By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
COVINGTON – Eric Hankins believes next generation evangelism flows through the home.
“We have been given an incredible calling and responsibility, certainly, to all sinners and lost people everywhere,” declared Hankins during the 2019 Louisiana Baptist Evangelism Conference at the First Baptist Church, Covington, held Jan. 28-29. “But we must not neglect our own children and grandchildren in the critical commissioning we have in our homes.”
Pulling his message from Deuteronomy 6, Hankins, pastor of the First Baptist Church, Fairhope, Alabama, encouraged parents to model for their children a life anchored in the faith.
“Children are wired to soak up a faith that you live,” he said. “Culture is no match for a home where parents take seriously this mandate for next generation evangelism.”
Hankins urged parents to teach their children to seek and stand for truth.
“The next generation of children needs consistency in the message,” he said. “They need to hear it time after time after time. And the word needs to match the consistency of your actions.
“If you want your children and grandchildren to look like everybody else, to be popular, to be invited to all the things, then they’re not going to look like Jesus,” he said. “You must be willing — if you are going to raise godly children, if you are going to pour things into the next generation that last forever — you must be willing for your children to be different.
“I watch so many people give that away. They don’t help their kids learn to make the tough decisions of doing what is right instead of doing what is popular.”
Hankins’ children, J.D. and Emily, later joined him on stage to reaffirm how teaching children to live for Christ at a young age produces a harvest into adulthood. J.D. is the youth pastor at the First Baptist Church, Bruce, Mississippi, and Emily recently returned from a two-week mission trip to Cambodia.
“It is life changing to see that Jesus wins,” Emily said. “He is the one who is victorious. We can either be a part of it or we don’t get to be a part of it. But He wins anyway. Choosing to be a part of it is super important to me. It has been instilled in me all these years of being poured into and loved and guided – and that I take that and I bring that into the world.”
J.D. added that a “lineage of faith” helped shape him through his journey in ministry.
Hankins closed his message by sharing God taught him the importance of his children following God’s will.
“The next generation of evangelism flows through the home,” Hankins said. “Let it be in your life. Let it be in your churches.”
Hankins’ message was preceded by one delivered by his father, Louisiana Baptists Executive Director David Hankins. They were one of the two father-son duos who preached during ECON as part of a central focus to reach the next generation.
Hankins emphasized the need to finish well in the Christian race, based off Hebrews 12:1-3. Those who want to run the race for the prize must listen to the right crowd, lead the righteous cause and look to the risen Christ, he urged.
Hankins, who is approaching retirement, reflected on those who influenced him during his nearly 50 years of ministry. He was advised early on to preach the Word, and live consistently in season and out of season to finish his race well.
In a day when culture is increasingly antagonistic toward those who live out their Christian faith, Hankins urged Louisiana Baptists not to become discouraged.
“Pay attention to this great cloud of witnesses,” Hankins said. “Don’t listen to the wrong crowd.”
Hankins reminded the crowd to run the race with patience and perseverance.
“When the difficulties come – and they will in this race – that’s not the time to quit,” he said. “That’s the time to persevere and lean into the problem. Keep doing what you know to do. Keep leading the righteous cause.”
As Louisiana Baptists look to reach the next generation, they must do what it takes to reach them.
Referencing Mark 2:1-12, Chip Luter said the passage offers five key ingredients for transformational ministry: connection, compassion, collaboration, creativity and confidence in Christ. If Louisiana Baptists follow these guidelines, they will have the blueprint to reach the next generation.
“As we think about the next generation and beyond, we must not lose the most desired outcome we want to see – transformation,” said Luter, pastor of the Idlewild Baptist Church Sulphur Springs campus in Tampa, Florida. “We want to see life change.
“God did not come into our lives for us to stay the way we were,” he continued. “He came into our lives to change us to be all that He wanted us to be and that happens through the cross.”
Luter said people must be intentional to seek to help the generations connect.
The culture is changing and churches must be willing to adapt their methods and models, not the doctrine and beliefs, he said.
“Are you and your local church creative enough to reach a generation that isn’t it interested in church,” he asked. “The next generation is not interested in church. They want community. They want to belong.
