global initiative is that conditions are optimal around the world for completing Jesus’ Great Commission to make disciples of all the world’s peoples, Welch said.
“I know there is a climate of doom and gloom, but I’m here to tell you today — and this initiative is here today to encourage you this way — we should be the most optimistic, aggressive and sacrificial generation that has been on the planet since the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Welch said to a round of applause. “We ought to be optimistic, aggressive and sacrificial because this is the time.
“Ladies and gentlemen, quit talking about the next generation,” Welch said. “This is the generation — those of us who are alive today — this is the time to fulfill the Great Commission. It’s our time!”
Completing the Great Commission, however, is too large a task for any one group and that is why it is so important to connect committed believers so they can work together, Welch declared.
“It will take more of the entire body of Christ who are connected and cooperating to share the Gospel around the world,” he said. “The Great Commission for the lost requires what I call the ‘Great Connection’ of the saved. The Great Commission will not happen without this Great Connection.
“When the Great Commission is accomplished — and I believe [it will be] before any of us in this room die — it will be done through what will clearly be seen by history and eternity as the Great Connection of likeminded men and women who carry the Gospel to all the world.”
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.