NEW ORLEANS (BP)–America has been suffering from an overwhelming moral apathy, a laissez-faire regard for the lifestyles and actions of its people that not only issues tolerance to others in wild abandon, but ignores the inner self, its soul and conscience. Evangelists say the pulpit has remained silent for too long.
“I’m deeply concerned about what’s happening in our country this hour,” said Stephen Olford, president of Encounter Ministries, Memphis, Tenn., at the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists’ national congress, Feb. 1-3 on the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
“I long for a voice to emerge from the sea of this nation and speak the truth!” Olford declared.
In addition to the evangelists’ organization, the congress was cosponsored by the evangelism departments of the North American Mission Board and New Orleans Seminary. The congress has been held annually since 1982.
“There is at least one place where vocational evangelists are still heroes,” said Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Seminary, in welcoming about 75 evangelists to the campus, noting ,”Southern Baptists are a harvest-oriented denomination living in the midst of an unseeded generation.”
Olford, during a chapel service Feb. 2, challenged preachers from every walk of life to realize not only the importance of what they do in the pulpit each week, but also the supernatural work that must take place for a sermon to be from God.
“Bringing a sermon is akin to God putting the seed into Mary’s womb and Jesus being born,” Olford said. “That’s what you do every Sunday.”
Olford, whom Kelley introduced as “one of the world’s greatest expository preachers,” said only through the strict disciplines of endurance, obedience and dependence — a life dedicated to God — will a pastor be able to bring anointed preaching from the pulpit.
He compared the daily walk of the Christian to the Old Testament sacrifice. When the sacrifice was placed on the altar and set aflame, it had the tendency to roll off the altar, and the priests would use their flesh hooks to keep the sacrifice in place over the fire. He said this process must take place in Christians daily.
“The flesh hooks of discipline and determination keep placing us back on the altar until we are completely consumed,” Olford said.
Another of the conference’s speakers, John Corts, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, spoke of the different talents and abilities God gives to each person and said no task is inferior to another if God has called and gifted a person to do that task.
“Administration is ministry,” Corts said, forlornly remembering those who said of his current ministry, “Isn’t it too bad he left the ministry to go back to work in evangelism.”
Kelley, in his address to the congress, spoke on the relationship between pastoral ministry and evangelism. “The church of today must learn to plant the seeds [of the gospel] outside of the church in the soil of the community,” he said. “If our churches do not again become farms where the seed of the gospel is sown, we will not again be harvesters.”
Kelley added “most folks in our churches today would be stunned if a lost person showed up in Sunday school.”
H.B. London, vice president of Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, Colo., told the evangelists of his role with James Dobson-led ministry: “to facilitate restoration and renewal in the lives of pastors and their families and to come alongside of them to help them better manage their time and finances.” Citing the prophet Elijah’s experiences, London said, “Even in the midst of success, the brook can be as dry as dust,” regarding the spiritual walk of the pastor during times of personal success.
The conference also included special events for wives, including workshops, an excursion to plantation homes along the Mississippi River, a shopping trip to downtown New Orleans and an afternoon tea.
Rhonda Kelley, wife of the president of New Orleans Seminary, presented a workshop on “Your Place in Women’s Ministry,” challenging evangelists’ wives to volunteer in local church women’s ministries, to pray “that God will do a mighty work among women,” to write about their experiences and opportunities and to be a godly example to other women.
“There is so much misunderstanding about women’s ministry,” causing some pastors to hinder the potential, Kelley said. She encouraged evangelists’ wives to help spread the word that pastors should “see women’s ministry as a support to the whole work of the church.”
Kelley designed and teaches in New Orleans Seminary’s women’s ministry certification program created two years ago to equip and credential women to lead women’s ministries in local churches, ministering to other women. Currently 78 women from 14 states are in the program, which next year should be expanded into a full graduate degree program.
More information about the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists (COSBE) can be obtained by contacting the North American Mission Board at (770) 410-6000.
Joe David Smith contributed to this article. (BP) photos by Smith available upon request from NOBTS’ public relations office at 1-800-NOBTS-01, ext. 3290 or, e-mail, email@example.com.