Evangelism conference: Impacting Lostness Through Disciple-Makingby Marty Simpkins
The 2014 Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSCNC) state evangelism conference was held Monday, Feb. 24, at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh. The theme focused on disciple-making with the goal of making disciples who in turn make disciples. The conference theme was an expression of the Convention’s new five-year strategy: “Impacting Lostness through Disciple-Making.” The strategy calls for churches to penetrate darkness through disciple-making in North Carolina and around the world.
Lynn Sasser, BSCNC executive leader for evangelism and discipleship, began the conference by sharing critical statistics regarding the disciple-making efforts of North Carolina Baptists in recent years. From 2001-2013, the number of baptisms in North Carolina has gone down, and during that same span the state’s population has increased by 22 percent. He then proceeded to talk about the Great Commission passage in Matthew 28:18-20, emphasizing the fact that Jesus commanded us to make disciples in all the nations.
The conference provided great resources and materials for Christians to use. LifeWay provided a bookstore where books and Bibles, including books written by the speakers that were present at the conference, were available for purchase.
Bruce Ashford was the first speaker. He is the Provost and Dean of Faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His message addressed what it means to be a disciple. He referenced Richard Wurmbrand’s book Tortured for Christ. Wurmbrand and other Christians were imprisoned in Romania during the 1950s for spreading the gospel and preaching about Jesus. They endured severe persecution and immense suffering.
Ashford preached from Luke 14:25-33, and verse 27 is where Jesus told the crowds, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Ashford declared that a disciple is someone who is willing to suffer for Christ. In addition, disciples should proclaim Him with their lips and promote Him with their lives.
Steve Corts, lead pastor at Center Grove Baptist Church in Clemmons, N.C., followed Ashford on the program. Corts asked, “How can churches change the world?” He referenced to Matthew 4:17 where Jesus preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
Corts focused on reclaiming the Master’s plan and what Christians can do to be great disciples. He said that the church needs a passion for broken people; love what God loves and see what God sees. Corts ended his sermon by talking about a man who visited his church that was a gambler, a womanizer and a partier. He said that the man ended up giving his life to Christ. Corts invested time with this man, and developed a relationship with him; doing simple things like having breakfast with him. Now the man is a pastor. Corts said, “That is the meaning of discipleship."
Following the lunch break, numerous breakout sessions were offered for those in attendance. Rick Hughes, BSCNC adult evangelism and discipleship consultant, led a session titled “Moving from Gospel Presentation to Gospel Conversation.” Hughes focused on engaging people and mentoring them in God’s Word. To illustrate this better, Hughes brought in David Cox, pastor of Beaver Island Baptist Church in Madison, N.C., who also served as a missionary to Kenya in 1995.
Cox used John chapter four as a model for how to talk to others about Jesus. In that chapter, Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman. Cox also stated that when you love God, you will start to love people.
A special feature of the conference was the conversation between Tom and Stephen Wagoner. Tom is a traditional pastor in a rural community near Dunn, N.C., where he has been the pastor of Central Baptist Church for almost 30 years. Stephen is his son and is the church planting elder at the Church in the Triad in Greensboro. He works more with smaller groups of people in the urban areas to develop more personal relationships.
Tom has admitted that he has had more of a legalistic background and has disagreed with Stephen on secondary theological issues. Each man has utilized different methods to approach people with the gospel, but both agree that making disciples is their common goal.
Stephen’s methodology is based on Acts chapter two where the apostle Peter referred back to the prophet Joel and how young men will see visions and old men will dream dreams. Stephen says this is why different generations utilize different approaches for preaching God’s word. These distinctives impact disciple-making efforts. Stephen added that human pride creates division between the generations.
The two pastors surround themselves with people from different generations to bring balance to their disciple-making efforts. Tom said that he surrounds himself with younger people to keep the church engaged with a younger generation. Stephen surrounds himself with older people to add some wisdom and experience to the church’s movement. He also adds that the younger generation needs to be shown love and grace if the church wants to successfully engage this generation, and those to come.
Following the presentation from the Wagoner’s, Derwin Gray preached. Gray has been the pastor of Transformation Church in Indian Land, S.C., for four years. Gray spoke about loving your neighbor, no matter the ethnic or cultural group to which they belong. He referred to Luke chapter 10; the passage in Scripture about the Good Samaritan. He also touched on Revelation 7:9 where he read, “After these things I looked, and here was an enormous crowd that no one could count, made up of persons from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb dressed in long white robes, and with palm branches in their hands.”
The focus of Gray’s message was that Christians need to love God, love themselves, and love all other types of people. He also stated that Christians need to, “Embody what you want your church to become and then replicate yourself.” He drove home the idea that in order to make disciples, Christians need to be more like Christ.
After the dinner break, Milton Hollifield, BSCNC executive director-treasurer, briefly addressed those in attendance about disciple-making among a specific group of people: students. Hollifield shared statistics regarding the large percentages of students that leave the church once they go off to college. He emphasized that churches need to do a better job of enriching students with the knowledge of Christ so that they may be better prepared for the challenges they face when they go off on their own after they graduate high school.
Following Hollifield, Brian Upshaw, BSCNC team leader for the disciple-making team, spoke briefly from 1 Thessalonians 2:8. Paul wrote the following to the church at Thessalonica: “So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.”
Upshaw explained Paul’s method of ministry involved not only sharing the gospel, but to sharing his own life as well. Upshaw added that Christians must do a better job of investing into the lives of other people. He also went on to provide statistics about the growing number of lost people of North Carolina. Research estimates that 5.8 million people are lost, which makes up 60 percent of the state. Upshaw emphasized that discipleship is more than just telling someone about Jesus; it’s showing them Jesus.
The final speaker for the conference was James Emery White, who is the senior pastor and founder of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C. White told the congregation that one out of every five Americans do not affiliate themselves with any religion. That also makes them the second largest religious group in the United States behind Roman Catholics.
White emphasized that many people today don’t care whether or not they go to heaven. He continued, saying that it is harder to reach people for Christ now than it has ever been before. White said that Christians must practice self-sacrifice in order to more effectively reach the lost. Like Upshaw before him, White stressed that church members must take time out of their own lives to invest in the lives of those who need Jesus.
Audio and video from all plenary sessions will be available soon at www.ncbaptist.org/disciplenc