Some Things Still Work
by Jerry Drace
Shortly before graduation from Union University, God reminded me in a moment of intense prayer that He doesn’t work with conjunctions. Nine years earlier during an evening worship service in Ridgecrest, North Carolina, I had confidently told God, “I will do whatever You ask me to do—except be a preacher.”
As a preacher’s kid, I thought one in the family was enough. Besides, I knew what I wanted to be. When I announced to my parents at the mature age of twelve my decision to be a doctor, they just smiled and continued to pray over the next few years, “Lord, You direct our son to where You want him to serve and what You want him to become.” Thank God for parents who never stopped praying. Some things—like prayer—still work.
After thirty-nine years in full-time evangelism, my call as an evangelist has been combined with the call of a pastor. These past two years I have had the privilege of serving as the bivocational pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Friendship, Tennessee. Several years ago during a revival, an elderly lady approached me at the conclusion of the service, looked at me for a moment, and said, “You preach with the hot heart of a pastor.” Recently after a Sunday morning service, a young man met me as I left my office and said, “You sound just like an evangelist.” Some things—like biblical preaching—still work.
During my brief time as pastor at Friendship, the membership has undergone evangelism and discipleship training. Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby made a profound impact on several church members. Robert Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism and Darrell Robinson’s People Sharing Jesus opened the eyes and hearts of our members and led to the stirring of the baptismal waters. This summer, due to the prayers of our people, we saw twenty children open their hearts and pray to receive Christ through VBS. Most of these were between ten and twelve years of age. Once again the baptismal waters were stirred as parents and grandparents gathered to see these precious souls follow in obedience the teachings of Scripture. Some things—like personal evangelism—still work.
As an evangelist who has conducted approximately one thousand revivals, I know what a well-prepared revival can do for the life of a church. I have introduced our members to some of the most effective evangelists in the SBC—Jim Wilson, Jerry Burgess, Darrell Robinson, and even Billy Graham through the wonderful project “My Hope America.” Our people opened their homes and invited friends and relatives to watch this simple yet powerful presentation of the Gospel. Through these evangelistic events new faces have been appearing on Sundays and Wednesdays. Some things—like revivals—still work.
This fall we will host a dear friend, evangelist Phil Glisson, and I will introduce Billy Graham’s newest My Hope presentation, “Heaven.” My Hope combines the impact of video programs with the power of personal relationships. Christians can share the Gospel message with friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors using one of several evangelistic video programs featuring life-changing testimonies and powerful messages from Graham. There have been more than ten million commitments in three hundred thousand churches in fifty countries where My Hope has been shown. Some things—like community outreach—still work.
Looking back over my almost forty years of preaching throughout the SBC, I have witnessed many trends come and go. So often we have a tendency to package and market the Good News to keep it relevant. At the first National Congress for Southern Baptist Evangelists in 1982, Billy Graham spoke on “Things I Would Do Different.” In what would be a prelude to his autobiography, Just As I Am, he looked over the audience gathered in the chapel at Southern Seminary and said, “The age of relevancy is dead. Just preach the truths of this great book and it will meet the needs of modern man.” Some things—like the Gospel—still work.
Local Church Missionaries
by Brent Lay
Most traditional churches in America routinely pay for childcare, for custodial work, and for musicians to play instruments. Each is an essential service and worthy of compensation. But, when asked to consider paying stipends to highly trained evangelism specialists, who I call Church Missionaries, the most common response is, “Why do we need to pay for that? This is something we all should be doing.” I offer three reasons as to why this is a workable strategy.
One, evangelism is the most difficult ministry of our day. With many aging congregations, our pastors have less time for this task. With top-tier communicators reaching every home through television and other media, the average pastor feels pressed to devote more time to sermon preparation and worship planning, giving him less time to provide outreach leadership. And our local mission field has increased in diversity, requiring more time to relate to the lost. This, we need highly trained lay specialists to expand our evangelism capacity.
Two, we need a movement! These are perilous times for American churches. The great majority are in decline. I submit that part-time Church Missionaries (evangelism specialists) are the missing piece of the puzzle.
