By Lonnie Wilkey and David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
JACKSON — In the coming days, business will be discussed and decisions will be made. But Sunday night was all about praise and worship.
Two simultaneous services — one at West Jackson Baptist Church and the other at Union University — served as the “opening bell” for this year’s Tennessee Baptist Convention annual meeting.
“This is a tradition we started a couple of years ago, and it really sets the tone for the week,” said Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, referring to the Sunday night worship gathering. “It’s a great way to start Summit, our wonderful gathering of Tennessee Baptists.”
Davis noted that Summit is like a “homecoming event” for Baptists from all across the state.
The worship service at West Jackson Baptist, the host site for this year’s Summit, included music from a choir and orchestra — comprised of students from Union University and members of West Jackson Baptist — and a message from Micah Fries, senior pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga and former vice president of LifeWay Research.
A few miles away from West Jackson Baptist, in a simultaneous service, hundreds of international Tennessee Baptists from about 44 different countries filled the chapel at Union University for the All Nations Worship Celebration.
“This is the best of times for ethnic people and ethnic churches in Tennessee,” said William Burton, ethnic ministry and church planting specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. “There is a concerted effort in reaching the nations for Christ and you are a part of that,” he exhorted.
The service included musical presentations from a variety of ethnic churches as well as congregational worship led by Dimas Espinoza and the All Nations Worship Band and a time of concentrated prayer led by ethnic pastors and leaders in Tennessee for the lost, the new generation, the United States government and the 65 million estimated refugees.
Fady Al-Hagal, executive director of the International Leadership Coalition and a church planting catalyst for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, reminded the internationals that “God has a great plan for your life.”
“God is calling His ambassadors to rise and to serve Him in such a time as this,” he challenged.
Al-Hagal noted there are more than 900,000 internationals in Tennessee representing 42 people groups. There are hundreds of thousands of them who need to know the Lord, he said, adding that “God has brought the nations to Tennessee so that we can love them.”
Al-Hagal exhorted those in attendance to “have a burden for internationals across Tennessee. “Tears for the souls of men will move the heart of God,” he promised.
The TBMB catalyst also challenged the internationals to be effective evangelists by relying on the presence of God, the power of God, the person of God and the gift of His plan. “God is working. He has a perfect plan and that is to reach His people for the glory of God.”
The worship service at West Jackson Baptist Church opened with the song “This is Amazing Grace.” John Kinchen, the chair of the music department at Union University, directed the combined choir and orchestra.
The worship team from Union University — Exaltation — led the service, along with the Union University Singers and Union University Orchestra, who were joined by the West Jackson members.
In his sermon, Fries spoke about the importance of loving our “gospel partners,” and said churches should be encouraged by the fact that they are serving a victorious God. “I think we sometimes walk around as if we don’t know how the book ends,” he said.
Fries said many churches don’t benefit from the excitement and energy that comes from evangelism. “When there is little mission in the church, there is little joy.”
Fries noted a troubling trend regarding worldwide evangelism, saying that a recent survey revealed only about 17 percent of Baptists — “those who fill our churches and sit in our pews” — are familiar with the Great Commission.
He said he believes, in order for that change, Baptists need to change their perceptions.
“I think we sometimes judge the success of a service based on the question of ‘was everyone filled when they left?” he said. “But really, everyone should leave empty” after being poured out in worship, he said.