GREENSBORO, N.C. (BP)–Southern Baptists heard four “Points of Challenge” speakers addressing them as individuals, as churches and as a convention during the SBC annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C., June 13-14.
The challenges underscored SBC President Bobby Welch’s “Everyone Can” campaign to baptize 1 million souls in a year.
David Cox, co-pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., first challenged Southern Baptists to win the world to Christ through clearly demonstrated Christian love.
“You know if there is one thing that we are missing in our Southern Baptist Convention, something that we need to grasp more of, it is the whole concept of Christian love and loving one another and loving sinners,” Cox said.
Preaching from Mark 9:12-13, Cox exhorted messengers to remember that it is not the healthy who need a physician but the sick and that Jesus desires our compassion over sacrifice.
“If you’re trying to get a handle like I am on what’s this all about, and what God is calling me to do and what He is calling us to do as a convention, I believe with all my heart it is to love a lost and dying world and to show them the compassion of the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “I’m not sure they know that we love them. I’m not sure at all.”
Cox then told of his wife’s uncle who suffered a stroke earlier in the week. Though the uncle died, family members expressed gratitude for the paramedics who responded within five minutes of the call.
“In that situation, it would have been unthinkable to think that a man passed out on the floor would have called the hospital himself or would have called 911 to get help for himself,” he said.
Yet that’s exactly what we do when it comes to the lost, he said. We expect them to bring themselves to our churches.
Cox then told the story of Matthew, the despised tax collector, to encourage Baptists to follow Jesus with total abandon and not be surprised at who Jesus wants to use to reach the lost.
“If you and I had been there at the tax collector’s booth standing in line and we knew that Jesus was calling disciples, we probably would have said to ourselves that Matthew is the last one on the face of this earth that Jesus would call to be his disciple,” Cox said.
But Jesus called Matthew rather than a Pharisee or a pastor or someone who had been a faithful church member.
“The amazing thing is that Matthew got up and went after Jesus and became one of the 12 disciples,” Cox said. “I want to ask you a question. What’s keeping you from getting up and following Jesus with total abandon? If you’re serious about the Great Commission, you’re going to have to go. Everyone can, and you are it.”
Believers should stop waiting on people to come to their churches, Cox said.
“Where I come from, they’re not going to come to my church unless I get out there and take them by the hand and demonstrate the love of Christ and show them that Jesus died for them too,” he said. “And that’s the bottom line.”
Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, fired up messengers with a challenge to turn the world upside down in the power of the Spirit.
“What came across your mind when our president, Dr. Bobby Welch, asked us to baptize a million for the Kingdom of God?” Luter said. “How are we going to pull off such a monumental task?”
Luter read Acts 1:8, Christ’s instructions to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth, and noted that the 11 apostles and 120 believers at Pentecost might have asked themselves the same question.
Despite their lack of resources, they turned the world upside down.
“How did they do it?” Luter said. “They were empowered by another. They had to wait on the promise of the Father.”
“Our problem is we don’t like to wait for anything. But in the last nine months, I’ve discovered that there is blessing in the waiting,” Luter said, referring to his recent trials dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Once a person receives Christ, he becomes a new person and receives the power of the Holy Spirit, Luter said. Then he receives a new purpose, to be a witness for Jesus.
“We can’t do it by ourselves. We must be filled — filled by the Holy Spirit, led by the Holy Spirit, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Everyone, not just the preacher, not just the evangelist, but everyone who names the name of Jesus Christ can win others to Christ,” Luter said.
Gene Mims, pastor of Judson Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., challenged messengers to personalize the Great Commission, based on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:22-23.
“The personalization of the Great Commission is the call of the 21st century,” Mims said. “This is not the century of representative missions. This is not the century of hiring people to go and do what God has called you to do as an individual, and what God has called me to do as an individual.”
Mims said it takes two things to personalize the Great Commission: a personal surrender and a personal focus.
With regard to personal surrender, Mims noted all that Paul surrendered for the sake of the Gospel, such as status, financial support and the comfort of marriage and family.
“How many of us would choose the Gospel versus status today? I wonder if we would choose greater benefits or the Gospel? Would we choose less recognition for the sake of the Gospel?” he said.
