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Welch calls on Southern Baptists to take to streets for Christ

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Burdened with the realization that millions of souls are waiting to be harvested for Christ, Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch pleaded with God’s people Feb. 20 to leave the comfort zone of the church and take the Gospel to the streets where God is waiting to start a revival.

Like many Southern Baptists, he is thrilled when the choir is big and the pews are full, but he says that’s not enough.

“I’m here to tell you what keeps me going is the fact that when we have the biggest crowd we’ve ever had, we’ve still left millions behind out there,” Welch said at Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn. “That’s what keeps me going.”

Welch based his message on Jeremiah 8:20, which says, “The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved.” The SBC president completed a 25-day bus tour last fall, visiting churches in all 50 states and Canada. In each state, he made a point to share the Gospel with people outside the church.

“There is a stirring, a hungering and a searching going on out there in the world like I’ve never seen before,” he said, adding that he has been knocking on doors to share Christ for 40 years.

After the bus tour, Welch said, he realized Southern Baptists have learned how to do church well on the inside, but most of them are failing to go outside the church doors to where the people are hungry for God.

“My greatest fear is that God is trying to have a revival out in the streets and we won’t leave the church until — on our demand — He has a revival in the church,” Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., said.

If Southern Baptists won’t leave the church walls, two things may happen, he said.

“God may go right on and have a revival and leave us behind. It has happened before where the church missed the revival,” Welch said. “Or worse, God may choose not to have a revival out there because we won’t come out of the church and go out there.”

Either way, God will hold Southern Baptists accountable for reaching their neighbors and relatives — those they encounter at the grocery store, the service station or the next family reunion.

The need for church members to get out of the church is similar to the disciple Peter’s need to get out of the boat so that he could walk on the water to Jesus, Welch said, recounting Matthew 14. Peter did not walk on the water by himself, Welch noted.

“At Daytona Beach we’ll pull out about 29 a weekend that think they can do it themselves out there on the water,” he said. “They can’t. Peter had help. In fact, I think God had His Almighty hand right there on the edge of the water and Peter tiptoed along.”

But Peter did one thing, Welch said. Peter took the initiative to get out of the boat. Across the convention, Welch is urging Southern Baptists to get out of the boat.

“We can’t get you out of the boat. We can’t get the church out of the boat. You’re in the boat here tonight, cruising along. Nice ride, isn’t it? But the action is out there, and we have to get out of the boat,” he said.

Southern Baptists will have a major opportunity to demonstrate such initiative during Crossover Nashville, which will precede the SBC annual meeting in June. Welch is working to enlist 10,000 Southern Baptists in door-to-door evangelism. More than 5,000 already have committed to the effort, and an energetic campaign is underway to recruit the rest. Organizers for Crossover Nashville report that 3,600 people also have signed up to help with event evangelism.

During the morning service at Two Rivers Feb. 20, Welch gave his testimony about his service in the Vietnam War and the way God spoke to him as he lay bleeding profusely on the battlefield. Welch did not grow up in a Christian home, but he followed his future wife to church in high school and met God there. He was saved in college, although he says he compromised his faith. Soon he volunteered for service in Vietnam.

After proving himself tough in battle, Welch became the leader of a reconnaissance platoon and was given the task of scouting out the enemy in an effort to retrieve 120 men who had been ambushed in a Viet Cong trap in the midst of the jungle. Suddenly, he was shot in the chest at point-blank range by a guerilla and was sure he would die of his injury. His comrades did all they could to save his life, but no helicopters were available to evacuate him and he essentially was left to bleed to death, Welch said.

“I did not have an out of body experience. Everything in my life did not flash before me. But I’ll tell you what did happen,” he said. “It was as if two people were coming toward me. I could see their silhouettes. They were close together. The one on the left was a little taller than the one on the right. They were slowly moving toward me and I was slowly moving toward them. Everything else seemed to go away.

“My sense was this was God and Jesus, and they were coming for me. And as soon as I identified them, I was going to be out of there. I was filled with confidence that I was going to be with the Lord. I had absolutely no fear whatsoever of dying …,” Welch said. “And that’s when it hit me.”

Welch said the most paralyzing fear he has ever had was at that moment, realizing that though he would go to heaven, he had not been living his life for God. He was filled with shame over the choices he had made, and he said three simple words over and over: “God help me.”

Though he didn’t expect God to save his life there in the combat zone, he hoped God would clean him up before he reached heaven. At that moment, a helicopter arrived and transported him to safety. When he woke up several days later, Welch’s two requests were for a glass of water and a New Testament, and he has been living for God since.

“Don’t put off until tomorrow what should be done today,” Welch said.
To register for Crossover Nashville, call 1-800-558-2090, ext. 2059 or visit www.crossovernashville.org.

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  • Erin Curry