Drawing from the example of Samson's loss of strength in Judges 16, Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch warned against squandering the opportunities God has given the Convention.
"There is great consequence in the traumatic tragedy of unfulfilled potential," Welch told Executive Committee members in Nashville, Tennessee, February 20.
He pointed to verse 20, which says when Samson awoke from his sleep, he said, "I will escape as I did before and shake myself free." But he did not know that the Lord had left him. Samson had lost his hair and his strength, and the Philistines were upon him.
"That must be one of the saddest circumstances imaginable to be out flailing away and the wind of God [is] off your life," Welch said, adding that a wonderful comeback happened in verse 22 when Samson's hair began to grow again.
Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Florida, set forth three ways to "rev up a rundown romance with reaching people" for Christ.
A couple of weeks prior, Welch stood on a blustery cold hilltop in Alabama with a group of church members looking at the smoldering ashes of their building. Their church had been one of ten Baptist churches burned by arson in recent weeks, and Welch said those members looked as if they were standing vigil over a sick person in a hospital.
He took a short, silver-haired woman by the hand and discovered she had attended the church for more than seventy years.
"Then, like a laser, her little blue eyes just locked onto me and she set her jaw, and she said, 'But I'll tell you this, Bro. Bobby. We're going to build back, and we're going to build bigger and we're going to build better. The devil can't whip us,'" Welch said.
At her words, her younger pastor said amen, and a couple of kids shook their heads in agreement and another man on crutches did the same, Welch said.
"Everybody I could see was unanimous on that fact. And I thought, 'This is really the spirit of who Southern Baptists are, personified at every generation," he said. "These are the comeback kids. These are the ones who know how to get up and go again, and they just refused defeat.
"On that day it gripped me: How do you rev up a rundown romance with reaching people? What happened to Samson, don't you think, could happen to a Christian. It could happen to a church. It could happen to a clergyman. And it could happen to an entire Convention, where you get to the point that you're just flailing the air, and you know not the power of God is off your work. That day comes when we lose the love of the Lord for the sake of souls," he said.
The solution, Welch said, is for fresh fire to fall on the Convention, and he believes it's already falling in the form of the Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for evangelism, which has put an emphasis on witnessing to, winning, and baptizing more people than ever before in the Convention.
Wherever he goes, Welch said, people ask him how the effort to baptize 1 million people is going. It's too early in the year to project the final count, he said, but one thing is already clear.
"Real, effective help is coming out of state conventions and associations that I've never seen before — real, dedicated, effective help on the issue of getting before the people, witnessing, winning, and baptizing," he said. "I have not been to hardly any convention or state evangelism conference where they haven't baptized on site."
The second component in the plan to rev up a rundown romance with reaching people, Welch said, is to get out in the field. His formula for what to do out among the people is CC + DD = MORE.
"Change the conversation, then direct the discussion and you'll always get more of what you're looking for," he said. "If evangelism and discipleship is the main thing, why don't you talk more about it? Why don't we urge more? Why aren't the banners clearer? Why doesn't every conversation have it in it? The more we do that, the more we will get it done for the glory of God."
Despite the good intentions of many Southern Baptists to stay on track with the goal of Everyone Can, some extenuating circumstances have served as distractions recently, namely Hurricane Katrina, church fires in Alabama, and various political discussions among Convention leaders, he said. But those must not slow Southern Baptists in the fight to win souls.
"We must somehow become proficient enough in the spiritual war-fighting that we are not overwhelmed by struggles," Welch said. "Can you not fight with a scratch on your nose? Can you not lose a piece of your ear and keep going? Can you not take a flesh wound and stand up straight? Must you always lie down and whine when the least difficulty comes along?
"In spiritual war-fighting, as in military war-fighting, you have an obligation as the leader to go on. You seize the circumstance. You don't allow the circumstance to seize you," he said.
As he stood on the hill by the burned church, reporters asked him if he had anything to say about the tragedy. Welch told them to watch the church.
"Watch what the church does with the fire. That's the story. Watch what the church does with the fire," he said. "The church will now take this fire, they will minister, they will share the Gospel. People will get saved and get off the road to hell and get on the road to heaven. Don't be surprised if the very bird that set the fire doesn't end up being a Southern Baptist preacher one day. It happened with Paul the apostle, and it could happen in Alabama.
"We must seize these circumstances and not wallow in them and let them wear us out, but win the day for the cause of Christ. Go to higher ground and fight on for the glory of God," he said.
The third way Southern Baptists can rev up a rundown romance with reaching people, Welch said, is to get out in front and stay there. In other words, get on with it.
"That's what leaders have to do. We have to get out front and stay there. That's not always the easiest place in the world, but that's where we need to be and where we've got to go," he said. "And this is the time to do it."
His new heroes are those volunteers who dove into the dirtiest work after Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, Welch said, and those who are ministering to the churches that have lost their buildings to arson. And his old heroes are still those who are good and faithful servants of the Lord, like the old woman standing by the burned church, vowing to come back better than ever.
"That's the heart and soul of who we are. I love them. I'm glad to be one of them," he said. "I cherish being among them. They're my heroes."
Never before in the history of the Convention have Southern Baptists been blessed with so many opportunities for ministry and so many resources to accomplish the task, Welch said. Now is the time to decide whether to squander or succeed.
"I believe with all my heart and soul that the Southern Baptist Convention is God's gift to the evangelical church world today," he said. "There is absolutely nothing like it, nothing at all like it. And we must make the most of it in our time. The worst thing that could happen to us is for all of us to stand collectively before God one day and have to give an answer for squandered opportunity and the tragedy of unfulfilled potential.
"We cannot be a team who has All-Star players, tremendous resources, an extravagant playbook, overwhelming opportunities, and not win. We cannot do that. We must get on fire, we must get in the field, and leaders must get out front and lead like we've never led before," Welch said. "This is a cause that is worth it. It's worth the very best of the rest of our lives."