By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
BATON ROUGE – The time for Harvest has arrived, Louisiana Baptists were reminded during the 2017 LBC Annual Meeting Nov. 13-14 at Istrouma Baptist Church.
The largest statewide evangelism effort by Louisiana Baptists on record, 873 congregations have signed on through Nov. 15 to participate in the Harvest commitment to “pray for every home and share Christ with every person.”
After two years of developing a strategy, enlisting churches and piloting methods, a strong push will take place in 2018 for concentrated prayer and intentional soul-winning. The cooperative effort includes a diversity of mass evangelism strategies as well as one-on-one evangelism approaches: multi-church crusades, door-to-door outreach, one-on-one evangelism, single-church revivals and other activities which leverage compassion ministries to share about the love of Christ.
“Our current Harvest emphaphasis involves serious praying for every home as well as aggressive going,” Louisiana Baptist Convention Executive Director David Hankins told messengers and guests attending the annual meeting. “Engaging evangelism at the local area church and churches is still extremely effective. I’m thankful for the new initiatives going on with evangelism in the evangelical world. If anybody’s going to help reach this state for Christ, Baptists ought to do their part.”
One of the pilot projects this year was a crusade in late August involving 12 of the 15 churches that are members of Gulf Coast Baptist Association. Director of Missions Steven Kelly shared that despite the threat of tornadoes and rain from Hurricane Harvey some nights, attendance averaged more than 200 per night and resulted in 30-40 decisions.
Messengers also heard about the miraculous harvest by Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles during its revival, which resulted in 198 salvation decisions (and 134 other spiritual commitments). Fifty-one of those individuals were so moved by their born again experience that they requested and were baptized during the revival.
In his message, LBC President Gevan Spinney told messengers he believes the harvest will not take place until pastors allow God’s spirit to break them of sin in their life.
“It’s hard to tell people about Jesus when there’s sin that’s unconfessed,” said Spinney, pastor of First Baptist Church in Haughton, referencing John 4:28-35. “God will never send a harvest until we repent. God will never send a harvest until the disciples realize it’s not on your timetable. You’re not the one in control. The harvest is now.”
ELECTIONS AND BUDGET
Messengers approved the leanest Cooperative Program budget in 20 years.
The 2018 financial plan is based on expected Cooperative Program contributions of $19,507,905, a decrease of $535,426. Cooperative Program projections are based on actual receipts from August 2016 thru July 2017.
The allocation formula for distributing Cooperative Program gifts between the Southern Baptist Convention and Louisiana Baptist causes remains unchanged, with 63.26 percent supporting ministries in the state and 36.74 percent forwarded to fund national entities. This equates to $12,340,701 in Cooperative Program funds for Louisiana Baptist missions, a decrease of $338,710 from 2017.
Messengers also elected Eddie Wren, pastor of First Baptist Church, Rayville, president; Jay Johnston, associate pastor of First Baptist Church, Covington, first vice president; and, Michael Evans, pastor of Elwood Baptist Church, Forest Hill, second vice president. All three pastors were elected by acclamation.
Messengers affirmed seven resolutions, including a statement of appreciation to Istrouma Baptist Church, Baton Rouge, for hosting the annual meeting and to individuals who contributed in important ways in the production of the two-day event.
Another honors the 50th anniversary of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief; and, a third resolution expresses gratitude on the 100th anniversary of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for the spiritual impact it has had on the state, the nation and the world.
A fourth resolution denounces all racism as sin; and, a fifth consensus statement affirms the Bible’s teaching that “God loves every sinner everywhere and desires their salvation” and declares “He has provided for the forgiveness of anyone’s sins through the death of Jesus on the cross.”
The final two resolutions ask state lawmakers to enact policies with incentives to help keep marriages and families together. The first promotes pre-marital counseling for couples considering marriage and the last aims at reconciliation counseling and other classes for couples who have children and are considering divorce.
During three Bible study sessions, O.S. Hawkins, CEO of GuideStone Financial Resources, reminded messengers the time is short for the harvest, and he asked them to (1) look out to the harvest fields, (2) look up to the motivating factor of the early church for its growth and (3) look in at the admonition of the Lord.
“Jesus said for us to lift up our eyes and look upon the fields, for they are white already upon the harvest,” he said, observing that there are “so many people” and “so little time” to reach them.
Hawkins said he believes the church has lost two of its youngest generations, who crave meaningful relationships but are also caught up into immediate gratification, getting something for nothing, guilt-free living and a thirst for prosperity.
Citing Ephesians 1:7, Hawkins said, “As we lift up our eyes and look outward, something those folks they think they need is really someone,” he said. “And his sweet name is the Lord Jesus.”
Hawkins emphasized that today’s Christians must do as the early church did – walk in the fear of the Lord, a forgotten concept in the church today, he said.
“Walking in the fear of God is not the fear that God will put His hand upon you in retribution,” he said. “It’s the fear that God may take His anointing and blessing off of you.
“What would happen if we preachers in Louisiana began to live every day with that kind of an attitude and that kind of an environment walking in the fear of God? It would make a difference in how you lead your church,” he said.
Addressing pastors, Hawkins said they should ask four questions from time to time in their journey through ministry: Am I a servant? Do I have a sense of calling? Do I understand the difference between a first century message and 21st century methodology? Am I keeping an eternal purpose about everything I do?
“Somewhere there is somebody to reach for Christ that no one can reach like you can reach,” he said. “Somewhere there is a job to do that no one else can do like you can do because God has assigned that area of influence to you.”
In his convention sermon, John Fream, pastor of Cypress Baptist Church, Benton, challenged messengers to join God where He is moving.
Basing his message on 1 Chronicles 13, Fream stressed the need to seek godly counsel and act upon what the Lord desires, despite the temptation to please others.
“I like to be liked,” Fream said. “I don’t like being liked more than I like pleasing God. At the end of the day, it’s about old-fashioned fearing God.”
Fream said what churches need are pastors with conviction.
“There comes a point when you need your folks to approve what you’re doing,” Fream said. “But one of the dangers is doing that in place of being obedient to what God wants you to do.”
Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines urged messengers during the closing message to have a more intentional prayer life.
“It’s the need of the hour in the lives of Christians in the United States of America,” said Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn. “Your Christian life is no better than your prayer life. If you’re not talking to Jesus sincerely, intimately, there is a lot of room for growth in your life.”
Citing Daniel 9, Gaines said Christians should follow the example of Daniel, who prayed to God three times a day for many years. By having that intentional prayer life, Gaines said Daniel was able to experience success because he sensed the presence of God.
Just as it was in the time of Daniel, Gaines said that today prayer moves the hand of God, reveals the will of God and blesses the heart of God.
“Your real level of genuine Christianity is parallel with your prayer life,” Gaines said. “Don’t say that you love God if you don’t talk to him more than 5-10 minutes a day.”
“God has already drawn near to you,” he said. “It’s time for you to draw near to God. And when you do, He will even draw near to you.”