DENVER (BP)–Sept. 30 ended the same way it began for Bobby Welch -– with the Southern Baptist Convention president telling someone about Jesus Christ.
Welch hopped from his tour bus and hit the ground striding. “Early bird gets the worm,” he yells back at the bus.
Welch has a handful of tracts and a burden in his heart. Not a day goes by on his Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism tour without him telling one or more people about Christ. On this day, he’s practicing what he’s preaching on the tour designed to awaken Southern Baptists to “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!”
Much of Welch’s military training is still with him. He served in Vietnam on a reconnaissance patrol. And on this crisp morning in Arizona’s high desert, he’s on the hunt for people he can talk to about Jesus.
About a mile up the road that runs in front of First Baptist Church of Las Vegas, N.M., where a rally will soon be held, Welch finally catches up to a man walking toward a convenience store.
He talks with the man a few minutes about the Lord, and then buys a Diet Coke. Welch introduces himself to the cashier. She gestures over her shoulder to an older gentleman who’s been eying Welch, and says, “Then you’ll want to meet Pastor Bill.”
“Hello, Pastor Bill, I’m Bobby Welch.”
“That’s who I thought you were,” replies Bill Ware, who retired from First Baptist in 1992 after serving there 27 years. Welch is elated to discover Ware formerly was pastor of First Baptist.
The two compare notes about the ministry and then pray for each other right next to the candy bars. Ware will later attend the bus tour rally.
With the morning’s rally complete, the bus heads to Colorado Springs, Colo., where Welch met briefly with executives from James Dobson’s organization, Focus on the Family.
Focus on the Family President Don Hodel and some other staffers are waiting as the bus arrives at about 4 p.m.
“I have met many of your predecessors, Dr. Welch, and I am pleased to meet you,” Hodel said. “In fact, Adrian Rogers was on our board.” Rogers, a former SBC president, is pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church.
Hodel related Dobson’s greetings and also his regrets that his travel schedule prevented him from being there.
“Well,” Welch said, “we sure thank the good Lord for the ministry of Focus on the Family and the years that Dr. Dobson and his many able co-laborers have given in defense of the family. That’s one of God’s most precious institutions.”
Welch told Hodel and others of his staff some reasons why the Everyone Can tour was on the road: “Our convention has been on a four-year decline in baptisms,” Welch explained. “And the purpose of this tour is to lead Southern Baptists to baptize 1 million people.”
“All of us here at Focus on the family pray the Lord will richly bless your efforts,” Hodel said.
With time waning and rush-hour waxing, Welch thanks Hodel and others, and then boards the bus.
The next rally starts at 6 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Aurora, Colo. However, Welch needs to be there before 5 p.m. to meet with Southern Baptist leaders and pastors from Colorado.
Mark Edlund, executive director of the Colorado Baptist General Convention, expressed his gratitude to Welch for his leadership in the SBC, saying, “It’s incredible.”
Welch listened as Edlund read a litany of statistics about the Rocky Mountain state: Southern Baptist work grew in the state by 5 percent last year, but the population grew by 30 percent.
“According to Barna, 93 percent of our state’s population is unchurched. Yet, about half have Bibles in their homes.”
“Our major prayer request is that God will send us laborers for the harvest,” Edlund said. He told Welch that more than half of all Southern Baptist churches in the state have bi-vocational pastors.
Welch reiterated his conviction that bi-vocational pastors are key to winning people to Jesus.
“There is no clearer sign that God is going to do something great in our state [than that] the Golden Gate seminary extension in Denver is growing,” Edlund said. “In the last three years, the enrollment has increased from 23 to 75 students. And three-fourths of them are bi-vocational.”
Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s main campus is located in Mill Valley, Calif.
During the rally at First Baptist, Aurora, the congregation received Welch warmly, and an almost instant rapport developed. After the rally, the bus left the church and members left as well.
Welch and his crew stop for a late supper: buffalo steaks and burgers.
“Hi, I’m Robert. I’ll be your server tonight,” the waiter said politely.
True. But Robert is also the next person Welch will tell about Jesus.
Dinner eaten and the bill paid, Welch and his crew leave the restaurant. But when they reach the bus, Welch is gone. A glance into the restaurant window reveals Welch talking to Robert.
“I used to go to church with my granddad all the time,” Robert told Welch. “But I’m not living for the Lord as I should now.”
“How do you know that God’s not using me to answer one of your grandfather’s prayers?” Welch asked Robert.
Welch lingered with Robert a few more minutes, prayed with him, and then headed for the door.
As Welch was about to leave, Robert ran up. “Wait! Wait!” Robert called.
Turning on his heel, Welch hears Robert say, “Thank you. Thank you for talking to me.”