Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Lasering Lemke - Issue 6

Issue 6 - Evangelistic Fervor

"Are going to revive our focus on evangelism, or we going to go into decline like most other denominations? Are we going to continue on the plateau of baptisms that we have been on for the past half a century, or are we going to refocus on evangelism again?"

Could there be any link between the methodology we Southern Baptists have used for the last 50 years in evangelism and our flatlined baptismal statistics? Dr. Lemke doesn’t suggest any specific changes except more of the same old, same old – like Flake’s Formula and “personal evangelism”, which has been the mantra of SBC leadership since I can remember. He seems to think that the decline or the plateaued statistics of our churches can be cured simply by more personal evangelism and more Sunday School attendance.

I really don’t know any pastors who are deliberately de-emphasizing Sunday School. I know personally I’d love to have a growing, thriving Sunday School but I simply haven’t been able to get that going in the right direction lately. In the 1980’s and early 1990’s I personally led three churches to grow in Sunday School enrollment and attendance but in the last 10 years, the bottom has dropped out. I saw one of those growth Sunday Schools decline and the church I now pastor has not grown in Sunday School attendance to any measurable extent since I’ve been here. I’ve seen the same trend with Baptisms in the Churches I’ve pastored as well, so I can’t say I’ve witnessed a de-emphasizing of personal evangelism either.

Maybe I’m just getting old and long for the good old days but I’m thinking that ministry is harder today than it ever was in the history of the SBC. I know it is in my experience. I think the trend for Church Growth across all denominations in the USA is downward. What makes us think that our denomination will be an exception when the whole country is moving away from spirituality and religion instead of toward it? Could it be that the last days of which several of the New Testament writers assured us would come are upon us with their scoffing attitude toward Christianity abounding and a general falling away from the truth evident even among Southern Baptists?

Or Perhaps we Southern Baptists are just now beginning to realize we are reaping the whirlwind of our evangelistic methodologies. With our focus on numbers, baptism and attendance, we have downgraded the “gospel” down a simple formula that only takes a brief canned presentation and only requires simple assent on the part of the listener, with the presenter prompting the right answers and even providing the prayer of repentance for the “new convert.” Check the proof in the testimonies of our newly “saved.” They are a far cry from the detailed agony and wrestling with God we read about from newly converted Baptists of the late 1700’s and early 1800’s in this country.

If all we Southern Baptists have to hope in to reverse the trend is Bobby Welch and his goal of a million baptisms in 2006 as Dr. Lemke alludes then we may be further gone than we have ever imagined. I would think a better hope would be that the Church in America, SBC included, would be allowed by God to come under severe persecution for we know from history that the church when persecuted has grown both stronger in doctrine and in holiness.

Dr. Lemke predicts and warns that “Southern Baptists will go into a spiritual and numerical tailspin of decline unless we refocus on sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with a lost world and God sends a revival.”

I too predict and warn the same but the answer is more than just refocusing on sharing the gospel – first we have to agree that much of what we have done in the past is not Biblical and then we have to agree on what the gospel is because I’m afraid some Southern Baptists are confused about the basics. Then we have to share it like the New Testament Christians shared it rather than how pragmatic “Church Growth” gurus repackage it.


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