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Without evangelism, church mocks Christ’s death, Bailey Smith says

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–“What if you were lost and the Christians up at those churches led people to Jesus like you do (as a Christian). What chance would you ever have of being saved?”
The question posed by evangelist Bailey Smith during a Sept. 9 chapel address at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary too often fails to illicit an encouraging response among Southern Baptists, judging by 1996 statistics for the number of baptisms reported by Southern Baptist churches.
Citing a report released earlier this year by the Home Mission Board (now part of the North American Mission Board) showing Southern Baptist churches averaged leading only four adults to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ last year, Smith dismissed any notion a church can overemphasize evangelism at the expense of any other church program.
Other SBC statistics cited by Smith revealed 6,800 churches reported they did not win a soul to Christ in 1996. Only 10 percent of the nation’s 40,000-plus Southern Baptist churches baptized 25 or more. And churches baptizing 29 or more ranked in the upper 2 percent of the SBC in 1996.
“I do not believe that we can be too evangelistic,” Smith said. “I do not think that we can have too much emphasis on leading people to Christ.”
Smith, who served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention in the early 1980s, charged Southern Baptists in large part have substituted church work for the work of the church.
“When you stand before God, he will not say quote the 119th Psalm, but he will say who did you bring with you? The only reason that we have study courses is so we can learn one more thing we don’t plan to do anything about,” Smith suggested.
Referring to SBC statistics which indicate 70 percent of Southern Baptist churches are plateaued or in decline, Smith laid the blame at the pulpit.
“We started getting clergyman instead of prophets,” Smith said. “We indeed live in a non-prophet generation.”
Church auditoriums once built for the purpose of rallying Christians together in an effort to inspire, invigorate and motivate them to serve God have been replaced, Smith said, by sanctuaries aimed at isolating and insulating church members from the world around them.
“We’ve had our high-class organ music and we’ve had our dead formal services and our printed programs and the world is going by and they don’t give a rip. The world is going to hell. Jesus needs a congregation of broken hearts for men and women and boys and girls that need to be saved.”
Smith was on the Wake Forest, N.C., seminary campus for the announcement the $1 million Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism, established three years ago in his honor, has been fully funded. The endowment fund, named in recognition of Smith’s evangelistic efforts, is the seminary’s first fully endowed chair. In March, Southeastern announced the establishment of the Johnny Hunt Chair of Church Growth with a start-up gift of $200,000 toward the $1 million goal.
Before leaving the pastorate in 1985 to become an international evangelist, Smith was pastor for 12 years of First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla. As pastor, Smith said, he averaged making 30 evangelistic visits each week. During Smith’s pastorate the Oklahoma church averaged 1,100 baptisms a year.
Alvin Reid, who occupies the Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism as associate professor of evangelism, presented Smith with a copy of a book he co-authored with Malcolm McDow titled, “Firefall: How God Has Shaped History Through Revivals.” The book published in August by Broadman & Holman sold out in five weeks and is currently being reprinted.
“We want to graduate scholars on fire,” Reid said, “and I think that is a good balance because, you know, evangelism has to be a passion before it can be a program and no one has given a demonstration in his life of a passion for evangelism, more than Dr. Bailey Smith.”
In addition to recognizing Smith, Southeastern President Paige Patterson, for the first time, publicly honored Randy Bates, who donated $1 million to the seminary to fund the chair.
Bates, a native of Gastonia, N.C., and former CEO of a Charlotte-based photography business, is a member of Parkwood Baptist Church in Gastonia. Bates had wished to remain anonymous but reluctantly agreed after prodding from Patterson to allow the seminary to express their appreciation.
Patterson recounted the seminary’s evangelism efforts thus far in 1997 made possible, he said, largely by Bates’ donation to the seminary’s Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism:
Jan. 4-11 — Forty-six students and faculty evangelizing in Mexico, resulting in 327 professions of faith and one new church.
March 1-8 — Eighteen students and faculty on mission for God in El Salvador helping lead 650 people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and planting a new church.
May 14-28 — Fifteen students and faculty visiting India to survey areas for future evangelistic efforts and leading 63 people to faith in Christ.
May 31-June 13 — Thirty students and faculty spending three weeks in New Hampshire on a church-planting mission and leading 67 people to faith in Christ and planting a new church.
June 24-July 7 — Twenty-eight students and faculty joining groups from several other Southern Baptist churches sharing the gospel in Kenya, resulting in 10,933 professions of faith and 32 new church starts.
“You’ve made an unbelievable gift to this institution,” Patterson told Bates.
Bates, who sold his photography business in 1995, said his financial contribution to Southeastern is by far the best financial investment he has ever made. “Praise God for what he’s done, not me,” Bates told the chapel audience. “God did it through me.”
In the midst of visiting Southeastern, Smith, 58, lead a crusade Sept. 7-10 at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, Raleigh, N.C., where about 100 people made professions of faith.
“If you’re not primarily interested in evangelism, you’re making a mockery of the death of Christ,” Smith told the Binkley Chapel audience at Southeastern. “The greatest need of man is not peace and is not education; it’s redemption and salvation. Let’s not find fault in the sinner. Let’s love them to the cross.”

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  • Lee Weeks