EDITORS’ NOTE: The following story is part of a monthly Baptist Press series to explore and describe how individuals, churches, associations and conventions exhibit a passion for Christ and His Kingdom.
GALLATIN, Tenn. (BP)––Although more than 10,000 Southern Baptist churches didn’t baptize a single person last year, there’s no real secret to seeing new believers stir the waters of the baptistery, says a pastor who baptized 29 on a recent Sunday evening.
When people have “experienced the power of the Gospel personally … they want to share that with others,” said Jeff LaBorg of College Heights Baptist Church in Gallatin, Tenn.
New believers, he noted, are the fruit of soul-winning by church members who “love the Word of God and have been taught by exposition and example from their leaders that soul-winning is a requirement and not an elective.”
College Heights members “love everybody that comes through the door, regardless of appearance, affluence, or economic status,” the pastor said. “On Sunday, they flood the altar with tears and intercession, and then they go out and pursue the very ones they have been praying for. They are bold about sharing their own testimonies of how Christ changed their lives.”
For example, church members recently discovered a family who had moved to the area to work in the booming construction industry, but heavy rains had delayed the work. They had spent all their resources and were living in a tent in a local campground. The church family ministered to their needs and shared the Good News of God’s love, LaBorg said.
“Today that family has a home, a job and, most importantly, a family of faith….”
DON’T BE RELUCTANT
LaBorg urged believers not to be reluctant to witness to people.
“People are hungry for truth -– unapologetic truth that sets the captive free and doesn’t merely offer a mask to cover the misery,” he said. “The unchurched are weary of the standard religious answers that ignore the real issues, and they are willing to pay the price –- if only someone will tell them the truth.”
For London Smith, it only took a friend’s invitation to lead him toward the transforming power of Jesus Christ. Smith was one of the young men baptized at College Heights Aug. 28.
“I was raised in church and made a decision at age 12, but it was just routine. I wasn’t saved,” said Smith, a 20-year-old employee of Dell Computer Corp. “I had been into a lot of bad stuff that I’m not proud of –- drugs, drinking, getting mad over small things. When a friend invited me to come here, I instantly felt the power. My life has turned around 180 degrees the other way. It’s amazing.”
‘AT A DEAD END’
Frank Boone, a 42-year-old landscaper from Gallatin, was baptized that evening because he had experienced Christ’s power to change a life in trouble.
“I used to drink a lot, going to bars, picking fights, using pot and cocaine. I ruined my life,” Boone confessed. “I wasn’t thinking about my kids. I was a poor excuse for a dad. I brought misery to everyone around me.
“The Lord had been knocking on my door for a long time. I knew it, but I thought, ‘Why try being a Christian when I know I’m not going to commit to it?’
Then, in mid-August, Boone finally understood he was at a dead end.
“I was on my way home -– it’s about an hour’s walk -– and I was drunk,” he recounted. “It was hot and I was sweating. I had blisters on my feet. And Christ was talking to me the whole way.”
Tears welled up in his eyes as he relived the experience.
“I stopped at a bridge and sat down. I told Christ, ‘Lord, I can’t do it on my own. I’ve tried all my life and I’ve done nothing but cause misery and pain for myself and my family. I’m ready. I’ll give up everything. I want a new life. I want my kids to hug me and tell me they love me and be proud of me.’
“Now, it’s not what can God do for me; it’s what can I do for Him,” Boone said, his face breaking into a wide smile. “He gave His Son up for me. I couldn’t do that. I just praise God for not giving up on me, even with all the disrespect I’ve shown Him over the years.”
Nothing compares to the experience of leading someone to Christ, LaBorg said.
“When I look into their eyes and see a peace that words cannot explain -– where only a short time before there was fear and confusion –- I am filled with the awe of God’s miracle of regeneration,” the pastor said.
That’s a joy too many Christians are missing out on, when more than 10,000 Southern Baptist churches don’t baptize anyone, LaBorg said.
“Evangelism is simply introducing people to the Lord and sharing the relationship that has forever changed your life and altered your destiny,” he said. “When we have experienced the power of the Gospel personally, we want to share that with others. The more we love Jesus, the more natural it becomes for us to share our faith.
“As we grow in love for Jesus, His passions become our passions. Just as He loves sinners and seeks the lost, we follow His example. If we don’t exhibit the characteristics of our Father, then something is wrong.”
BY WORD AND EXAMPLE
Pastors must show their people by example and from God’s Word that soul-winning isn’t optional, LaBorg continued.
“This church’s founding pastor, Larry Gilmore, is now leader of the evangelism strategies group for Tennessee Baptists,” he said. “He taught them by exposition and example that soul-winning is a requirement and not an elective.
“The pastor is key. Pastors have to set the evangelistic example by prioritizing evangelism in the life of the church by returning to soul-winning training, evangelistic rallies, intentional evangelistic outreach.”
With so many Americans experiencing turmoil and uncertainty, sharing the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ is an urgent priority, LaBorg said.
“This is the day of salvation. There has never been a greater opportunity to mobilize the church with the Gospel than right now,” he said. “As the backdrop of natural disasters and economic upheaval grows darker, we could not be in a greater position to let our light so shine that the whole world would see our good works and glorify our Father in Heaven.
“It is time for those at ease in Zion to awaken and behold the incredible opportunity we have to rescue the perishing.”
Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch has challenged Southern Baptist churches to baptize 1 million new believers in the coming year and has called on their 1,188 local associations to hold two “associational baptism rallies” between Oct. 1 of this year and Sept. 30, 2006. Information and resources about “The ‘Everyone Can’ Kingdom Challenge!” is available on the Internet at http://www.everyonecan.net.