By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
MILLINGTON — As David Leavell begins his term as president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, his goal is as simple as a sermon with one point — just share the gospel.
He basically sees himself following the same message of the previous two convention presidents (Roc Collins and Steve Freeman) who strongly emphasized evangelism as Tennessee Baptists have a goal (the first of five objectives) in seeing 50,000 people annually saved, baptized, and set on the road to discipleship by 2024.
“I’d like to see the pews of our Tennessee Baptist churches activated for evangelism,” said Leavell who has served as pastor of First Baptist Church, Millington, since 2009. Prior to that he was pastor of Springfield Baptist Church, Springfield.
“It’s not just the job of the preachers,” the new president stressed. “It’s every believer’s privilege to share the Good News.”
Following his election at The Summit in November, Leavell shared via video something that First Baptist, Millington, has been doing for about six months: The John 3:16 Challenge.
Leavell said the 3:16 Challenge is not a program. Instead, it is an organic means to “unleash the pews to reach the state for Christ.”
Unlike many outreach programs, the 3:16 Challenge does not require a lot of memorization. “It uses the biblical knowledge that people already have,” he observed.
“We don’t ask people to do a 10-week study. We are simply asking people to share what they already know,” Leavell added.
Leavell cited statistics that reveal that 90 to 95 percent of Christians never share their faith. “What does that say?” he asked, noting that people are willing to share about the latest good restaurant or talk about sports. “We call it (the gospel) the Good News but we act like it’s not. We are dealing with eternal matters like we have lockjaw.”
The Millington pastor said his idea for the 3:16 Challenge came after reading a book on John 3:16 by Max Lucado. The concept is simply that people need to engage in gospel conversations and share the gospel. “The Holy Spirit will take care of the results.”
Leavell said Christians have the notion that evangelism is “successful” only when decisions are made for Christ, “but sharing the gospel” is what makes evangelism successful.
“The Holy Spirit will bring the results when we are faithful to share,” he stressed.
Leavell noted that the results of people sharing their faith regularly in daily life could be limitless. “If we had 20,000 baptisms last year in Tennessee Baptist Convention churches with about 5 percent of Tennessee Baptists sharing their faith, just think of how many we could have if 50 percent shared their faith.
“People would accuse Tennessee of starting another great awakening if we take this seriously,” he said.
As the year progresses, Leavell is willing to share the 3:16 Challenge with churches throughout the state. First Baptist, Millington, has agreed to allow him to have Sunday nights off during the year so he can preach and share the challenge with other congregations.
Leavell is grateful for the support First Baptist has given him. He noted that when he was approached about allowing his name to be placed into nomination for the presidency, he prayed about it. After getting confirmation from the Lord and then his wife, Vicki, he talked to the church’s deacons and asked them to pray about the decision. “They took a month and then affirmed me in moving forward (with the nomination).”
He noted that tracts and a video will be available on the TBC website (tnbaptist.org) by Dec. 8, if not sooner. There is also a video for pastors on how to incorporate the 3:16 Challenge into every service leading to the invitation.
For more information, contact Leavell at firstname.lastname@example.org.