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Pastors’ witness yields 1-0 score in ‘only game that really counts’

IRVING, Texas (BP)–On Aug. 22 the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys were 0-4 in preseason games, but a group of pastors meeting at Texas Stadium, home of the Cowboys, were 1-0 in the only game that really counts.

That’s because on the 50-yard line, right where the big star representative of the Cowboys franchise is located on the field, the pastors led a young woman named Marcella, a stadium tour guide, to accept Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior.

Within 20 minutes Marcella, who had moved to the Dallas area from Wichita, Kan., had witnessed to six other people, saying, “One of the things I tell visitors is that the star in the middle of the field always points toward the home team. Now I can say that it’s where I was when I trusted Christ.”

“This [Marcella’s experience] really was the work of the Holy Spirit,” said Bobby Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church, Daytona Beach, Fla., where the FAITH Sunday school evangelism strategy was born 14 years ago.

The pastors were at Texas Stadium participating in a four-day National FAITH Institute sponsored by LifeWay Church Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Jay Johnston, director of LifeWay’s Sunday school/FAITH ministry department, said FAITH “equates to the process of a Christian going on a journey of faith to share the gospel, minister to those in need and grow in his or her personal relationship with Christ. Then the process begins to multiply itself.”

After originating at FBC, Daytona Beach, FAITH has been introduced to Southern Baptists by LifeWay and is endorsed by the North American Mission Board.

In FAITH, the key factor is a church’s connection to its Sunday school, Johnston noted.

“Our Sunday schools represent the largest group of volunteers within any organization,” he said, “so getting people in our Sunday schools to focus on evangelism is to make them mission-focused Christians.”

Welch said “LifeWay is kicking it out there,” and 5,000 churches have now been trained in FAITH outreach, with participation totaling 120,000 people.

“Right here we’re looking at a generation of preachers who are going to make a difference,” Welch said.

Jay McCollum, pastor of the First Baptist Church, Gallup, N.M., said the program was on the “cutting edge” of Christian ministry and a “must” for innovative churches.

McCollum, originally from Port Arthur, Texas, said the institute was an opportunity for professional training, encouragement and strengthening of purpose.

“The camaraderie is wonderful,” he said, “but so is the opportunity to learn, grow, retool, pray and seek God’s guidance.”

“I see it as a tremendous opportunity for pastors to learn team building,” said Mike Butler, pastor of First Baptist Church, Inola, Okla., “to come to the realization that we’re not competing against each other.”

Scott Willingham, senior pastor of Faith Baptist Church, Wichita Falls, Texas, said, “FAITH evangelism has transformed us from an inward-looking church to an outward-looking church. It has built teamwork. I’ve seen wonderful changes as a result of the program.”

“It has helped us see and understand how important all the members of the team are,” said Ron Bingaman, minister of FAITH at Immanuel Baptist Church, Highland, Calif. He said the church, whose pastor is Rob Zinn, will host a FAITH Institute next January.

Guy Weathers, pastor of Indian Creek Baptist Church at Mineral Wells, Texas, said the program has refocused the purpose of the church back on the true focus of the church — “making Great Commission Christians.” That focus, he said, entails maximizing the number of people involved in working to reach people for Christ.

“FAITH evangelism has brought a fresh spirit into our church,” said Don Gann, pastor of Wynndale Baptist Church, Terry, Miss. “It has really given our church new opportunity to mobilize. In two [16-week] semesters we’ve had more people make visits than have made visits in years.

“The program teaches people a total approach to ministry, and it helps us do what we ought to be doing,” Gann said.

Bryan McAnally, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Craig, Colo., called the program “awesome.” He said his people have led 59 people to Christ in three semesters.

“We have 140 people enrolled in the program and send out more than 50 every week in visitation evangelism,” McAnally said. “Our people are beginning to see the lost. They’re seeing neighbors and co-workers, people they’ve known for years, as lost souls.”

“I don’t think of it as a program,” said Don Davis, a retired pastor from Concord, N.C., who is director of church development for the Cabarrus Baptist Association. “I think of it as a movement truly anointed by God to bring our country to Christ.”

Mike Napier, pastor of First Baptist Church, Noble, Okla., said when he introduced the program at a worship service 60 people came forward saying they wanted to give 16 weeks to be involved.

“I just moved to Noble [April 1] from First Baptist Church at Broken Bow, Okla.,” Napier said, “and we had tremendous success with the program there. So I know what God can do with it.

“The FAITH evangelism ministry gives a church direction. It’s like a funnel. It channels everything in church life in one direction, not 10, and feeds all the church’s ministries,” Napier said.

In Texas Stadium, the pastors engaged in a lighthearted team punt, pass, kick and catch competition, then retired to the Cowboys’ locker room to hear John Powers, pastor of First Baptist Church, Norfolk, Va., and Neal Jeffrey, association pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, Dallas.

Jeffrey, who was quarterback of the Southwest Conference champion Baylor Bears in the ’70s and played three years for the NFL San Diego Chargers, told the pastors they could only preach the gospel “so many times” and challenged them to value those times.

“Get fired up, live victorious and sprint as long as you have breath,” Jeffrey said. “If you’re going to represent him [Jesus], represent him well.”

Powers said it is impossible to hire enough preachers to do the work, so to impact the world the church “must build leaders” and get away from the “Lone Ranger mentality” that grips many churches.

“The playing field is the Great Commission,” Powers said. “Everything else is out of bounds. And if you want your people to believe in evangelism, you must be a personal soul-winner.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library. Photo title: THE ONLY GAME THAT COUNTS.

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  • C.C. Risenhoover