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Florida Baptist evangelism conference keeps hearts ‘hot for sharing the Gospel’

By Barbara Denman

April 5, 2013

JACKSONVILLE (FBC)—Even with six decades in the ministry, Dan Wade believes he is never too old or experienced for fresh ideas and spiritual insights, especially when it comes to evangelism. So attending the State Evangelism Conference March 17-19 was a priority for the pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church of Zephyrhills.

Not only was he “challenged and encouraged” by the sermons he heard, but he found new evangelistic tools to use in his roles as an interim pastor and mentor to younger pastors. Since beginning his interim at New Shiloh Church in Clearwater, he has seen 40 professions of faith at the church. “The preaching has been excellent,” he said of the conference. “Being a preacher, I like to hear others preach.”

Now serving in his second pastorate, John Green, pastor of Shindler Drive Church in Jacksonville, attended the conference because “I need to continually challenge myself in evangelism, keeping my heart hot for sharing the Gospel.”

He considers the time spent at the conference “worth the investment” as he takes home “some ideas on outreach and prayer that will really be helpful.”

After leaving the corporate world, Steve Johnson recently began serving as minister of evangelism and missions at First Baptist in Glen St. Mary. Through his encouragement, 31 church members attended the evangelism conference on Sunday night.

The conference inspired his own “faithfulness,” to the task of winning others to Christ, Johnson said. “To see all the speakers whose hearts’ desire to see people saved is such an encouragement” especially in his new role.

The three-day meeting held at North Jacksonville Baptist Church was a time for spiritual refreshment, renewal and new ideas for church leaders across the state despite their generation and ministry experience. The conference drew 300 registered participants to the daytime seminars and as many as 850 in each evening session.

Through more than 15 seminars, participants were able to pinpoint specific needs within their ministry setting and find resources to meet their needs. Seminars highlighted a variety of topics including how to present an evangelistic message and invitation; inexpensive ideas for evangelistic events; sharing Christ with people from other world religions; ministry evangelism; prayer; disciplemaking; and on-line evangelism.

Demonstrations focused on evangelistic efforts of the Strength Team, Sportsmen’s Outreach, Faith Riders and CrossHeirs Outfitters.

Panel discussions brought together pastors from some of Florida Baptists’ leading evangelistic churches to share what is effective in their communities. These included Rodney Baker, Hopeful Baptist Church in Lake City; Lynn Hyatt, First Baptist in Callahan; Shelley Chandler, First Baptist in Bonifay; Tim Maynard, Fruit Cove In Jacksonville; and Rick Blackwood, Christ Fellowship in Miami.

During a Monday morning session, evangelistic ideas were offered with two types of churches in mind. Ideas from a traditional blended approach were given by Michael Lewis, who until recently served as pastor of First Baptist in Plant City and is now with the North American Mission Board; and innovative church ideas provided by Troy Gramling, pastor of Potential Church in Fort Lauderdale, which baptized more persons in 2012 than any other Florida Baptist church.

Among the poignant moments of the meeting, the conference began Sunday night with the baptism of three persons by the North Jacksonville staff.

“We are in spiritual warfare,” said David Burton, lead strategist of the Convention’s evangelism group. He challenged participants to “love your neighbor by sharing Christ in the hair salon, those who you might jog with,” and in every aspect of daily life.

Rick Blackwood, pastor of Christ Fellowship, was the keynote speaker that night as he shared how his congregation is seeking to transform the Miami community.

He told of the U.S.’s journey to put a man on the moon in eight years, after President John F. Kennedy, the Commander in Chief articulated the mission and then the vision.

“Our Commander in Chief has cast a bold vision before He left this planet. He articulated the mission to His Church in Matthew 28:19 ‘Go and Make Disciples,’” Blackwood said. All of the commands after that point, he said, refer to the method of making disciples.

Blackwood offered three thoughts about a mission: a mission needs vision; a mission statement without vision will fail; and the vision has to be bold. As pastor of the church, Blackwood said it is his role to articulate that vision.

Noting that only 7 percent of those residing in Miami-Dade are evangelical Christians, Blackwood said Christ Fellowship has set a mission and target before its people to reach 50,000 by 2020 and to plant 15 new congregations.

“If we are going to do what the Commander in Chief says, we have to channel everything we can or we are going to lose,” he said.

“Satan has a bold vision for the city of Miami-Dade,” Blackwood continued, but still, “Satan will not rule this city, Christ will.”

During the Monday and Tuesday night sessions, John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention gave an interpretation of the Conference theme, “Love Your Neighbor, Share Christ.”

“Love is the most fragile, but durable word in the English language,” Sullivan said, used to “describe almost everything we do or feel.” But true love, he said is found in “For God so loved,” and nothing will fulfill “your ministries until you learn to love your neighbor with the love of Jesus Christ.”

