By Mark H. Hunter, Regional Reporter
BATON ROUGE – Let’s reach Louisiana with the gospel, proclaimed Dr. David Hankins, to 600 area Baptists gathered at First Baptist in Baton Rouge for the “Total Church Life Leadership Conference,” held on Saturday, Aug. 24.
“We were right at 600,” said Rev. Tommy Middleton, director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge, one of the event’s sponsors. That total included more than 500 participants, 35 seminar presenters and dozens of First Baptist volunteers. “We’re very pleased with the turnout.”
In his closing sermon, based on Luke chapter 5, where Jesus told Simon to go back out into the deep and cast their nets again, Hankins, LBC’s executive director, reminded the crowd that Louisiana is known as the Sportsman’s Paradise.
“Any fisherman will tell you there is no guarantee that when you go fishing you will catch any fish,” Hankins said, “but he will also guarantee you that you will NOT catch any fish if you don’t go where the fish are!”
Simon and his friends fished all night and caught nothing, Hankins said, but then Jesus showed up and everything changed.
“All of a sudden those empty nets were so full of fish they couldn’t handle them all. Their discouragement turned to joy – their failure turned to victory, their loss turned into gain,” Hankins said. “And it all started when they obeyed that simple but profound command from Jesus – put out into the deep. Let’s put out into the deep!”
The 35 seminars were held in First Baptist’s three-story building that encompasses almost an entire city block. The sessions were arranged according to age and topic, from children through teens and college to adults and from evangelism to small groups, finances and taxes.
“I learned that we don’t make evangelism as important as it needs to be,” said Joseph Daigle, 16, from South Walker Baptist after he and his friend, Brandon Schittone, 15, attended an evangelism seminar. “I’m really motivated personally to go out door to door – and I learned that you need a woman with you.”
“The Bible teaches us to spread the word and to get people to follow Christ,” added Schittone. “We learned several ways to present the gospel.”
Doyle Bennett, an associate pastor of Belfair Baptist, one of the five predominantly African-American churches in BAGBR, attended a men’s seminar taught by LBC’s Men’s Ministry Director Gibbie McMillan.
“It may seem obvious – but we need to go where the men are,” Bennett said. “Each month we walk our neighborhood looking for the men.”
Brent Rogillio, a deacon at Feliciana Baptist Church, Clinton, attended, “What deacons do,” taught by Stan Statham, DOM of Baptist Associations of Southeast Louisiana.
“A good deacon is being a servant, serving other people,” Rogillio said. “I learned a lot of helpful tools that I can use helping others.”
Simeon Bankston, deacon board chairman at First Baptist, Roseland, said he was looking for ways to save money.
“The tax recordings and requirements have changed so much and trying to pay a preacher today and save him some money and save the church some money – and still be legal – is a difficult thing,” Bankston said.
Bankston was one of ten from his church, and said he was pleased with the entire conference. “We’ll have a gumbo night at the church and sit around and talk about what we learned.”
Debbie Smith, Sunday School director at Norwood Baptist, attended a “Utilizing Social Media in Ministry,” class hosted by Lane Corley, church planting strategist for the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
“I want to set up a ‘fan page’ on Facebook where we can post things like the calendar and bulletin,” she said.
After the sessions, Oren Conner, First Baptist’s senior pastor, said, “We as a church have been blessed to be able to host this and we’re glad to be a blessing to the other churches as well.”
“We had some real quality teaching,” added Middleton, who presented three “Cultural Hot Topics,” seminars that ranged from the homosexual agenda to how churches and pastors deal with “politically correct” speech.
“These (conference) seminars touched on all what we as a church do,” Middleton said. “This is not only what we do – it is the fabric of who we are.”
And, Middleton credited his staffers, Jan Terrel and Dana Truitt, for being “the heroes” of the day for organizing the complicated event.