Evangelism Conference focuses on faithfulness, right motives and methods

by Texas Baptists Communications on January 25, 2024 in News

SAN ANTONIO-For Christian recording artist Steven Curtis Chapman, it was a houseguest who invited his family to a week-long revival at the local Baptist church in Paducah, Kentucky.

For apologist and professor Mary Jo Sharp, it was a high school band director who knew she’d encounter questions in college and gifted her a Bible.

Victor Rodriguez, evangelism associate and discipleship specialist in Hispanic Evangelism for Texas Baptists, spoke of Oscar’s impact once he heard the good news of Christ and sought to share it with others in his family and community.

As attendees from far and wide converged on Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio on Jan. 21-22 for the 2024 Texas Baptists Statewide Evangelism Conference, past acts of personal evangelism were celebrated nearly as often as future acts were exhorted.

The result was a moving two-day conference in which church leaders and laity were urged to share Christ and show love with an intentional focus, as Texas Baptists director of Evangelism Leighton Flowers explained, on “the soul of the person you are with.”

Building bridges and bypassing barriers through cross-cultural witness

In his first keynote address since beginning his time of service as Texas Baptists Executive Director on Nov. 30, Julio Guarneri kicked off the conference Sunday evening with a message on building bridges and bypassing barriers to share the gospel.

Speaking from John 4, Guarneri told the story of Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman at the well.

“Christ commissioned the Samaritan woman to be a witness to her people. And Christ has commissioned you and me to love the people around us and share the message of Christ with them,” Guarneri said. “The nations have come to Texas, and they need Jesus.”

Guarneri noted the rapid growth of the state, which added nine million residents over the past dozen years, and its increasing diversity.

“If we are going to claim Texas for Christ in the years to come, if we’re going to show the love of Jesus, we need commitment to be cross-cultural witnesses and cross-cultural churches,” he said.

God’s faithfulness and ‘the sake of the call’

Grammy Award-winning Christian recording artist Steven Curtis Chapman led the final session Monday night with a powerful hour-long testimony through word and song.

Hearkening back to his earliest days, Chapman recounted stories from his childhood, adolescence and throughout his storied music career, expressing appreciation for God’s faithfulness in good times and bad.

The winsome kindness of a visitor to his childhood home drew his family to the Baptist church to participate in a week-long revival, which led to the family making decisions to follow Christ.

“I began to taste the goodness of God’s grace and forgiveness and it was sweet and so much better,” Chapman said. “Jesus is saying I will come in and change your life and have a relationship with you if you will let me in.”

Chapman spoke of meeting his wife, Mary Beth, and the growth of their family with the addition of six children, three of whom were adopted. He also alluded to the tragic accident that claimed the life of their youngest, Maria Sue.

“You’ve had your heart full and broken…you’ve been on a great adventure…I sure know what that feels like,” Chapman told attendees. “God is a God who is always making all things new, and yet we carry with us that longing and that ache.”

“Here’s the hope that we have…our God is faithful, and he is good, even when life is not,” he said.

Throughout his testimony, Chapman interspersed songs including “I’m Diving In,” “The Great Adventure,” “The Lord of the Dance,” “No Better Place on Earth,” “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” and “I Will Be Here,” a song he wrote for his wife.

Chapman closed by singing his 1990 hit “For the Sake of the Call,” immediately followed by a worshipful rendition of “I Surrender All.”

“Let us not grow weary; let us remember again how faithful our God is,” Chapman said.

Life-giving ministry of conversation

Mary Jo Sharp, assistant professor of Apologetics at Houston Christian University, delivered practical guidance on communicating with people with whom one may disagree. She outlined four elements of conversational evangelism: to know, listen, question, and respond.

“Oftentimes, with unbelievers, the thing that’s off about their view is their erroneous belief in God,” Sharp said.

In response, Christians should know what they believe and why they believe it.

“If I don’t know it well, I’m not apt to share it on my own,” she said.

Christians should also listen for understanding and commonality, which help us to serve and hold accountable those with whom we converse.

“People are not the objects of evangelism efforts, people are the subjects of our love,” Sharp said.

Questions such as “What do you mean by that?” or “Why do you believe that?” can be helpful in clarifying what is being said, and questions such as “Where are you getting that from?” can help to determine and verify a source.

“Asking questions really helps you minister to that soul, that person right in front of you,” Sharp said.

Being ready to respond allows the conversant the opportunity to bear witness to Christ. Sharp suggested attendees be prepared to share their own story, their experience of being a Christian or a time when God did something in their own lives.

“There is a growing shift away from truth and authority, from ‘is this true’ to ‘does this work for my life?’” Sharp said. “Not only is [Christianity] true, but it works.”

Sharp implored attendees to practice the beauty of faithful authenticity in the “life-giving ministry of conversation.”

Motivated by love, packing your bags, and the ‘awe factor’

Leighton Flowers, director of Evangelism for Texas Baptists, spoke to the highest and best motivation to evangelize.

Comparing his relationship to his earthly father as both a child and adult, Flowers noted he initially obeyed his father out of healthy fear, obligation or desire for reward. Later, though, their relationship changed, and he did things for his father out of love.

So, too, should our motivation around evangelism change as we develop and mature as believers.

“In the end, we are motivated by love, by relationship. That’s something that can’t be taught in a manual,” Flowers said.

Flowers pointed to Paul as an ideal for persistence in persuasion and prayer for the cause of Christ.

Ralph Emerson, senior pastor at Rising Star Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, spoke from 1 Peter on being a Holy people in a different world.

“When Jesus gets a hold of you, the old you is gone, is dead,” Emerson said. “The Scripture says a baby was born.”

Believers should pack their bags for the journey ahead as God’s chosen people: a toddler bag to love God directly, a tool bag to serve God correctly, and a travel bag to love God’s people correctly.

“If God brought us out of darkness, he can do the same for you,” he said.

Victor Rodriguez, evangelism associate and discipleship specialist in Hispanic Evangelism for Texas Baptists, delivered a message from Acts 2:42-47, with an emphasis on the awe felt by believers.

Awe, Rodriguez said, means to fear the Lord, respect him and worship him. The word also makes an acrostic spelling out Awareness, Walls and Evangelism.

Leaders should be aware of themselves, their churches and communities by pausing to assess.

“Where is your heart, pastor?” Rodriguez asked. “Is there a passion in your heart? You can never lead your church where you’ve never been before.”

Leaders should also pay attention to walls and other obstacles that create opposition between the church and the community and within the church.

“Jesus said to look at the field, but we get used to seeing it,” he said. “What if someone was bold enough to do that today?”

Leaders should evangelize.

“It’s God’s plan for his church today. It only takes one,” Rodriguez said.

Visit Texas Baptists Playback podcast to listen to Guarneri’s session and others from the conference.

Texas Baptists is a movement of God’s people to share Christ and show love by strengthening churches and ministers, engaging culture and connecting the nations to Jesus.

The ministry of the convention is made possible by giving through the Texas Baptists Cooperative Program, Mary Hill Davis Offering® for Texas Missions, Texas Baptists Worldwide and Texas Baptist Missions Foundation. Thank you for your faithful and generous support.

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Read more articles in: News, Dr. Guarneri, Evangelism, Statewide Evangelism Conference, Church Health