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Welch tells SBC: ‘Launch out into the deep’

Updated June 23, 2005

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Holding up a flat dead frog he pulled from a plastic bag in his coat pocket, Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch made a “presidential, passionate, personal appeal” for Southern Baptists to focus more fervently on evangelism and baptism.

“Just because that frog is a big croaker and high hopper don’t mean he’s goin’ in the right direction,” Welch quipped, holding up smaller dead frogs as sermon illustrations during his June 21 address at the SBC annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn.

“You know where I found these little dead frogs?” Welch asked. “Following this big dead frog.”

Referencing the SBC’s stagnant baptismal numbers, Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., said a concrete truck had flattened the frogs on the road in front of his house after they headed in the wrong direction, moving away from a pond near his house.

“This frog belonged in the deep but he hopped in the street, and that’s where his end came…. If you’re destined for deep water, you better go that way,” Welch said.

In his sermon, “Deep Water Doings,” Welch read from Psalm 107:23-24, saying those who “do business in great waters … see the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep.” Welch also read from Luke, chapter 5, the account of Jesus’ disciples who cast their nets in the deep and caught so many fish that their nets tore.

“Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a great catch,” Welch said, reading from the Bible. When the disciples did that, they beckoned to shore for others to come and help pull up the breaking nets that were full of fish.

Welch said the passage reveals “Jesus’ personalized, simplified, systematic theology for soul-winning.” He explained that Jesus had to “catch followers,” and the followers had to “catch faith,” and the faithful were the ones who caught the fish and who dared to go out into the deep.

Relating the two Bible passages to evangelistic and baptismal results in the SBC, Welch said it was not until the disciples left the beach and obeyed God to go into the deep water that they caught more fish than they could bring into their boats.

Southern Baptists are “fishing far too close to the shore” and it will kill evangelism in this convention, Welch said. “… It’s bleeding us to death today. I call it facility-based evangelism.”

Facility-based evangelism is the assumption that the world can be won to Christ if only more non-Christians would come to church, Welch said, but “that’s not New Testament evangelism. And that’s not what you see in the model of Jesus.

“Jesus is a deep water doer. He likes the deep,” Welch said, asking the crowd, “Where are you?”

He also asked the crowd who would be willing to go to the deep.

“Everyone can, and I’m it,” the crowd shouted, citing two mantras from Welch’s “‘Everyone Can’ Kingdom Challenge!” evangelistic thrust to win to Christ and baptize 1 million people during the coming church year.

Welch assured Southern Baptists they come from a “very long, long line of deep water disciples,” citing the SBC’s 1954 “Million More in ’54” evangelism campaign, which has not been met in the 50 years since its inception.

“Remember who you are and where you came from. Remember you are, in fact, disciples of the deep,” Welch said. “They are bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. We’ve got the blood in us. But more than that, we’ve got the Spirit of God in us.”

Welch continued: “We are bigger and better by the grace of God than we are remembering and acting as Southern Baptists today. We can go further. We can go deeper. We can do more for the glory of God and the sake of souls if we will get off the bank and go to the deep.”

Reflecting on his exposure to multiple thousands of Southern Baptists, Welch said there are two groups in the SBC who represent “two roads of dreams.” Older people in the SBC want to live long enough to see God’s power like never before. And younger people in the SBC are among those willing to go to the deep, sacrificially.

But, he noted, there is a propensity for older Christians to seemingly retire from active service to God, and also a trend among younger people who grow impatient with bureaucracy, not wanting to be caught in a “perpetual motion machine.”

Walking to the edge of the platform to begin to draw up an imaginary net filled with fish, Welch gestured, saying, “Lift ’em up. Lift ’em up. Lift ’em up. This is no time for the faint-hearted.”

Pushing up his sleeves, Welch said, “Put your back into it and quit whinin’,” as he continued pulling up an invisible net, hand over fist.

“Don’t tell me it’s too hard. … Lift, lift. Look down there. Don’t you see your uncle down there? Don’t you see your son down there? Don’t you see your mother down there? Don’t you see part of the world down there? Lift! Lift! Lift!

“Oh no, old timer, you get up from there. … [G]et ahold of this net,” Welch exhorted.

“And you, young guy, hey, don’t you leave on us. Get back over here and get ahold of this net. Lift! Lift! C’mon, lift,” Welch beckoned to an enthusiastic crowd.

Asking the crowd again who would be willing to enjoin a year-long, concerted evangelistic effort to reach 1 million people, Welch prompted the crowd’s response: “Everyone can, and I’m it.”

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  • Norm Miller