With this issue, SBC LIFE begins a regular feature on personal evangelism. This feature will focus on real stories of people who have come to Christ because of the personal witness of some Christian who cared enough to reach out to them. We've seen Southern Baptists pass through several cycles in respect to personal evangelism. Sometimes, our meetings have sounded a strong, clear chord of encouragement to win others to Christ — other times, it's been another tune that's been played.
Not only is that the history of our Convention — it's the story of our own private pilgrimage when it comes to personal witnessing. At times, we have been passionate, diligent, and effective — at other times we've let personal evangelism slip from the front burner, only to get lost in the challenge of competing demands.
While there may be many reasons for this, it seems beyond dispute that there is a direct connection between the practice of personal evangelism efforts and the emphasis put upon it. When I was a young pastor, veteran ministers focused upon the imperative of evangelism, the peril of those outside Christ, and the command of Christ to "go out into the highways and compel them to come in." They helped me to see that being part of the people of God made me a part of God's search for the lost. God does His seeking through us. I was regularly reminded of that in conferences, sermons, Baptist journal articles, and even in the songs and hymns sung in worship.
Now, I don't think God's purpose or agenda ebbs and flows. The Scriptures identify Him as the "Unchangeable One." They also identify Him as the "Seeking One." So, we can say with confidence that giving out the gospel and urging men and women to trust Christ for salvation from sin is still God's agenda, as it was when He first announced it to the early disciples. Though God is utterly Holy, He loves and yearns for fellowship with those who are lost. He is the Great Initiator in the business of humanity's reconciliation with Him, and He has committed unto us the ministry of reconciliation!
My pastor, Glenn Weekley of Hendersonville, Tennessee recently pointed up that virtually every Christian and every church struggles with balance. Every church wants to be strong and healthy, so many seek to place equal emphasis in every area of ministry: worship, fellowship, discipleship, compassion ministries, missions, and evangelism. But the truth is we really cannot afford to do that. Some of those activities feed us, bless us, help us — they're the things that minister to us directly and individually, and they just seem to get more of our time and attention. Other things, outreaching things, things not directly benefiting us, are harder to focus on, or to budget time and energy for. Unfortunately, we are all too inclined to turn in on ourselves. Even churches, or maybe it should be, especially churches are inclined to do that. For that reason, evangelism has to be made an intentional value.
We love it when people come to Christ during the invitation, yet most of us are not actively, intentionally involved in helping to bring them. We want to help change that. If evangelism is not given priority, it will always suffer short shrift. We aim to place a candle for evangelism in the window.
We have two goals for this feature. First, we want to encourage you to believe God can use you as a personal witness. Second, we hope to incite you, to move you to action in personal, regular witness to the saving power and love of Jesus Christ.
God has raised up thousands of new witnesses across the country as a result of the FAITH program. The first articles to appear in this series will tell about ordinary people witnessing with extraordinary results. Dr. Bobby Welch of First Baptist Church of Daytona Beach, Florida, will tell these stories in his winsome manner. As you read them, we pray that God will use this column to stir thousands more to put our faith into practice — to give our faith away.
Bill Merrell, Editor
"Joe Had To Die"
by Bobby Welch
"Joe had to die before I would do what I knew I should do." When David spoke these words I knew I would never forget them.
Joe was one of the most respected and committed deacons in the church. As team leader he had taken David under his wing in his Sunday School class's FAITH team.
But David was discouraged. He felt he had done poorly on their last visit and that he had not been received well. As a result he had decided to leave the team and drop out of FAITH.
"I quit, Joe!"
But Joe's reply was equally as startling. "No, David, don't quit now, you'll break up our team. Besides, that family needs something, and I really believe we should return to their home next week and try again!"
David almost swallowed his tongue when he heard Joe's response but managed to say, "Joe, I double quit, because I would never go back into that home!" David was serious and as they parted in the parking lot he told Joe that he hoped his dropping off the team would not hinder their friendship.
The next week something bizarre happened. With no forewarning or apparent reason — Joe died suddenly! Everyone in his Oklahoma church was shocked, but none like David.
David told of his inner struggle. "Now the Holy Spirit was reminding me of Joe's concern to revisit the home where I felt I had bombed out. Plus, I could still hear Joe urging me not to quit and help him make that visit. And now Joe was gone and I remained!"
David pulled a team together and returned to that home. A wonderful husband and wife were saved that night along with their two teenage children! They all became members of Joe and David's church and joined a FAITH team themselves. As David stood there with his arms around that couple he said those unforgettable words, "And just think — Joe had to die before I would do what I knew I should do!"
And just think, over two thousand years ago another man had to die in order that we would do what we should do. His name was not Joe but Jesus. Don't you know Jesus would have us keep going too?
Bobby Welch is pastor of First Baptist Church, Daytona Beach, Fla., and originator of the FAITH program.