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Q&A: An interview with evangelist Keith Fordham

ATLANTA (BP)–The Christian Index, the newspaper of the Georgia Baptist Convention, recently interviewed Keith Fordham, who is serving as president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists. The national organization provides networking between churches and evangelists across the denomination.

Fordham is a member of Harp’s Crossing Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga.

Index: Keith, What is your understanding of the biblical role of the evangelist?

Fordham: The evangelist is the harvester. Faithful pastors can preach the Word of God for months and Sunday School teachers expound the Word week after week with little visible results, but evangelists can often come in and draw the net and people respond.

Index: Why do churches need to use God-called evangelists?

Fordham: I could give a dozen reasons for using evangelists in the local church, but Ephesians 4:11 specifically implies that every church should use an evangelist to aid in the church’s maturing process. Churches that do not use evangelists will have a warped growth.

Index: Although the biblical mandate should be reason enough to use an evangelist, what are some other reasons?

Fordham: Evangelists typically send revival preparation manuals that are tested and proven. Thorough preparation will result in more conversions, greater attendance, more stirring in the church, more praying and witnessing. Furthermore, by using a harvest evangelist you can almost be assured that someone will be saved.

Index: You mentioned revivals — Why are they important? I know some folks who think revivals don’t work anymore.

Fordham: This past year the pastors of the churches where I’ve been have been pleasantly surprised to see the wonderful attendance we’ve had and the number of decisions God has granted. Statistics show that 33 percent of all baptisms come out of revival meetings. In churches that hold revival meetings it takes 24 members one year to reach one person for Christ, but in churches that do not hold revivals it takes 36 members one whole year to reach one person for Christ.

Index: Keith, What do you see as the major problems in the church today?

Fordham: We are so busy with things, even good things, that we leave the lost out of the picture. When we stand before the Lord there will be the blood of the lost on our hands if we do not present Jesus to them and warn them of the wrath to come.

Index: I know you are exposed to different styles of worship in so many different churches. Do you have any observations you would like to make about worship?

Fordham: I see that in some churches the people are offering the sacrifice of praise in their worship, but yet they fail to obey God. The Bible says that God prefers obedience to sacrifice. Songs are being sung that never even mention the name of Jesus, yet they are being sung with tears flowing down the faces of the worshippers. Any worship that does not lift up the name of Christ and bring folks to Christ is missing its purpose.

The devil can even use our worship to sidetrack a Christian from true worship, for true worship includes the obedience of witnessing for Christ. Charles Alexander led music for R. A. Torrey and J. Wilbur Chapman and he said, “Music must coordinate with the preaching.”

Songs that are effective cling to a man’s heart and will eventually lead him to Jesus. You need prayed-up, witnessing folk to lead the singing.

Index: What do you hope to accomplish as president of COSBE?

Fordham: I hope to raise the visibility of the office of evangelist. I want pastors to realize that 98.6 percent of the time you use a vocational evangelist people are saved. That percentage even increases if you prepare. I would like to see the number of revivals and the number of evangelists increase.

I would like to see our churches and seminaries emphasize the office of evangelist and would like to see more of our youth respond to God’s call into vocational evangelism. I would like to help churches understand something of the financial needs of the only non-salaried fulltime men in the SBC.

Index: I have heard you speak of the importance of a “come forward” invitation. Why do you speak so emphatically about that?

Fordham: I believe it is a biblical command. Of the 108 times the Greek verb parakaleo is used in the New Testament, five times it is used in conjunction with preaching and means give a “come forward, stand by the preacher” invitation. In Acts 2:40 Peter exhorted [parakalei] the people on the day of Pentecost. He asked those who believed on Christ to come forward and stand by him publicly and 3,000 came. He kept on calling them and they that received Christ were baptized.

Furthermore, public decisions bless the church. When people see the lost come forward to give their hearts to Christ it does something to the church that is glorious and unexplainable. When you take the crowd out of a Falcons game at the Georgia Dome the Falcons are easier to beat. When the church sees people come to the altar it lifts the morale of the church. The people of the church need to know that Jesus is invincible and that He still saves.

Index: What kind of trends have you seen developing during the course of your 30 years in evangelism?

Fordham: In the past several years a minority of pastors has stopped having revival meetings. Now they are coming back. Also if you were to look at baptisms by age groups you would see that we are losing our youth.

According to SBC statistical data we baptized more than 100,000 more young people (ages 9-17) in 1972 than we did in 2003. I believe we need to do everything we can to make our youth long to be under the preached Word and feel more at home in the sanctuary of the church with other believers than anywhere on this earth.

Index: What is your primary message to the church today?

Fordham: Be dead to self and alive to God. Love each other and encourage one another to good works. Get right with God and each other. Have strong families, pray, give, serve and win this lost world to Christ.

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