“The church is not like a family,” he said. “It is a family. We’ve got to get creative enough to get them in there because once they’re in there and they experience this, they want more of this because the world kicks them out of their cliques and clubs the minute they won’t meet their standards. But if they get in here and they meet Jesus, they will see they are part of something as Christ would take us and would never let us go.”
Following his son’s message, Fred Luter said Christ followers must commit to make disciples of the next generation.
Citing Matthew 28:19-20, Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans, said this can be accomplished if believers are to go to them, reach them and teach them the way to Christ.
“There are a lot of lost and unchurched people in our world,” Luter said. “If we expect to win them to Christ, we must go where they are.
“We must get out of these four walls of our churches and penetrate the community,” he continued. “We are living in a day and time when they are not coming to us. There was a time where people were expected to go to church every Sunday of their lives. But those days are over. That’s why Jesus told us to go.”
Luter said while attending church with other believers is important, going into the community to build relationships and share the Gospel is vital.
“We must scatter after we gather,” he said. “That’s why Jesus told us we must go. We must be salt and light in a low sodium, dark and saltless society.”
Moreover, Luter said others can be reached by sharing a testimony of how Jesus changes lives.
“We reach them by sharing our testimony, by sharing the Gospel, by lifting up our lord and savior Jesus Christ,” he said. “If we are going to reach them, we must introduce them to someone that will change their lives forever.
“We must teach them there is a better way to live,” he said. “We must teach them Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and Life. No matter what you go through, no matter what you have to deal with on this Christian journey, Jesus promises us, ‘I am with you always.’ He promised to never leave us, to never leave us alone.”
To reach the next generation, Louisiana Baptists should look to the Good Samaritan who showed compassion to someone different, Argile Smith said.
Smith, pastor of Parkview Baptist Church, Biloxi, Mississippi, citing Luke 10:25-37, said a religious leader believed he was justified in reaching only those who lived in his community. However, Jesus corrected his errant notion by sharing the parable of the Good Samaritan, who stopped to help a man of a different people group — after two religious men had already passed on by.
“This conference is about the next generation,” he said. “It’s about that group of people who have come upon us, who in some ways seem strange to us, people whose character traits are a little different from us. But at the same time that they are different from us, we have been given a responsibility to share Christ with them and the people who are older than they are and the people who are younger than they are, so that they can come to Christ and experience His wholeness.”
Much like Jesus closed the parable with a charge to the religious leader, Smith issued a charge to Louisiana Baptists.
“Have mercy,” he said. “Have mercy on those kids — who live at the end of that road in your community — who need Jesus. Have mercy on the next generation of people who never have had the privilege of even having a Gideon New Testament given to them when they were in the fifth grade. Have mercy on the teenagers who are being swept away by one lie right of hell after another. Have mercy on families that are being torn apart because they have believed that big lie and it’s caused them to suffer everything that matters for the future. My friends, have mercy on them.”
Atheist-turned-best-selling Christian author Lee Strobel closed out ECON by encouraging Louisiana Baptists to keep praying for people who have yet to turn to Christ.
Strobel’s wife accepted Jesus early on during his own two-year search to disprove Christianity. Instead of giving up, she continually prayed for him and believed God would answer, which He did Nov. 8, 1981.
“Don’t give up,” Strobel said. “Keep praying. Keep lifting them to the Father.”
The next generation will be reached through apologetics, Strobel believes.
Other Christ-followers must be open to the questions this generation may ask, and not see them as the enemy, he said.
“They are not the enemy,” he said. “Satan is the enemy. And we have to validate them as people who matter to God the Father. And we have to understand that apologetics is a process and not an event.
“We need to train, starting with our Sunday school classes and our little kids in apologetics, not to just teach them from the Bible but to teach them why they can trust the Bible,” he said. “We need to help equip them, not just with a bunch of lessons from the life of David of courage and Moses of leadership. But we have to help them trust why the Bible is trustworthy and understand the evidence for God and the evidence for the truth of the Christian faith so they emerge with a faith that has strong roots to withstand the attacks they are certainly going to get in our post-Christian culture.”
Strobel’s message was cut short after an area-wide power shortage that encompassed Covington, Hammond, Robert and Ponchatoula.