Saying the church’s “evangelism has fallen short of our calling,” Pastor Tony Evans urged attendees at the Texas Baptists Statewide Evangelism Conference to go and make disciples. The conference, which took place on Jan. 23, saw 1,128 pastors, lay leaders and other attendees registered for a time of equipping and training at First Baptist Church of San Antonio.
Likening the gathering to a huddle in a football game, Tony reminded congregants that the conference was not the main objective, but rather a time to come together and strategize. Evans said, what was important was “what difference the huddle makes – having huddled, can you now score?”
Evans’ exhortation, given during a sermon on the Great Commission in Matthew 28, capped the end of the conference. The event – with the theme “Can I Ask You a Question?” – was Texas Baptists’ first statewide evangelism conference following a hiatus of 15 years.
Large crowds filled the worship center for each of the seven sessions. Along with sermons and presentations, the conference included a Q&A panel with speakers, with the audience encouraged to ask their own questions.
“That’s what this conference is about,” Leighton Flowers, director of Evangelism for Texas Baptists, told attendees. “To equip you and train you, to give you tools so you can go back to your churches and to your homes and spread the gospel to your friends and neighbors.”
The evangelism conference’s theme is shared by a five-book curriculum bundle, published by GC2Press, with the same name: “Can I Ask You a Question?” The curriculum teaches Christians the basics of sharing the gospel and engaging nonbelievers, noting that Jesus often asked questions to further spiritual conversations.
Facing cultural challenges
Dr. Katie McCoy, director of Women’s Ministry for Texas Baptists, started the conference by outlining the post-Christian environment in which Texas Baptists now bear witness. Our culture, she said, resembles that of first-century Roman culture – which creates undeniable challenges, but provides tremendous opportunity for Christ followers. McCoy said the cultural way of life inevitably leave people isolated, searching for significance and hungering for wholeness.
“The message of Jesus and the community of his people,” McCoy said, “are the desire of every generation.”
But McCoy also warned conference-goers to focus on what is important: proclaiming the gospel. McCoy noted that the early church, even as it was still developing, “kept the main things the main things.”
Eric Hernandez, Apologetics Lead and Millennial Specialist for Texas Baptists, emphasized the need to couple apologetics with evangelism.
Beginning with Jesus’ words from Matthew 5:13 – “You are the salt of the earth …” – he asked attendees: “Why are you a Christian? Why should someone else be a Christian?”
After explaining that 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 teaches that Christians are to “refute arguments and reasonings and every proud and lofty thing that sets itself up against the knowledge of God,” he posited that “the biggest threat to Christianity” is not atheists or other external opponents, but instead Christians “who cannot effectively engage in spiritual warfare by recognizing, rationally responding to and tearing down strongholds.”
Hernandez encouraged attendees to participate in the [un]Apologetic Conference, scheduled Feb. 25 in San Marcos.
“Let us not just learn to present the gospel, but defend it,” he said, “because, ‘You are the salt of the earth.’ God has not just given us the truth but given us the evidence to show why it is true.”
Sharing the gospel with confidence
Robert White, lead pastor of Freedom Church in Bedford, implored attendees to issue a “broader invitation,” explaining that while we must proclaim the gospel, the invitation to Christ is “broader than just the words presented,” because it includes the example of our lives.
“Before we can invite others to respond to the invitation, we need to accept the invitation that has been given to us to live like Jesus,” White said.
Preaching from Philippians 1:27-30, he exhorted Christians to gospel conduct – living lives worthy of the gospel – and to live in “gospel community” with each other. He also called Christians to gospel confidence, noting that there is no reason for fear, and to gospel commitment, recognizing that following Christ will mean suffering for the sake of Christ (Philippians 1:29).
During the afternoon session, Steve Bezner, senior pastor of Houston Northwest Church, called pastors to emphasize evangelism and to break out of a “chaplain” mindset – believing “our primary job is simply to care for those who are inside our churches.”
“We can easily forget that there are so many on the outside who do not have life in Christ,” he said. “Let’s be honest. If we don’t think about it, who will?”
Houston Northwest Church has experienced a surge in baptisms, he said, as the church has emphasized corporate prayer in recent years. Noting that a Gallup survey shows fewer than 50 percent of Americans will identify as Christian by 2050, he exhorted pastors not to forget the power of the gospel.
“The world may be falling apart, the culture may be confused, things may be terrible in your neighborhood right now, but guess what?” Bezner said. “Jesus still saves. The cross still forgives. The empty tomb still promises eternal life. And Jesus is still pouring out his Holy Spirit on the most heathen among us.”
Reaching the new church
Shane Pruitt, National Next Gen Director for the North American Mission Board (NAMB), urged attendees to focus on reaching Gen Z and then sending them to reach their peers. Despite statistics that show Gen Z identifies less with religion than previous generations, Pruitt said he has seen more conversions among young people in the last three years than in his previous 15 years of ministry. The pandemic, he said, brought them “to the end of themselves” more rapidly than those in previous generations.
“You don’t have to be young. You don’t have to be cool,” he said. “Young people are not looking for cool leaders. They’re looking for real and authentic leaders. If you have the gospel, you have what it takes.”
Pruitt also encouraged leaders not to refer to young people as the “future of the church.” Instead, he said, “They are the church now – and they can handle [the responsibility of fulfilling the Great Commission].”
Evans, the senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, wrapped up the conference. Using the analogy of a football game, he exhorted Christians not to join in the “chaotic conflict” of the culture by joining a team, but to be more like referees – representatives of God, with his authority. He urged attendees to make disciples – which he defined as “visible, verbal” followers of Jesus who “replicate the Master” – and to take what they had learned in the evangelism conference and spread the gospel.
“The church is good at huddling,” Evans said. “But (Jesus) said, ‘I want you to go!’”