I have used this strategy for more than twenty years with more than thirty Church Missionaries. They served as catalysts who assisted the pastor, expanding the church’s capacity to mobilize volunteers. Each part-time missionary, at an expense of $100 per week ($5,000 per year) reached an average of five families per year, resulting in an average of five baptisms per year.
Evangelism in North America is complex, complicated, and requires continuous change of strategy. We must have the highly trained lay-member evangelism specialists.
Three, this is a practical and plausible plan. I often hear leaders say our only hope is Revival. That is obvious and always applies, for our endeavor is always spiritual. When businessman Author Flake gave leadership to the great tool of Sunday School, his formula, systematic approach, and deployment of campaigns facilitated great and effective outreach of our churches. Just like Flake’s ideas from a century ago, this strategy can be replicated in all churches of all sizes and age.
Business as usual is not an option. We need a systematic approach to evangelism with a high degree of training and accountability that can be highly effective with only a few hours each week of the pastor’s time. Enlisting a Church Missionary is a workable strategy to expand the evangelistic footprint of any church in its own community and beyond.
Baptisms: The Next Step
by Bobby Welch
The report of the Pastors’ Task Force on Declining Baptisms has brought us to the correct question—“What is the next step?”
This unbelievably huge Southern Baptist airplane, loaded with nearly sixteen million people from 46,125 churches, is in a rapidly accelerating nosedive toward a devastating crash. The situation is critical! It is far worse than most Southern Baptists realize and it’s far later than many Southern Baptists would have ever thought.
But hear this! Reversing this impending disaster is doable—more doable than anyone would ever imagine. But we absolutely must take the “next step” correctly.
I have recently reviewed a report of the first six months of a “next step” initiative undertaken by churches in the Tennessee Baptist Convention. This strategy has come to be known as “1-5-1 Harvest Plants.”
Through this model, in the course of a year, a church or small group within the church seeks to plant at least one off-campus, weekday, small, evangelistic, discipling gathering of approximately ten to fifteen people who are almost exclusively lost and unchurched.
These plants are designed to be intuitive, organic, and viral, and therefore easier to start and multiply while requiring little or no money. This is the first “1” of the “1-5-1” harvest plan.
The prayer and goal for each plant is that at least five new believers will be won to faith and baptized through the ministry of the plant (the “5” of “1-5-1”), with another new harvest plant established by the first harvest plant by the end of the year (the final “1” of “1-5-1”).
These plants can be one or more of three types of Harvest Plants—an off-campus branch of an existing group (like a Sunday School class, etc.), a new off-campus group, or a new church.
More than seven hundred TBC commitments were made to plant one or more of these three types of Harvest Plants.
In the first six months 373 plants were reported, with 140 reporting one or more persons won to faith in Christ and baptized, for a total of 743 baptisms.
These results indicate an approximate ratio of two baptisms per plant and a 5.6:1 ratio of persons required to reach and baptize one person within six months.
The “1-5-1 Harvest Plants” is based on certain absolutes that must be embraced.
- Churches of all sizes, all locations, all types of buildings, with attendance from a few to the thousands, must have equal access and opportunity to succeed at the “next step.”
- Lost persons must be the primary focus.
- Number of baptisms is a measurable demonstration of discipleship and is a primary indicator of plant progress.
- Plants must be located outside of the church building. (Ever see a farmer plant his crop in the barn?)
- Laypeople must be mobilized to biblical discipleship and evangelism through on-the-job training.
- No money required for plants; plants can flourish with no funding and very little money for training.
- Ethnic plants are absolutely imperative. Most churches and Christians now have world missions opportunities right in their backyards (no passports, shots, or days off from work required).
- Multiplication will make the difference between our past and future. It can cure ingrown and ill-formed classes, groups, and churches.
- Cooperative Program giving from the plants encourages new converts to participate in biblical stewardship and contribute to home and world missions. Some church plants have begun their dedication service by making a photo of their first CP gift made through the TBC.
- Takes time. There is no quick fix for getting out of the grave into which we have dug ourselves over many years.
- Set realistic expectations. Harvest Plant 1-5-1 leaders set a simple goal for 2014—help stop the “bleeding” (the decline in baptisms) by experiencing a small upward tick in baptisms/discipleship. Thanks be to God, both of those goals were accomplished even before the beginning of the year 2014!
