Recounting lessons from his fifty-state bus tour to promote evangelism and cooperation, Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch said people in the pews and pulpits are eager for a new challenge with eternal implications — one akin to "an elephant hunt" rather than "chasing squirrels and rabbits and birds."
During stops in each state last fall, Welch typically asked the same questions of the Southern Baptists he encountered. One question was, "Why don't you and others like you come to more convention meetings at the state level and the SBC?
"The answer was always this: 'There is no compelling reason to come to a Southern Baptist Convention,'" Welch told members of the SBC Executive Committee February 21 in Nashville, Tennessee.
A second question he would ask was, "Why do you look outside the SBC for ideas and programs and that sort of thing?" The answer was, "There are many more challenging and exciting things beyond the SBC."
The third question was, "What do you think the SBC needs most to help it today?" Leaders responded, "A challenge and focus. We're asked to do too many things, and we cannot do them all. We want to do something that works the best for the rest of our lives."
"I've come to the conclusion that what they're saying is, 'We want to go on an elephant hunt,'" Welch said. "They're tired of chasing squirrels and rabbits and birds. They've done that. They want to go on an elephant hunt."
Though some may say it's just the younger crowd who want such a challenge, Welch said he has discovered the same yearning among some of the older crowd.
"I've been on an elephant hunt. The gun is bigger, the bullets are bigger, the stories are bigger, the danger is bigger," Welch said. "And on an elephant hunt, it's exciting whether you ever see an elephant or not. It's a whole lot more fun than chasing rabbits, squirrels, and birds. And it's worth the risk.
"I think our people are looking for a new challenge and for a focus," said Welch, who has called Southern Baptists to an "Everyone Can" emphasis on soul-winning, including a goal of 1 million baptisms in a year's time.
Something else Welch learned while traveling among the SBC's 43,000 churches is that the Convention is in the midst of a redefining stage. The redefinition is not something anyone can stop; it's just a fact, Welch said.
"At this redefining stage, we must have pastors at those tables," he said, referring to the tables where issues are discussed and plans made. "It cannot just be theologians and people who work at entities. We must have pastors at those tables because you have to remember this Convention birthed this committee …. This Convention birthed every entity we've got. [The entities] did not birth this Convention. [The entities] live and exist to assist the church and the pastor and the people to do the work of the Great Commission at its full extent at the local level.
"It is not thinkable that we will redefine this Convention without the pastor and the people being represented at that table where those things are hammered out," Welch said.
The SBC president said he doesn't know what that means in detail, but he knows what it means in concept. It means the SBC must remain theologically straight, but conservatives did not win the battle over the inerrancy of the Bible to simply sit back and protect it. They won so that they could disseminate it to those who are lost and those who are saved.
On the bus tour, Welch realized that Southern Baptists seem to have the basics covered. They know Jesus is the only way to God, and they know they need to reach everyone with the Gospel of Christ.
"But what I believe we've got to see happen among us is we've got to get those who know about it out there with those who need to know about it" — people who are "outside the walls of the church," he said.
The wonderful thing is that Southern Baptists have exactly what the people on the streets need, Welch said. But after the bus tour, his new greatest fear is that God's people will unintentionally hoard the knowledge they have inside the church walls instead of taking it to the streets. The method of dissemination, he added, is not nearly as important as the message itself.
"This is not about how cute you are. This is not about your cool haircut. This is not about your classy church. This is not about your cool clothes," Welch said. "This is about the power of the gospel unto salvation regardless of who takes it out there. We've got to believe that, and we've got to get outside of these confines and turn that loose to the glory of God."
Welch also discussed his hopes for the upcoming SBC annual meeting in Nashville on June 21-22. He reported, for instance, that the choir scheduled to sing at the climax of the Convention on the final night has nearly doubled in size to almost 2,000 people.
"We want people when they come to this Convention to believe they're important," Welch said.
Everyone can share the good news of Christ during Crossover Nashville, which will precede the SBC annual meeting, Welch noted. When the first Crossover door-to-door evangelism effort was launched in Las Vegas in 1989, Welch said, more than 1,800 people took part. That number dwindled to 500 last year in Indianapolis.
But organizers for Crossover Nashville already have 3,600 people signed up to help with event evangelism, with Welch saying he hopes for a total of 10,000 Southern Baptists engaging the streets of Nashville with the gospel.
"The whole idea is to create the ambiance and atmosphere that will say to people when they come, 'This Convention is a huge enterprise and we're so diverse and so variant, but we're all on the same mission, and we need to come together and get that done now for the glory of God," he said.
Welch said he has heard of too many churches that want to do their own thing, but in a time when reaching the masses for Christ is crucial, a common focus and a common challenge are necessary to rally the resources and complete the task.
"You cannot do your own thing. We must do a thing together to impact this world in which we live to the uttermost with the gospel. That's the unity of purpose," Welch said. "This Convention will never do its best until we do it together, and we've got to guard and take care of those things that do bring us together. All parties must move toward each other to get this done. Sooner is better."
It's not too late to join the 10,000 brothers and sisters who will gather to spread the gospel during Crossover Nashville. To register or obtain more information about Crossover Nashville, e-mail [email protected] or call 1-877-324-8498.