LAFAYETTE – A seamless integration of worship, prayer, testimonies and impassioned sermons at the 2006 Evangelism Conference led more than 1,000 participants in a fresh commitment to the challenge of Acts 1:8.
By Karen L. Willoughby
LAFAYETTE – A seamless integration of worship,
prayer, testimonies and impassioned sermons at the 2006 Evangelism
Conference led more than 1,000 participants in a fresh commitment to
the challenge of Acts 1:8.
In addition, 16 small-group workshops provided
detailed instruction in how pastors and laypeople across the state
could meet the local, state, North American and global challenge of
being witnesses of the living Jesus Christ.
“Evangelism at its essence is simple and basic,”
preached Thom Rainer, new president of LifeWay Christian Resources.
Rainer was one of 10 high-powered speakers, drawn from every SBC agency
to challenge Louisiana Southern Baptists to an increased level of
evangelistic purpose during this post-hurricane time of willing
“Southern Baptists have earned the right to tell our
story in southeast Louisiana,” said Mike Rasberry, pastor of Immanuel
Baptist Church in Slidell. “Southern Baptists have been the primary
movers and shakers in southeast Louisiana hurricane recovery efforts.
Everywhere we go, people say ‘thank you.’ … Doors are open to us.”
The next six-month time period is a significant
moment for Southern Baptists in Louisiana, said John Avant, vice
president of evangelization at the SBC’s North American Mission Board.
“We’ve got a window of opportunity to make
evangelism good news again,” Avant said. “If we’re going to reach
Louisiana and North America, it’s not going to be primarily in our
His “be on-mission in the marketplace” message was
echoed by several, and drawn to a resounding conclusion by NAMB
President Bob Reccord, who was the final speaker of the evangelism
“If you know Him and love Him, you can’t keep quiet
about Him,” Reccord preached. “You cannot accept the Savior without
accepting His mission.”
Those from hurricane-afflicted areas spoke of being
encouraged, and grateful for the opportunity of getting away from the
pressures at home. Those not from that area spoke of the encouragement
and resolve they felt by their contact with the ones still working
through the effects of the nation’s worst-ever natural disaster.
From the beginnning
The two-day event started with a pre-conference
luncheon for early arrivals, hosted by several groups, at First Baptist
Church of Lafayette, where Perry Sanders is senior pastor and Steve
Horn is pastor.
“We’re long past the road to recovery,” Rasberry said at that luncheon. “We’re living in victory!”
After watching Southern Baptists in action, two
churches voted to become part of the SBC, reported Louis Husser of
Crossgate Baptist in Robert. At a Dec. 18 event, 57 people made a
public profession of their faith in Jesus. Later, 160 bicycles were
given away, the pastor added.
“If you put something in their hand, they’ll listen to you,” Husser said. “That’s what Jesus did.”
A curved ram’s horn shofar called each session to a
hushed five minutes of prayer, followed in the first session by concert
artist Charles Billingsley’s intonation: “Lord, use us after we leave
here in ways we never thought possible.”
Sanders welcomed the pastors, pastors wives, laymen
and laywomen to the first statewide event at the church that was
devastated by fire in 1999; reconstruction was completed in late 2004.
“I’m thankful for the Cooperative Program,” the
senior pastor said. First Lafayette was given $40,000 in CP mission
funds when the four-column sanctuary was built in 1948, after an appeal
was made by the pastor at that time for Southern Baptist help to
provide an edifice that would stand up to structures owned by Catholics
and Episcopalians, Sanders said. Last year, First Lafayette ranked
fourth in the state in Cooperative Program giving.
Leading a series of messages related to the
challenge of Acts 1:8, Roy Fish, longtime professor of evangelism at
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas,
preached on the power Jesus gives, from the “You shall receive power
after the Holy Spirit is come unto you” opening clause of the verse.
The power Jesus gives helps you understand your
mission, transforms you for ministry and communicates your message,
“If we refuse to let Him be sovereign, our
sanctuaries will become empty tombs,” Fish warned. “We ought to admit
we’ve lost our [zeal] … and ask God for it back.”
Billingsley seamlessly interwove his vocalizations
with congregational singing and prayer as he led the massed
congregation to times of worship during the evangelism conference.
He talked in the first session about his 13 years in
music ministry. In his early years he sang to God and for God, but then
“One day I discovered I could do a concert with God,
and it changed everything,” Billingsley said.
Rainer spoke next.
“Evangelism at its essence is simple and basic,” Rainer said. “Get up and get moving.”
In the course of a year, 93 percent of laypeople
will not tell anyone about Jesus Christ, Rainer said. He talked about
the characteristics of God’s people. They are dependent on God’s power;
they fear no one; and they just do it – they just tell people about
God’s love for them.
Former Muslim Ergun Caner was the third speaker on the evangelism conference’s first day.
