In September, Dr. Morris H. Chapman, president of the Executive Committee, challenged Southern Baptists to pray for "just one more soul" in 2009-2010. If every pastor won just one more soul this year, the SBC would see an increase of almost 45,000 baptisms through the ministry of each pastor's personal evangelism. If each church joined its pastor, crying out to the Lord for just one more soul, we would see an additional 90,000 individuals ushered into the Kingdom. Our baptisms could potentially increase from 342,198 to over 430,000 in a single year — not through a massive denominational campaign, but through a simple grassroots movement where every pastor and every church cries out to the Lord for "just one more soul."

In 1998, each cooperating Baptist church with the Southern Baptist Convention baptized, on average, ten people. By 2003, this number had declined to nine. By 2008, this number had further declined to eight. (These numbers are rounded to whole persons; the actual averages are given below.)

Over a span of ten years, while our total number of cooperating churches grew from 40,870 to 44,848, our total baptisms declined from more than 407,000 to just over 342,000.

Said another way, in a five-year time-span (from 1998 to 2003), each cooperating church in the SBC baptized, on average, just one less soul. Though the number of cooperating churches increased by 2,154 (40,870 to 43,024), the number of baptisms reported by our cooperating churches declined by 30,000.

Over the following five years, our cooperating Baptist churches, on average, again baptized just one less soul per church. In 2008, our baptisms dipped to 342,198 while our number of churches grew to 44,848.

If we break these numbers down to the local level, the decline per church was so slight we hardly even noticed. We know there are no "pieces" of people, only whole numbers. So when our average dipped incrementally from 9.97 to 9.23 over a span of five years, it is likely that many of us hardly even noticed. Until, that is, the aggregate numbers were reported by Baptist Press, NAMB, and LifeWay Research.

Again, when our average dipped incrementally from 9.23 to 7.74 over a span of five more years, it is likely that many of us hardly even noticed. Until, that is, the aggregate numbers were again reported by Baptist Press, NAMB, and LifeWay Research.

Since baptism is administered by the local church, and since the vast majority of evangelism takes place in the local field of ministry, it is easy to see how the gradual, incremental decline of these numbers can dull the local church and the local pastor to the fact of decline. On average, it took each church a full five years to baptize one less person. It took five more years for each church, on average, to baptize one less soul. In the aggregate, however, the decline in baptisms over these ten years really adds up.

The Principle of Intercessory Prayer

The word translated intercession is used only eight times in the New Testament. The noun form, enteuxis, is found twice, both times in 1 Timothy. Its related verb entunchano, is used five times. An intensified form of the verb, hyper-entunchano, is used once. Interestingly, this intensified form of the verb is not found in the Greek language until this single instance in Romans 8.1

The practice of intercession, however, is found woven in the text of Jesus' personal prayer ministry, in Paul's autobiographical sections in the epistles, and in numerous other narratives in Scripture. It is also woven into the Old Testament narrative, from Genesis to Malachi.

The heavy hitters in intercessory prayer, of course, are the Lord Himself and the Holy Spirit. Scripture records that Jesus, seated at the right hand of God, intercedes for us (Romans 8:34). The writer of Hebrews makes a similar observation: our Lord always lives to intercede for us (Hebrews 7:25).

Further, the Holy Spirit searches the hearts and intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:27). This intercessory work is a ministry of intense proportions, for He [hyper] intercedes for us with unspoken groanings (Romans 8:26).

Though intercession is a ministry conducted within the Godhead for us as His redeemed people, the Lord both commands us and invites us to join Him in the ministry of intercession.

1 Timothy 2 contains a stirring summary of how the believer ought to pray. Four specific types of prayer are mentioned: supplication (praying for one's own needs); prayers (experiencing intimacy with the Father); giving of thanks (expressing gratitude for the many benefits the Father bestows); and intercessions (praying for safety, security, and/or salvation of others).

That intercession for the salvation of others is inherent in this exhortation is seen illustratively by Paul's personal intercession for his countrymen by physical descent (Romans 9:3). He cried out to the Lord: my heart's desire and prayer to God concerning them is for their salvation (Romans 10:1). Though the word for intercession is not used in this verse, the principle is very much in view.

His passion for their conversion was deep and intense. He framed his intercession for them with strong language: I speak the truth in Christ — I am not lying; my conscience is testifying to me with the Holy Spirit — that I have intense sorrow and continual anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from the Messiah for the benefit of my brothers, my countrymen by physical descent (Romans 9:1-3).

This same passion is found in the broader context of his exhortation to Timothy (1 Timothy 2:1-4). H. H. Harvey, in a classic commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, wrote:

"The apostle now suggests motives which should lead to prayer for all men, as enjoined in verse 1. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour. Such prayer is in God's sight both morally excellent and well-pleasing. God is here called 'our Saviour' to intimate at once the claim he has on our regard for what is acceptable to him, and the motive we have to pray for the salvation of others in the fact that he saved us."2

Thus, the flow of the 1 Timothy 2:1-4 is this:

I exhort that prayer be a priority;

these prayers should be comprehensive and inclusive, including supplication, worship, thanksgiving, and intercession;

the intercessory aspect of these prayers should be for "all men";

all men includes even the pagan kings and anyone else who is in a position of authority over you;

we intercede for them to our own benefit, namely that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in godliness and reverence;

we intercede for them for God's glory, for this is good and well-pleasing in His sight; and

we intercede for them for their benefit, for it is God's benevolent desire that all will be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

The Premise of Intercessory Prayer

The premise of intercessory prayer is really quite simple: God is pleased to change the life circumstances of others in response to the intercessory pleas of His people on their behalf. This statement is foundational to understanding the whole purpose of prayer.

