I have just returned from the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, AZ. I was reminded this week how much I love being a Southern Baptist. They are my family. Just like my biological family we don’t always get everything right, but warts and all I love the SBC.
Several things encouraged me this week, not least of which was the racial diversity that I observed. We have not arrived as a convention of churches, but the composition of our messengers, churches, and leaders is increasingly diverse. I am encouraged by this.
I was also encouraged to see an emphasis on evangelism. Southern Baptists always talk about evangelism, but this year there was a real emphasis on it. President Steve Gaines has appointed an evangelism task force and there was even a sermon on the importance of public invitations that included practical tips on extending invitations.
Nevertheless, talk as much as we will, the truth is that at its core evangelism is not denominational; it is personal. Effective evangelism has to be more than public invitations. Effective evangelism must include personal invitations—not just invitations to church, but invitations to Christ.
Evangelism isn’t easy; it is offensive. Sharing the good news of Jesus necessarily means telling others that they are wrong. Not just a little wrong, they are completely wrong and their wrongness is leading them to hell. But, if we believe what we claim to believe about the exclusivity of Christ, then evangelism is not an option, offensive or not. Evangelism is a necessary requirement for Christians.
So I write this, pastors, as a plea for you to share your faith. Share your faith regularly and personally. Give invitations from the pulpit, but do not stop there. Share your faith with the girl at the grocery store counter, with your taxi driver, and with your work out partners. Share with family and friends and share with those who show up in your office for counseling sessions. Share on the street and in the airport. Share your faith.
Pastors, we must share because Jesus gave the Great Commission to all of us. Pastors, we must share because if we do not, our churches will not.
Talking about evangelism is great. Preaching on evangelism is fantastic. Task forces on evangelism are wonderful and my prayer is that all of this will lead to a greater evangelistic fervor. My fear, however, is that all of this talk will lead only to renewed emphases and programs. Unless you and I are actually willing to do the work of an evangelist, evangelism will not improve, baptisms will not increase, and the church will continue to decline in faithfulness and effectiveness.
The world is literally dying to hear the message of the gospel. As I made my purchases at a drug store in Phoenix this week, I shared a copy of the Gospel of John with the girl running the register. I shared with her the plan of salvation and told her how she could be saved, then offered to pray for her. She shared that she is a recovering alcoholic and is two days into a new job that she hopes will help her to re-start her life. She asked me to pray that she can stay clean. I told her that Jesus could give her the new life she wants and that I would be praying (and I have been praying). This young woman did not give her life to Christ right then and, as the line backed up behind me, our conversation had to end. But I have hope that Christ can work through his Word.
I walked back toward the convention center and wondered whether pastors were headed to lunch and dinner and sharing the gospel in Phoenix. I was also convicted of how often I have neglected to share the gospel myself.
We need more than meetings and programs. We need more than words and sermons. We need men who will step forward and lead their churches to impact their communities with the power of the gospel. Pastors—Southern Baptist or not—we need to be busy about the Father’s business.
Go, therefore into all the world…