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Paige Patterson urges SBC thrust to evangelize nation’s major cities

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptists need to have “broken hearts” over the nation’s great cities, where “people wander about needing the Lord and so often have no opportunity to know him at all,” said Paige Patterson, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, during the opening of the Sept. 21-22 Executive Committee meeting in Nashville, Tenn.
“We’ve got to change our attitudes” toward major cities, Patterson said, citing Southern Baptists’ roots in the nation’s countryside.
Patterson said he will ask the SBC’s Committee on Order of Business, responsible for much of the planning of each year’s SBC annual meeting, to choose a theme for the 1999 sessions in Atlanta “on the responsibility that we have” for key U.S. urban areas. The committee is scheduled to meet Sept. 23 in Nashville.
Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C., told of presenting Christ to a 35-year-old man recently who “had never once heard a gospel presentation. Not in east Africa, but in Raleigh, N.C. Can you believe it? If it’s true in Raleigh, N.C., folks, it is literally true all across the great cities of our land.”
Speaking from the Old Testament Book of Jonah, Patterson read the fourth chapter recounting the prophet Jonah’s anger at God’s intention to save the city of Nineveh, which had 120,000 people at the time.
“Like Jonah, we may not have cared much for (the city),” Patterson said. “Like Jonah, sometimes we may stand on the outskirts of the city and say, ‘God, you judged Sodom and Gomorrah; why don’t you go ahead and get them too?’
“But that is not an attitude that is pleasing to the Lord,” Patterson said, declaring “with every single bit of energy we have, the day has come for us to bend our backs to the job of getting the gospel of Jesus Christ to Ninevah, to New York City, to Chicago, to Philadelphia, to Cleveland” in an initiative encompassing the SBC, the state Baptist conventions, SBC seminaries and Baptist colleges and universities — “all of us working together.”
“I want to challenge you to join with other Southern Baptists all across this land and, one last time before Jesus comes, let’s have an assault for Christ on the big cities of our country, and let’s reach Ninevah for Christ during the year 2000,” Patterson said. “Let’s make it the greatest year ever for the cause of Christ.”
Patterson reiterated his call for Southern Baptists to record 1 million baptisms during the year 2000 — 500,000 in the United States and 500,000 in overseas work, up from 412,000 baptisms stateside in 1997 and 283,100 overseas.
Voicing a conviction for evangelism that produces New Testament churches, Patterson said he hopes to see “literally hundreds of churches in the great cities of our country” established.
“It’s not just the accumulation of numbers, and that’s why we Baptists do not speak just of the people we win to Christ in a year,” Patterson explained, “but we speak of baptisms, because it is through that public profession of faith in baptism that they become a part of that local church, which then has a continuing witness wherever it happens to be located.”
Patterson said he hopes Baptist associations — “where there are 200 and 300 churches” — to adopt a big city with a goal of planting 50 churches there. “I’d like to charge our mega-churches with the responsibility of planting 25 new churches in one of the great cities of America,” he added.
Bob Reccord, president of the SBC’s North American Mission Board, strongly affirmed Patterson’s challenge. “I thank God that he has put the matter of reaching people in our largest cities in Dr. Patterson’s heart,” Reccord said. “I am grateful for the enthusiasm and commitment evident in Dr. Patterson’s remarks to the Executive Committee. The effort to share the gospel in our largest cities will be a personal priority for me and for our agency.”
Evangelization and church planting in the 50 largest cities in North America is one of NAMB’s four target objectives. The agency’s strategic focus city team is currently working with Southern Baptist leadership in Georgia, Illinois and Arizona to develop efforts for Atlanta in 1999 and Chicago and Phoenix in the year 2000. Other cities targeted by NAMB for major evangelism, church-planting and ministry efforts include New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Las Vegas, Miami, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Philadelphia, San Diego, Seattle/Tacoma, Washington, Toronto and Montreal.
Patterson, referencing the years of conservative resurgence in the SBC, said, “I believe (they) were necessary for theological definition, but that is behind us at this point. Not that we can ever say that theology isn’t important. It is more important than ever before. It’s just that it’s time for us to move on beyond that.”
And referencing his call for President Clinton to resign amid such moral failures as having sexual relations with a young White House intern, Patterson said, “I, with you, lament what is going on in our country right now, and I have spoken openly about what I believe the president for his own sake should do.
“But let me tell you what concerns me the most. It’s not President Clinton. What concerns me the most is the materialism of our nation that has led our people to say moral and spiritual integrity are not really important anymore.
“But rather than just lament that it’s come to that, let’s get on with the business of getting the gospel to everyone,” Patterson urged. “It’s an exciting time to be alive, and the greatest possibilities for a visitation of the spirit of God like never before rest upon this country right now.”