Paul had a personal focus and did all he did in order to “save some,” Mims said.
“We don’t need to be distracted. Our focus needs to be upon people who are lost and dying and on their way to hell, and [on] the fact that we hold the keys to this,” he told messengers. “Our focus must be so incredibly important to us. Christ and His relationship with people is the only focus we need.”
Mims credited Welch with showing him two questions to ask to help him maintain focus.
“What is God doing? Well, He seeks to save the world. And what does He want done? He wants you and me to personalize that and take it very seriously, and take that Gospel across the street and around the world,” Mims said.
“I can surrender all I want to in my mind. I can say I have a focus on lost people and I have a focus on the Gospel and say I’m not going to be thrown off track by this standard or that standard,” he said. “But ultimately it comes down to a personal choice: Will I do it?”
In the Tuesday evening session, James Walker, pastor of Biltmore Baptist Church in Arden, N.C., challenged Southern Baptists to get back to doing the family business, which is fishing for men.
Walker said Jesus’ call to Peter and Andrew, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men,” found in Matthew 4:18-20, is a clear indication of two things. First, that Jesus intended His followers to be fishermen. Second, that those who are not fishing are not following.
Walker told the story of a group of fishermen who became experts.
“They knew it was their calling; it was their passion,” he said. “They would speak about it regularly, telling fishing stories about fish they had caught. They would discuss better strategies, philosophies and programs for fishing. They learned about fishing equipment and fishing bait, and they had a motto that said, ‘Fishing is our bottom line.’
“The problem was that nobody really went fishing anymore. All they did was talk about it,” Walker continued. “One finally went and caught a few big fish and came back and told everyone about it. And everyone got so excited that they sent him out on the road to talk about it, so he quit fishing and traveled around to give his testimony.
“That,” Walker said, “is a picture of many of our churches today — they are a fishing industry franchise, but they forgot what they’re supposed to be doing.”
Eighty-two percent of Southern Baptist churches baptized 12 or fewer people in the year 2003, Walker said, and the SBC is reaching no more people today than it did in 1950. The late Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, said that less than 4 percent of born again believers will ever share their faith with another person, Walker noted.
“Will it be true that only 5 percent of Southern Baptists are interested in carrying on the family business?” he said.
Christians know they are supposed to be in the fishing industry — fishing for men — because that is what Jesus did while He was here, Walker said. “This was a lifelong call [for the disciples]. It totally changed their lives. It became their passion and their purpose for living. Jesus was a fisherman. He hooked the people with His love and His forgiveness and His gift of eternal life, and that is exactly why He recruited his disciples,” Walker said. “It was up to them to keep the family business alive.”
If redeeming mankind and seeking to save the lost was Jesus’ business, it should also be the business of modern-day believers, he said. But too many pastors and churches care too little about bringing people to faith in Christ.
“You can tell an awful lot about a man’s heart by what he does, not by what he says. You can tell an awful lot about the mission of a church by what it does, not by what it says. You can tell an awful lot about a denomination’s heart by what it does, not by what it says,” Walker said.
He told the story of his own church, which 13 years ago had some “enemies to the family business.” Their enemies were on the inside, undermining the business. After firing staff and dwindling to a handful of people, a small group of 60 “came to the realization that if God was going to bless their church, they were going to have to start doing what God would bless.”
“They bought back into the family business,” he said. “They mended their nets, launched their boats out into the deep and went fishing again. They began to do what they should have been doing all along.”
Walker received a round of applause when he said, “We can argue our positions and differences until Jesus comes back. Or we can lock arms, lock our resources together and go out and start winning people. I am thankful for the powerful leadership of our convention president, Dr. Bobby Welch, to refocus the people and the powers and the energies of the SBC on the things that are important to God.
“If you want fish, then fish. We’re not aquarium keepers. We’re deep-sea fishermen,” he concluded. “That’s our family business. We’re supposed to be out in the deep, dangerous waters, and we’re to risk it all — our lives, our church bank accounts, our reputations, our egos — because it is a fact, if you’re not fishing, you’re not following.”