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SBC evangelism task force holds first meeting

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) — How to increase Southern Baptists’ passion for personal evangelism and encourage preachers to include evangelistic invitations in every sermon were among the topics discussed Aug. 14-15 at the first meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention’s task force on soul winning and evangelistic preaching.

“I cannot remember a meeting that encouraged my heart as much as this one,” task force chairman Paige Patterson said in a statement released to Baptist Press. “We had a large portion of the task force who were able to attend and they seriously and humbly pursued the convention-assigned task.

“Fully one-fourth of our time was spent on our faces before God asking for His guidance and for an outpouring of His blessings upon our churches and institutions,” said Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “This task force is under no illusion that we have the ability to speak wisely to our convention. We know well that any contribution we make will have to be the wisdom of God.”

Appointed by SBC President Steve Gaines, the task force stems from a motion made and approved by messengers at the 2017 SBC annual meeting in Phoenix that a committee be established to suggest how Southern Baptists might be more effective in personal soul winning and evangelistic preaching.

While the group was not given a name by the convention’s official action, Patterson has referred to it as the “SBC Task Force on Evangelism.”

The inaugural meeting — hosted by Southwestern Seminary — featured a variety of presentations by task force members and initial discussion of the group’s report to be presented at the 2018 SBC annual meeting in Dallas.

Gaines told BP the task force “had a great two days together.”

“We talked about the decline in baptisms in our Southern Baptist Convention,” said Gaines, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn. “We discussed various possible reasons for that. We talked about the need for increasing people’s passion for personal evangelism, and we discussed various ways to do that.

“We also discussed the fact that we believe every sermon should present the Gospel message and also appeal to people to respond — whether that’s a come-forward invitation or encouraging someone to pray and invite Christ in their hearts then and there … or inviting them to go to a room after the service where they can counsel with someone,” Gaines said.

Task force member Jimmy Scroggins told BP discussions were “informative,” “wide-ranging,” at times “intense” and always “saturated with a spirit of camaraderie and friendly cooperation.”

“People were passionate,” Scroggins, pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., said in written comments. “At times it was emotional. And we don’t all see everything the same way — there is a diversity of opinion, experience and practice on that committee. Fortunately Dr. Patterson created an environment where every person had freedom and opportunity to speak their mind. I definitely appreciate the deep commitment to prayer that was evidenced in our time together. We spent significant time on our knees crying out to God on behalf of our pastors, churches and agencies.

“Our committee has a lot of work to do going forward,” Scroggins said, “but I think the contours of next summer’s report are already emerging. There is a powerful sense of unity, purpose and prayerfulness in our group, and we are all hoping and praying that God is going to use this report to help propel the churches of our convention forward in our evangelistic strategy and efforts.”

Noe Garcia, pastor of North Phoenix (Ariz.) Baptist Church, expressed appreciation for “the strong and passionate leadership of Steve Gaines and Paige Patterson” during the meetings.

“We had rich discussion about evangelistic strategies and methods that are effective, while also processing the areas in which we have been ineffective. We all have a clear and united understanding that there cannot be an effective evangelism strategy without the Spirit of God moving and directing us,” Garcia told BP in written comments.

“While the first meeting brought much hope and fruit for the future, we recognize that there is much work to be done,” Garcia said. “Pray for us as we continue to meet.”

Patterson noted he has “seldom been more proud to be a Southern Baptist” than at the task force’s meeting. The younger members in particular “provided many of the lasting insights and demonstrated the most mature and spiritual thinking that I have heard.”

According to a Southwestern Seminary news release, meeting attendees included Patterson; Gaines; Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention; Jeff Iorg, president of Gateway Seminary; pastors Jordan Easley, Nick Floyd, James Merritt, Doug Munton, Garcia and Scroggins; Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Robert Matz; Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Jim Shaddix; Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Adam Greenway; and Southwestern Seminary professors David Allen and Matt Queen.

SBC chief parliamentarian Barry McCarty also attended at Gaines’ request to assist and advise on presentation of the task force’s report.

The task force on soul winning and evangelistic preaching is distinct from the disciple-making task force appointed in 2016 by North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell and LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer. Like the task force appointed by Gaines, the disciple-making task force will report to the convention at the Dallas annual meeting.