“Who is our neighbor?” he asked. “Whoever is on the other side of the door. There is no one left out.”

Sullivan gave three reasons for the importance of sharing one’s faith: the time factor, the conviction factor and the sin factor. “Jesus Christ is the only thing to solve the sin question,” he said. “Don’t give up in freedom what we would never dream of giving up in persecution—the ability to share the Gospel with every lost person we know.”

Evangelist Tony Nolan told the conference Monday night that “Jesus Christ is the creator of all things; sustainer of all things and healer of all things.”

The world is looking for that information, sharing how on Feb. 24, 1989 that news took him from a life of mental illness, physical and substance abuse

“Someone shared the incredible story of love of Jesus Christ and healed the deepest wounds of my soul,” Nolan said.

“The world is looking for a family. My ‘Daddy’ bought me 2,000 years ago,” he said referring to his Heavenly Father. “God will be with us. May we constantly be revived by His loving presence. They need God. Let’s give it to them.”

Herb Reavis, pastor of the host church, told of John’s vision while on the island of Patmos found in Rev. 1:9, and following, to illustrate “The Church God Attends.”

“Today, we preachers are having a nervous breakdown trying to keep up with the latest trends,” for the segments of society that want a certain style of worship, Reavis said. “We are missing the main thing. It’s not about what kind of church I want, or the kind of church you want….because if God don’t show up you’re not going to have church.”

God wants to attend a church that produces a dynamic Christian, Reavis said, like the apostle John who left his fishing boat to follow Christ. “Being a Christian is not just having hell insurance but Christ in your life and He’s absolutely Lord of your life.”

A dynamic Christian is produced under pressure, Reavis contends, who will understand discipline and not expect to be “treated like big babies” and when the going gets tough begins “shopping for churches like people shop for restaurants,” he said. Pressure produces faith, patience, and “a sufficiency in the Lord.”

Dynamic Christians must be taught the Lordship of Christ and the importance of faithfulness, Reavis said.

He had harsh words for pastors who embrace being a celebrity; saying God desires faithfulness. He had encouraging words for pastors of single staff churches who labor without recognition, saying, “one day God will reward your faithfulness . . . [and] that little boy or little girl you led to faith in Jesus Christ is worth a lifetime of ministry. So just be faithful to what God called you to do. ”

The church that God attends will gather on a special day each week to celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ is alive while fulfilling its “unique responsibility to be light,” Reavis said.

Finally, that church must “worship a living Savior,” he said. “When I go to church, I don’t need to be entertained,” but to be humbled, encouraged and revived.

During the closing session on Tuesday night, Grant Ethridge, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Hampton, Va., held up a bag of stones to illustrate “one of the most dramatic passages in your Bible,” found in John 8:1-12.

It is a story about casting stones at sinners; casting stones at saints, and casting stones at self, he said.

Jesus was interrupted by the Pharisees “self-appointed watchdogs” who asked Him about the woman who sinned. She had committed one of the big three’s, he said—idolatry, murder and adultery, yet “no one is beyond the grace of God,” said Ethridge.

Too often the religious crowd fails to act as servants of God, he admitted.

When he arrived at Liberty church six years ago, Ethridge found a community composed of 53 percent African-Americans and a church that was all white. He began praying about the disparity. When the economy began to collaspe, he led the church to purchase $40,000 in groceries and began distributing the groceries to the needy. Now the congregation is multiracial, multinational and multigenerational as the community discovered a church that would meet its needs.

“A healthy church reflects its community,” he explained.

Jesus forced the religious leaders to look inward, Ethridge said, while showing respect to the woman. Jesus went to the cross and paid for the sins of her adultery.

“Our job is to take the Gospel to everyon,” he said.

Closing out the three-day meeting was Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, La., and Southern Baptist Convention pastor.

Luter focused his sermon on Matt. 35:38 as Jesus compared the multitudes to sheep scattered without a shepherd.

The passage reflects Jesus’ concern for all people,” Luter said. “We must heed the Master’s call for laborers; we must care about people; we must care about their eternal destinies.

It also shows the compassion of Jesus--demonstrating the humanity of Christ, fully divine yet fully man.

“Lost people have no direction, they are weary and worn but don’t realize they are lost and dying to sin. But the gift of God’s eternal life is available to them,” Luter said.

“God changed your life; God changed your direction when you came to realize you were lost,” he continued. “We must warn them of the danger of their sins. We must hurt for a dying and lost world.”

Listen to the cry of Jesus and the command of Jesus to pray, Luter urged. “The harvest is plenty, people need to know the Lord; people need to know the difference Jesus Christ can make in their lives. They won’t know unless we tell them.”

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