NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch was seeing two signs of a successful SBC annual meeting: the mobilization of thousands of Baptists for the June 18 Crossover evangelistic outreach and the increased attendance at the June 21-22 sessions in Nashville, Tenn.
Welch told reporters at a June 21 news conference that Southern Baptists seem to be ready to take the next step in “The ‘Everyone Can’ Kingdom Challenge!”
“If the convention at any level will go to the people about the most important thing to those people — the eternal spiritual well-being of their loved ones, family and friends — then we can go forward …,” he said.
Welch, co-creator of the FAITH evangelism strategy that is widely used in SBC churches, led a 50-state, 25-day bus tour in August and September to encourage a convention-wide effort to win 1 million people to Christ in a year’s time. Many of this year’s Crossover participants noted they were prompted by Welch’s challenge to be on hand for the SBC events in Nashville, and registration of messengers from churches stretched well past 11,000 during the June 21 opening day of the annual meeting.
Welch said he believes Southern Baptists need a unity of purpose that will draw them together on a quest. “You can come do evangelism at this convention when you may not come for anything else. We have a lot of people listening, hearing and thinking” about that priority, Welch said. “Younger pastors light up when you start talking about that.”
The hardest part of presenting that challenge during his first year as president involved “trying to find the way that everyone could come on board with a unity of purpose for evangelism and still maintain their personality, peculiarities, methodology and their schedule.” He called on Southern Baptists to work their hardest during the coming year to do all they can to enlarge the Kingdom of God.
In order to “fan the fire” of evangelism, Welch said he will try to go to large gatherings of Southern Baptists, such as annual state convention meetings and evangelism conferences. “If you can’t be for evangelism, you’ve got to wonder what you are here about,” he said. “It’s the lowest common denominator. It has Christ in it, the Word of God and the Great Commission.”
Asked by Alabama Baptist editor Bob Terry if he had considered inviting Cooperative Baptist Fellowship-related churches to join in the evangelistic emphasis, Welch said, “Nobody’s telling anybody not to try to reach people. You might be surprised to know there were one or two churches involved with CBF that I did stop at on the bus trip. That usually shocks some people, but I did,” he added. “Someone would call and say, ‘Did you know that’s a CBF church?’ If they want to go soul-winning, God bless them.”
Welch recounted how a reporter asked him whether he would be willing to do evangelism with a member of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a breakaway organization from the Southern Baptist Convention. When the reporter was persistent in his questioning, Welch responded, “Are you telling me: If a CBF guy jumps out of an airplane, crashes through my ceiling of the office, lands on my desk and says, ‘Ah ha! I’m doing the ‘Everyone Can!’ Kingdom [Challenge] for evangelism, What do you think about that?’ I said, ‘Is that what you’re talking about?’ He said, ‘Exactly.’ I said, ‘When it happens, I’ll tell you.’
“Nobody’s telling anybody not to try to reach people. But the honest truth is we are running this through the screens and avenues that we have and trying to connect to everyone we can connect with.”
Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., explained why he encouraged several Nashville-area churches to publicly baptize new converts during each SBC session. “The whole reason to do it was to emphasize and promote what we’re emphasizing and promoting — and that is baptizing.” Welch added that the public baptisms would provide 10,000-plus churches with the first baptism they’d seen in 12 months because they didn’t baptize anybody.
“We’ll promote it and encourage it and I hope they’ll go home and think we need to do this,” Welch said, describing baptism as “that huge first, giant step toward the local body and discipleship. We’re not making it easy — that bar is just as high as it’s ever been.”
Asked by a reporter why baptisms had leveled off in recent years, Welch said, “The reason we’re not doing the baptisms is that we’ve given up on trying to get into people’s lives. We’re afraid of them. We go out there and we get involved in their lives and we will discover that some of them have spiritual needs.”
While discovering the ministry needs in the lives of people, Christians will want to do more for those who are sick and need medicine, those who have kids and need jobs to support them, Welch said.
Asked if he finds political activism to be a distraction from the primary task of evangelism, Welch said, “I’m not calling on them to give it up. I want the best political leaders we can get, but I’m not thinking for one heartbeat political leaders are going to do our spiritual work for us. But I believe if we do the spiritual work like Jesus did, we will be involved inescapably in the lives of people and what’s better for them in their community.
“So many pastors are looking for the drive-through window to order a silver bullet and be done with it. It’s not out there. It’s hard work to break ground,” Welch said. “You get away with just about anything until you bust hell open.”
Reporters pressed Welch to speculate whether Southern Baptists would call for an end to the Disney boycott and urge parents to withdraw their children from public schools — two issues that received attention in media reports prior to the convention. Welch said he wouldn’t be surprised to hear a call by the Resolutions Committee to end the Disney boycott begun in 1997.
As for a proposed education resolution, Welch offered his personal opinion, stating, “I do not believe that it is the best contribution Southern Baptists can make … by asking them to wholesale and universally draw children out of school.”
Welch added, “This is different than Disney. Everybody doesn’t have to go to Disney, but they do have to go to school.” He argued that pastors making such appeals would likely ostracize many in their congregations who could not home school or enroll their children in private schools.
“How many steps can you take backwards from a pagan world and still try to get somebody to believe you’re on the offensive with the Gospel? We are to be change agents in an ungodly and un-Christlike world. I don’t see how we can change much if we keep backing up,” Welch said. Instead, he urged the SBC to offer positive help for people to be better parents and citizens committed to helping their public schools.
“It ought to be the parent who gets down on his knees and prays to God Almighty as to what he should do. You know who’s accountable when we get to heaven? It won’t be the Resolutions Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s the parents. Their number one responsibility is to win that child to faith in Christ, then equip and train them to live a godly Christian life.”
Asked by another reporter whether the “invasion of Iraq” and continuing battle is a just war, the decorated Vietnam veteran answered in the affirmative. “I wish all of our people could come home … by the first of the year. But I’m here to tell you this: If they come home, there’s going to be a bunch of terrorists following, and we’ll have to fight them here. We’re in it. We’ll clean house and get things straightened out [in Iraq], give those people their best shot at democracy and do our best to take care of our homeland and move on.”
The re-elected SBC president said he has appealed to the Executive Committee to study whether a two-year term for the SBC president without the possibility of a subsequent re-election would be an improvement over one-year terms that allow for re-election. Such a change would make it easier for the elected leader to plan his schedule in advance.
Welch said Southern Baptists have the right answers to two of the most important questions. “What does it take to go to heaven? Jesus,” he answered. “What should the church be making its number one priority? To reach the lost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he answered.
“Now we need to take what we already believe and move it to a place where we can do it better than before.”
With reporting by David Roach.