LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Most people leave church disappointed and without fulfillment, said former Southern Baptist Convention President Bailey Smith.
Smith, now a full-time evangelist and head of Bailey Smith Ministries in Atlanta, said churches are in decline because they have abandoned the teaching of Scripture. Smith spoke in chapel Feb. 22 at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
“Most people who go to church leave disappointed,” Smith said. “They’re disenchanted. They’re not fulfilled. … It ought to be a happy time and a glorious time and an exciting time when you go to church. Now, I’m not for things getting out of control, but I’m for getting things out of coma.”
To reverse such a trend, Smith said churches should follow the example found in Acts 8:26-35, when Phillip witnessed to the Ethiopian eunuch. Smith spoke about three lessons the passage teaches: The church should be more mission-minded than position-minded; Jesus should be revered and not ignored; and there should be a grand submission to the Great Commission.
“No wonder 74 percent of Southern Baptist churches are in decline,” Smith said. “Almost 11,000 last year did not win one convert to Christ. What’s happened to us? Too many people are leaving church disappointed.
“How are we going to avoid that? I think it’s all spelled out very clearly in this passage of Scripture.”
Smith said that many churchgoers are like the Ethiopian eunuch who leave church without understanding the text.
“Apparently, as most commentators say, he had gone to worship that day and was returning [home],” Smith said. “Apparently, he was reading the text of the message that morning, but apparently it had not been explained and it had not been adequately preached. Phillip came to his rescue. What a horrible thing for a person to leave [church] and not get filled, not get excited, not hear the Word of God.”
Part of the problem, Smith said, is that some churches are more position-minded than mission-minded. That is, church members are more concerned about their positions within the church than spreading the gospel.
“Phillip was concerned about his mission, and not his position,” Smith said. “May I remind you that we are sinners saved by grace? No professor, no president, no former president of the Southern Baptist Convention has a right to be exalted. We’ve just got to be humble servants before the living God. We’ve got to be more interested in our mission, not interested in our position, because that’s what’s destroying us.”
Jesus should be the central theme of all sermons, Smith said, pointing out that Phillip witnessed to the eunuch using text found in Isaiah 53. “It’s interesting to me that he won people to Christ out of the Old Testament,” Smith said.
“Do you know that if you didn’t have a New Testament you could still lead people to Jesus? He preached Jesus out of Isaiah 53. I had a [professor] one time in an institution of higher learning that said, ‘Jesus, students, is really not back in the Old Testament. But because of our Christian condition, we’ve kind of fixed him back there in our minds.'”
But Jesus’ own words in John 5:39, Smith said, should repudiate such teaching.
“Christ is on every page of this blessed book — whether we’re aware … or not,” Smith said. “He is indeed there. Let me give you one verse that will put an end to all liberalism: ‘Search the Scriptures, for it is they that testify of me.’ When Jesus said that — and he did — he did not have Matthew through Revelation. He only had Genesis through Malachi.”
Smith said another lesson that can be learned from Phillip is that churches should have a “grand submission to the Great Commission.”
“Phillip began to share with this man about Christ,” Smith said. “He had never seen this man before.”
It is important, Smith said, for evangelism to focus on personal witnessing.
“Southern Baptists have had two programs that almost put us out of business evangelistically,” he said. “One was called lifestyle evangelism. I believe in lifestyle evangelism, but you’ve got to be careful, because all of a sudden the church says, ‘Well, everything we do is evangelism.’ Oh no it’s not. You’ve got to be involved. You’ve got to knock on doors. It’s got to be one-on-one.”
Smith said the other failed program was cultivative witnessing.
“From the Greek,” he said while joking, “that means, ‘too chicken to get with it.’ … I know there’s times when you play golf and you fish and you take people out to eat, but let me remind you of something: Nobody is saved by your life. They’re saved by [Christ’s] death. [Phillip] witnessed to this man. Phillip led the man to Christ. He didn’t try to cultivate him. He didn’t try to get him involved with some church activity. He just told him about the claims of Christ.”