For many years, as I would drive through a neighboring town on my way to make hospital visits, I passed a church sign. It remained unchanged for more than a decade, although it did not go unchallenged by preachers and other believers far and wide! The sign stated, "Prayer does not change things; it merely changes the way we look at things."

The premise of intercessory prayer directly rebuts this theological error. The Lord invites us to intercede on behalf of others precisely because prayer does change things. Let's consider a few illustrations.

When Abraham prayed for Lot, Lot's family, and the city of Sodom (Genesis 18), the Lord indicated His willingness to change circumstances (to spare the city) in response to the intercessory prayer of His servant.

When Elijah prayed on Mt. Carmel for the fire of God to fall (1 Kings 18), he framed his prayer in an intercessory plea, Answer me, Lord! Answer me so that this people will know that You, Yahweh, are God and that You have turned their hearts back (1 Kings 18:37; cf. Romans 11:2). In reply, the Lord sent the fire. The people immediately responded to this display of the Lord's might and majesty, and their hearts were changed (1 Kings 18:39).

When Jehoshaphat learned that the Moabites and Ammonites were arrayed against Judah for battle, he poured out his soul in prayer for the salvation of his nation. In response, the Lord sent the prophet Jahaziel to tell Jehoshaphat that his prayers had been heard and the nation would be spared-not by physical might or military power, but as a divine act of the Lord Himself (2 Chronicles 20).

Paul expressed his absolute conviction that his deliverance from the hands of those who sought his life was a direct answer of the Lord in response to the Philippians' prayers on his behalf (Philippians 1:19ff).

Simply stated, God is pleased to change the life circumstances of others in response to the intercessory pleas of His people on their behalf.

The Practice of Intercessory Prayer

Over the years, it has been my experience and my observation that, when we are faithful to pray for specific lost individuals, the Lord gives us others as well (John 4:38). As a new believer during my college years, my pastor would ask each week for us to bow our heads in prayer. He then asked those who would commit to witness to at least one soul that week to raise their hands. Some weeks, I struggled to raise my hand, often taking as long as a minute before I slowly raised it. Other weeks, I could not in good conscience raise it at all, for the "fear of their faces" was too great in my mind. But, most weeks, I would raise my hand — fearfully, yes. Prayerfully, reverently, humbly. And, did I mention, fearfully? But, in faith as well, trusting that the Lord would be pleased to use my witness to His glory.

Invariably, the Lord would provide an opportunity for me to tell someone of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Some responded to the Gospel in repentance and faith and experienced conversion. Others did not. I found myself becoming burdened for those who rejected God's gracious offer of salvation. Soon, I found myself creating a prayer list of people I knew who were lost. In my daily prayer time, I would lift up their names to the Lord.

One day it dawned on me. The more I prayed for the lost, the more the Lord put additional lost people in my path — people I had not labored over, people I had not known, people whose hearts were ripe and ready to respond to the Lord Jesus Christ and receive Him as their Lord and Savior!

As we pray for the lost, our burden for souls becomes greater. We are driven to tell the old, old story to those we have already loved in prayer. Some will be saved. Others will be those "hard knots" who keep us coming to our knees as we realize again and again that there is nothing we can do to make the message awaken in their hearts!

Dr. Chapman's plea for us as Southern Baptists is so simple. It is a natural corollary to our president's call for a Great Commission Resurgence. It is not a denominational "program." It is a grassroots passion for the lost in our own neighborhoods; people we meet in our day-to-day path at work and school; people we encounter in daily commerce at the gas station, grocery store, or mall parking lot; those we encounter by "chance" along life's highways.

When we pray, "just one more soul," we won't have to work up practical missions reports or sermon illustrations. We won't have to rely on soul-winning stories from yesteryear. People will come into our paths naturally, unbidden, unsolicited. The Lord will give us fruit over which we have not labored-because He sees and honors the souls over whom we have already labored. You will find yourself bumping into people ripe and ready to receive your witness.

The Principle is very clear. We are called to intercede.

The Premise is quite simple. God will hear and respond to our prayers.

The Practice is just routine. As we faithfully obey God's call to intercede on behalf of the lost, praying personally and specifically for their salvation, He will give us fruit over which we have agonized in prayer as well as fruit over which we have expended no labor at all.

This is the law of His harvest.

"Just one more soul, dear Lord. Just one more soul."


1 Colin Brown, NIDNTT, vol. 2, s.v. "entunchano," p. 882.
2 H. H. Harvey, "Timothy," in Timothy to Peter, vol. 6, An American Commentary on the New Testament, Alvah Hovey, ed. (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1890), p. 30.

    About the Author

  • Roger S. "Sing" Oldham