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Seminarians experience ‘ministry evangelism’

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–A lesson in how meeting physical needs and proclaiming the Gospel can work in tandem to lead people to Jesus Christ was imparted to 14 Southern Baptist Theological Seminary students who ventured to a Florida church this summer.

The students traveled to the First Baptist Church in Leesburg as part of a Southern Seminary class titled, “Ministry Evangelism.” During their time in Leesburg, the students observed the extensive network of ministries in place at First Baptist, including men’s and women’s shelters, a crisis pregnancy center, benevolence center, medical clinic and children’s home.

They also attended classroom sessions co-taught by Don Cox, associate professor of evangelism and church growth at Southern, and Charles Roesel, pastor of FBC Leesburg.

Participating in several of the church’s 70-plus ministries gave students the opportunity to learn how social ministry can provide an entree for the Gospel, Cox said.

“I think for the students it helps them begin to see that as we seek to share the Gospel with people in the world that there’s a great need to meet the personal physical needs that people may have,” he said.

“The main learning objectives were to form a biblical foundation for doing ministry evangelism and to learn how to do ministry evangelism practically by looking at not only the [assigned readings] of the class, but also actually experiencing a model where that’s being done.”

Gayle Fee, a master of divinity student from Rochester, N.Y., saw firsthand how meeting physical needs opens a door for the Gospel when she got the opportunity to share Christ with a client at the church’s crisis pregnancy center.

Two weeks before Fee arrived in Leesburg, the woman had given birth to a child she might have aborted had it not been for the counseling she received through the church. When the woman returned to the crisis pregnancy center with her two-week-old baby, Fee and the center’s director shared the Gospel with the woman.

“We had the opportunity to share the Gospel with a woman who had chosen not to abort her baby, and we were able to hold the baby and just see the fruit of that ministry,” Fee said.

Ministries like the crisis pregnancy center exemplify what Cox labeled as “ministry evangelism.”

“Ministry evangelism is simply caring for persons in the name of Jesus Christ,” he said. “It is meeting persons at the point of their need and ministering to them physically and spiritually.

“Ministry evangelism is sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with people as we meet them at the point of their need, which can be often a physical need.”

Over the years, First Baptist of Leesburg has developed a reputation for successful ministry evangelism.

When Roesel arrived in Leesburg 26 years ago, the church averaged approximately 300 people on Sunday mornings and Roesel had contacted every person on the church’s prospect list within six months.

Then the church initiated a number of ministries designed to meet physical needs in the community, and the congregation exploded to more than 7,000 members. Today Roesel says he never runs out of prospects.

Fee’s husband, David, also a master of divinity student, said Roesel’s expertise in ministry evangelism served as an invaluable educational tool.

“From a pastor’s perspective, what was really nice about this trip was Dr. Charles Roesel,” Fee said. “He’s been in the ministry for 50 years, so we had an extended amount of time where people fired off just any and all practical questions they had about ministry. He covered a lot of things, and he had a lot of great things to say.”

The July 7-11 class was such a success that there may be similar travel classes offered in the future, Cox reported.

“One thing the students saw,” he reflected, “was some of the people who have actually been led to Christ in the ministry.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: LEARNING BY DOING.