By Nathan Handley
Union University News Office
JACKSON — Fred Luter, senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said evangelism needs more emphasis in churches and organizations.
Luter was the keynote speaker at the West Tennessee Evangelism Rally, held Feb. 21 at Union University. The event was sponsored by Union and the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
“We need to understand how critical, how important it is that we make evangelism a priority in this state,” he said.
More than 800 people attended the rally, which included eight breakout sessions in addition to Luter’s address. Luter shared stories of the church in the book of Acts. He said the believers in the early church were so effective in carrying out the Great Commission that the Bible says they turned the world upside down.
“Not only their neighborhood, not only their community, not only their city, not only their state, not only their nation, but these believers have the reputation of turning the world upside down,” Luter said. “In other words, they shook some stuff up.”
Luter said the small group of believers could not have pulled off such a mighty task on their own. They were able to do it because they waited on the promise of God, the Holy Spirit.
“They simply were empowered by another,” he said. “They had received the power of the Holy Spirit, and now they were able to do in Him what they could not do of themselves by themselves.”
Luter said there is a blessing in waiting. He said if people wait on God, God will empower them to do what they cannot do by themselves. The believers in Acts were small in number and limited in resources, but they accomplished great things.
“They didn’t have any of that stuff that we claim we need to reach people with the gospel today,” Luter said. “But they turned the world upside down.”
He said when believers wait on God, they become new people. The people who were turning the world upside down were the same ones who were timid and hiding when Jesus was crucified. Luter said the power of the Holy Spirit gave them new boldness, strength, and courage.
He said the believers also had a new purpose.
“Once you’re empowered by the Holy Spirit, you begin to realize it’s not about you,” Luter said. “It’s not about your agenda. It’s not about your ideas. It’s not about your title. …Their purpose was to witness to the lost about another.”
Luter said the purpose of a believer is to lift up Jesus and let a lost world know that He is the answer. He said if Christians are to be effective evangelists today, they must follow the example set by the apostles in Acts.
“We must be filled by the Holy Spirit,” he said. “We must be led by the Holy Spirit. We must be empowered by the Holy Spirit. … The same power that God gave to the disciples on the day of Pentecost is the same power that He’s given us tonight.”
“This is one of the best things I have been a part of in years,” said Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova.
“It shows me that people are still hungry to learn how to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Gaines, one of the rally’s breakout leaders, said working with churches through local Baptist associations and the Tennessee Baptist Convention brought many to the rally. Saying he hopes similar evangelism rallies will be initiated in other locations, Gaines noted, “You have to have leaders with hearts for evangelism. If they don’t have a heart for it, it’s not going to work.”
The breakout sessions at the rally were led by Gaines, Darrell Robinson, Michael Ellis, Brian Mills, John Powers, David Evans, Hal Poe, and Jerry Drace. They spoke on various aspects of evangelism, including evangelism strategies, prayer, evangelism in pop culture, revivals, and giving invitations.
Evans, evangelism specialist at the Tennessee Baptist Convention, discussed how to evangelize today’s millennials. He said millennials are not typically anti-church, but they also do not understand the church.
He said millennials are overwhelmed, overconnected, overprotected, and overserved. They are not worried as much about how the church will serve them as they are about how it will serve others.
“They are value-driven,” he said. “If we as a church are serving the community and being the hands and feet of Jesus in the community, that’s something they can get behind because, again, they aren’t anti-church, they just don’t really see us as relevant.”
Evans said previous generations had an expectation that young people who drifted away from churches would eventually return, but millennials are the first generation that was not primarily raised in church.
“They aren’t coming back to us because they were never with us to begin with,” Evans said.
He said when millennials enter churches, they often ask questions not to antagonize, but because they are trying to understand the church’s values.
Evans said evangelism for millennials has more to do with living the Word than preaching the Word.
“Evangelism has got to be organic,” he said. “For me, organic means that it has to come about naturally.”