If the “1-5-1 Harvest Plants” concept resonates with your church, all the materials you need to start are online and free of cost at www.tnbaptist.org/harvest.
An Impossible Dream
by Jimmy Draper
Here is an impossible dream: to think we can change our nation and our world simply by being present without being passionate and evangelistic in our faith and actions.
The mere presence of Christian institutions has never been a deterrent to the downfall of nations. In fact, the opposite is true. Consider:
- Islam was born in the Arabian Peninsula while the prominent Christian church debated which icons were to be allowed in the church buildings. Presence, but no Witness!
- Communism arose at a time when the institutional church in Russia was preoccupied with the color of vestments for priests to wear when conducting worship and discussing how many fingers should be extended in giving the benediction. Presence, but no Witness!
- Hitler appeared on the scene when Germany was thoroughly represented by Christian churches and leaders. Presence, but no Witness!
- Ghandi was trained in the United States in the midst of Christian churches. His own testimony is that the apathy of professing Christians is the reason he did not embrace Christianity. Presence, but no Witness!
Many modern-day churches are like social gatherings with little sense of urgency in reaching our nation with the Gospel of redemption. They are preoccupied in petty squabbles over personal preferences, church leadership, and other conflicts that rarely have eternal implications. We languish in a climate of conflict or complacency while our world rapidly unravels. Presence, but no Witness!
America has more churches, more Christian books and literature, more Christian preachers, more Christian radio stations and TV stations, more Christian seminaries and Christian colleges, and more ready access to the Gospel than any nation in the world. Yet our culture is virtually pagan and decidedly corrupt. Each generation is seeing fewer and fewer believers. Many churches are dying. Few are growing. Presence, but no Witness!
We retreat into our sanctuaries and live in our own little worlds, while the world we have been commissioned to reach does not even know we are here! A slumbering church will never meet the challenge of an aggressive secular agenda. Presence, but no Witness!
Muhammad, the father of Islam, grew up in the sixth century, untouched by the Christian churches that surrounded him. Abdiyal Akbar Abdul-Haqq wrote, “The evangelistic fervor and missionary fire of the church of the earliest centuries began to cool off gradually as she started on a course of increasing secularization” (Sharing Your Faith with a Muslim). Presence, but no Witness!
Samuel Moffett, professor at Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Seoul, Korea, said that when the Church was confronted with the growing influence of Islam, it believed its presence was enough to make a difference.
“Faced with a choice between survival and witness, the Church chose survival. It turned in upon itself. It ceased to evangelize. It survived, but what survived was no longer a whole church. It was a sick, ingrown community.” Presence, but no Witness!
Are Southern Baptists becoming a sick and ingrown community? Have we become so used to the Gospel that it no longer thrills us, that it no longer has a grip upon our hearts to share it everywhere? Have we opted for survival instead of passionate witness?
One thing is for sure—the world needs more than our presence. It needs our witness!
The only hope of our nation and world is the change that comes through the redeemed lives of those who have been transformed by the power of the Gospel message.
How do we move forward? What is our next step toward becoming the powerful, culture-changing force we were born again to be?
It begins with passion in the hearts of our leaders. Our churches will never be Great Commission churches until our pastors are Great Commission pastors, and church leaders, whether church staff or deacons or other lay leaders, are consumed with the command given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. And He promised to go before us and with us on that journey.
Every facet of Convention life, beginning with the local church, must be saturated with a hunger to see our nation and world revived by the power that can only come from God.
One thing is for sure: it truly is an impossible dream to think that we can turn the tide of godlessness and heresy that is looming on the horizon just by being here! Our world needs our presence . . . but it desperately needs our consistent witness!
Jerry Drace is an evangelist and pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Friendship, Tennessee. You may reply to him by visiting www.HopefortheHome.org; Brent Lay is director of pastoral care at Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, Tennessee. He has a website describing this approach at growchurchgrow.com; Bobby Welch is associate executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention and is a member of First Baptist Church in Sevierville, Tennessee. An expanded version of this column first appeared in the Baptist & Reflector newspaper; Jimmy Draper is former president of LifeWay Christian Resources and is a member of First Baptist Church in Euless, Texas.