“The only place light is really appreciated is in
the middle of darkness,” said Caner, now a professor at Liberty
Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Va. “Jesus alone is Lord.”
Caner spoke about the anonymous boy who gave his
bread and fish to Jesus, and how it is that “the anonymous” have
impacted the world.
“One anonymous boy, preacher, bus driver, Sunday
school teacher … led me to Jesus,” Caner said. “We are all the sum
total of anonymity.”
Allyson Graves, pastor’s wife at First Baptist
Longville, said after the Monday afternoon session that this was her
first time to attend the evangelism conference.
“I’d never been and my husband says it’s the highlight of his year,” Graves said. “So far it’s been great!”
David Denton, pastor of New Prospect Baptist in Dry
Prong, said he’d been looking forward to the evangelism conference.
“I came to be challenged in the area of evangelism,
and to have my vision refreshed for where we’re at, at this time in the
life of our church,” Denton said.
“I come every year,” said Trey Cowell, a member and
pastor-in-training at Don Avenue Baptist in Denham Springs. “It’s good
preaching. What have I gotten out of it so far? God will use anybody.”
The offering taken to offset conference expenses was
supplemented by a generous donation from the Arkansas State Baptist
Convention, said Wayne Jenkins, Louisiana evangelism director, in
announcements made at the start of the second session. The Message
later learned six people from Arkansas led workshops and in other ways
provided hands-on assistance to Louisiana’s evangelism conference.
Dennis Watson, pastor of Celebration Church in
Metairie, and David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana
Baptist Convention, brought messages Monday evening that are reported
in full on pages 5 and 8 in this week’s issue.
“I think maybe God is purging New Orleans” of the
spirits of poverty, violence, corruption, racism and even religion,
Watson said. “The church of Jesus Christ has risen up like never before
to be the hands and feet of Jesus – and the people know it.”
Hankins opened on a similar note, listing items that
depicted New Orleans’ cultural collapse, and the impact of Southern
Baptists in Katrina’s wake.
“Come on, y’all,” Hankins preached. “Let’s save as
much of this state as we can. … We have the promise we’re going to be
successful. … [God has said] my church is there and it’s my only
Jackie Buescher of First Baptist Crowley after the
session said this was her third time to attend the evangelism
“I come to hear the great preachers,” she said. “I
saw the list, didn’t know any of them, but I knew they’d be good. Dr.
Rainer just appealed to me, and Dr. Caner really took your attention.”
Larry Jinks is pastor of Beech Springs Baptist in Quitman.
“I needed to be encouraged,” he gave as his reason
for attending the 2006 Evangelism Conference. “I’ve been coming here
for 15 years so I know; it’s a perfect opportunity. It always is.
“The music is very inspirational,” Jinks continued.
“I could relate to Dr. Caner’s message about anonymity. Being in a
rural community you sometimes feel anonymous. But that’s okay.
Sometimes God uses anonymous people as much as he does the
Nine people from Broadmoor Baptist in Shreveport
attended the evangelism conference, including Jared Osbourne, who works
with high school students.
“I’ve never been before,” Osbourne said. “It’s much
better than I expected. It’s amazing to see the number of men devoted
to one thing: the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It’s just amazing!”
“Our churches today are dying of staff infection,”
preached Charles Roesel, pastor of First Baptist, Leesburg, Fla. He has
led his congregation to spread out from the church and reach the
community through more than 100 ministries; now he leads the SBC in
Roesel challenged pastors to empower the laity, who
can find more ministry opportunities where they live, work and play,
than can one lone pastor or an entire staff.
“God cannot use the man in the valley unless he’s
been on the mountain,” Roesel preached. “You need to be empowered to go
into the valley.”
But there’s another side of that story, Roesel said.
“God does not want the man on the mountaintop who is
not willing to go to the valleys,” the Florida pastor pointed out.
“Christian ministry is [about] invading the battlefield,
not the playground. … [One example is that] We’re now living in a
nation where statistically it is safer to be on death row than in a
Albert Roy Tibbs Jr., who started a church – the I
Am Christian Center – last year in the famed Apollo Theatre in Harlem,
New York City, bowed in prayer at the pulpit before rising to speak.
“The Lord was massed together and God sent them
out,” he preached. “When God breaks up the mass, He breaks out the
church. It’s not at its best until it’s scattered. That’s when the
power of God moves.”
John Avant, vice president of evangelization at the SBC’s North American Mission Board, echoed Tibbs’ words.
“The Greek word for church is not ‘called in,’ it’s
‘called out,’” Avant preached. “Church is what happens out there. We
must become a movement of God’s Spirit. God can move through a chicken
salesman as He can a preacher.”
Avant was referring to Don Cathey, owner of
Chick-Fil-A, who gave a testimony at the evangelism conference about
the importance of being about God’s business week in and week out.
