SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (BP) — Secular pundits say the evangelical church is on its way out, Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear said at the Midwest Leadership Summit in Springfield, Ill.
Things are changing, Greear admitted, but proposed that God might be reviving his church.
“We’re dealing with a significant loss of influence. We’re watching our culture come unraveled all around us. What was unthinkable to our parents is going to become standard fare for our kids,” Greear said. “We know that and we lament it and we worry about it.”
What if God, Greear asked at the summit held Jan. 21-23, is returning his church to simple convictions that compelled the earliest Christians? What if by removing some of the things we’re accustomed to, He’s setting up something Baptists have longed for over the past century: a transformative missional resurgence?
More than 1,000 leaders from the Midwest gathered to learn from local and national leaders in large-group sessions and 98 breakout sessions. The event, held every other year, is facilitated by Midwest state conventions and national SBC entities.
Greear wasn’t the only speaker to call churches to embrace Christ’s clear calling to make disciples. Leaders in church planting, evangelism, and discipleship urged churches to return to essentials.
Scholars say there were about 7,500 believers at the end of the first century, Greear said at the Summit. Three centuries later, half the Roman empire identified as Christian because each believer and each church saw a responsibility to multiply, Greear said.
“That is the strategy,” Greear said, “that grows the church in every generation.”
Midwest mission field
Charlie Robinson spent the first years of his ministry in a small Kansas town in an unusual seat: the passenger side of a tractor. That’s how Robinson, pastor of Northridge Church in Sabetha, Kan., built the relationships he says are essential for church leaders in a small town.
“There is no better program than one-on-one time,” Robinson told leaders attending his breakout session on leadership principles for small-town church development. The pastor echoed Greear’s words about church members being the ones in fulltime ministry.
“Pastors are in fulltime equipping and unleashing,” Robinson said. “The people are in fulltime ministry.”
At his church, ministry training is for everyone who is willing. Regular training sessions inspire church members to birth ministries and outreaches with Gospel implications. Northridge meets in four locations near the Kansas-Nebraska border, with two sites in each state.
“Your outreaches, your ministries, are only going to be as good as your ministry team,” Robinson advised. That’s why the principle of “unleashing,” he said, must become greater than a church leader’s need for control. Pastors don’t have the market cornered on the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling a believer, Robinson said.
“It must be the people’s understanding that it is their responsibility to be on mission and to do the work of the ministry.”
‘God, force us out’
“Is a person a fisherman if, year after year, he never catches a fish?”
Dhati Lewis, an Atlanta pastor and North American Mission Board vice president, posed the question after reading the fishing analogy from Darrell Robinson’s 1995 book People Sharing Jesus. In the passage, a group of people who call themselves fishermen invest their lives in everything related to their profession. The only thing they don’t do, Robinson writes, is actually fish.
In a keynote address, Lewis urged leaders not to fall into the same trap. Instead, he said, ask God to force us out of our comfort zones, toward people who desperately need Jesus.
“We need more people that are willing to live amongst the people. In proximity,” Lewis said. That’s how believers can bring a tangible expression of the Gospel.
“The harvest is plentiful, but it’s the laborers that are few,” Lewis said, quoting Matthew 9:37. “Too many of us define God’s will by the path of least resistance, that God’s will is all about getting easier and better.” But often, what he’s calling us to is harder, Lewis said.
He encouraged leaders to pray a simple prayer: “God, force us out.”