“This is an urgent hour,” Cathey had said. “We need
to be at our best … as if we’re actually working for the Lord.”
Our churches would look a lot different if we let Jesus reinvent us, Avant said.
“If 10 percent of our churches reinvent themselves
to look like Jesus, we could baptize 1 million people this year, and
then again next year,” Avant announced.
“People are dangling over the edge because they don’t know God,” added the NAMB vice president of evangelism.
Avant spoke of a young boy who started playing tag
with him after a Sunday morning service, and how that game spread
throughout those who were standing in line to talk with the pastor.
“God has called you to be His missionary,” Avant preached. “Tag – you’re it!”
For the fourth time, the shofar sounded a call to
prayer, and for five minutes there wasn’t so much as a whisper in First
Lafayette’s fan-shaped worship center. Rather than just an absence of
sound, an intensity was felt, as if people were doing serious business
Bruce Venable, LBC adult ministries specialist, then
interviewed Bob Heustess live and on stage, for the Communications
Division’s webcast of the evangelism conference, which can be
downloaded from www.lbc.org/evangelismconference.
“I think the new normal now is seeing what God will
do,” said Heustess, pastor of Grace Baptist in Slidell. “Our main
emphasis now is hanging sheetrock.”
The recent hurricane’s had a leveling effect on the
community, the pastor said. A local cardiologist just last week learned
that his son had died during the hurricane. Church members made a point
of getting his yard cleaned up before he returned from the funeral, as
a way of letting the physician know he could still hope for a better
tomorrow through Jesus Christ and His people.
“God is at work,” Heustess said. “People are coming
to know Christ in back yards, front yards and all around. The Kingdom
of God is growing because of this storm.”
Gordon Fort, vice president for overseas operations
for the SBC’s International Mission Board, spoke about the need for
motivating and mobilizing people for on mission assignments across the
In Louisiana, 400 Southern Baptist churches were significantly damaged, Fort said.
“At least there were 400 churches that were able to
be damaged,” Fort said. “Not one church was damaged in the tsunami.”
Upcoming issues of the Message will report on
several of the Tuesday afternoon workshops, which included relevant
worship, planting evangelistic churches, effective evangelism
strategies, servant evangelism, reaching today’s teens, and today’s
children, and several more.
The DaVinci Code was one of the best-attended
workshops. Led by Chuck Quarles, a professor at Louisiana College, the
workshop examined the flaws in the best-selling book by Dan Brown and
provided verbal tools to negate the book’s fanciful claims that Jesus
was married to Mary Magdalene and that their offspring were the “holy
“We’re so proud of Chuck and what he’s doing,” said
Joe Aguillard, president of Louisiana College. “He’s an expert on the
antithetical facts that are counterfactual in The DaVinci Code. One of
our goals is to enlighten Christians and non-Christians to aberrant
views in the book.”
Steve Allen, layman from Pisgah Baptist in Bernice,
was one of perhaps 200 people to attend The DaVinci Code workshop. He
attended the evangelism conference for the first time this year.
“They announced the evangelism conference at
church,” Allen said in the lull before Quarles began speaking. “I
prayed about it and decided to come.” He said he was enjoying listening
to the speakers.
“I just like to hear what they have to say,” he added. “There’s nothing bad about it.”
The First Baptist Lafayette choir, resplendent in
black sequins and tuxes, accompanied by the church’s orchestra, opened
the evening time of worship with soloist Kenosha White of Good Hope
Baptist in Lafayette. Homage was paid to Luther Burney, recently
retired after what he said was “38 years and 9 months” of music
ministry at the church.
Keith Manuel, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in
the Algiers section of New Orleans, was interviewed onstage by Venable
for the state convention’s webcast. Manuel told of working at and
sending hundreds of volunteers to help at Mardi Gras World, a
post-hurricane distribution site, though usually it is a hotbed of
Mardi Gras activity.
“We passed out thousands of Bibles at Mardi Gras World,” Manuel said.
Bob Reccord, president of the SBC’s North American
Mission Board, brought the 2006 Louisiana Evangelism Conference to a
sometimes tear-drenched and other times backbone-stiff conclusion,
which culminated in perhaps 200 or more commitments made to share the
gospel with renewed zeal locally, nationally and around the world, or
to make a vocational commitment to fulltime Christian service.
Reccord spoke about believers of God embedded in the marketplace.
“It’s got to be the person in the pew answering His
call,” Reccord preached. “The more you give Him away, the more you’ll
Answer His call, tell His story, pray and change your world, Reccord instructed his listeners.
“Be in vocation with Him,” the NAMB president said.
“As you study the scriptures, you’ll never find God calling the
equipped. He equips the called.”
With eloquent words of prayer, Louisiana’s
Evangelism Director, Wayne Jenkins called the congregation to
“As You grant us an open door, give us boldness,” Jenkins prayed. “God, help us to live holy.”