By Harper McKay
ST. LOUIS — The lack of evangelism among Southern Baptists is at its heart a discipleship issue according to panelists at the Replicate Ministries breakfast.
“I think the challenge we have in our convention and our churches is that we have seen discipleship and evangelism as pitted against each other,” said Robby Gallaty, president of Replicate Ministries, during the June 14 gathering at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in St. Louis.
Gallaty, who also is pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church, Hendersonville, moderated the panel that included David Platt, president of the International Mission Board; Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova; J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; and Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga.
Gallaty’s questions centered on the decline of baptisms and church attendance in the SBC and how evangelism and discipleship factor into those numbers.
Addressing the issue of a pastor’s responsibility to lead in evangelism, Greear said, “When we talk about this evangelism dilemma, we have to start with the average pulpit. How many pastors are telling stories of people they are engaging and sharing Christ with on a personal basis?”
Gaines, who was elected SBC president during the annual meeting, said, “I think the key to the whole thing is leadership. … Pastors have to be soul winners. You are going to replicate what you are, and if you’re not winning souls, it’s not going to happen.”
Gaines also encouraged churches to get involved in their communities. He noted his congregation launched “Bellevue Loves Memphis” and has invested time and resources into the city. “We find needs and meet them,” he said, adding that it is making a difference. “It’s changed our church. Our church looks more like Memphis and heaven every week,” he said.
Meeting needs is just a part of the equation, he stressed. “We’re still opening our mouths and telling lost people what the Bible says about Jesus. That’s what witnessing is.”
Gallaty also noted that the evangelism problem is not only a national issue but one of global significance. He asked the panel to comment on challenges to evangelism that they have seen in various international contexts.
“Sadly, there’s much that passes for missions today that is devoid of evangelism,” Platt said. “There’s all kinds of things that are put under the umbrella of missions that don’t include verbal proclamation with the intent of persuading people to trust in Christ.”
Hunt noted that it would be easy to judge missionaries for not sharing the gospel, but Southern Baptists need to remember their responsibility in training and sending those missionaries out.
“I have a conviction that if someone surrenders to full-time Christian service … why don’t we bring every one of them into our ministry and give them an internship,” he said. “David’s (Platt) problem is really our problem. If we do a better job preparing them, then we can send them … and help rectify the issues on the field.”
The panel agreed that just as in the national issue of evangelism, global evangelism requires intentional discipleship by pastors and leaders in the local church.
“We need healthy discipleship and evangelism here if we’re going to ever be a part of healthy evangelism and disciple-making there,” Platt said. “The stronger the churches are in this issue of evangelism and disciple-making, the stronger our missions force will be in getting the gospel to those who have never heard it.”
Evangelism and discipleship work in tandem, Gaines said. Winning people to the Lord is important but they also must be discipled, he continued.
To end the panel discussion, Gallaty summarized, “The evangelism dilemma in our convention is really a disciple-making dilemma if we understand true disciple-making.”
Platt noted, “The obvious take away is we need to personally share the gospel and make disciples. If we’re not doing that in our own lives then we’re fooling ourselves in this whole conversation about leadership.”
Gaines offered a challenge to pastors: “I just want to encourage you to not only spend time with the Lord in prayer but I want to encourage you to be a verbal witness for the Lord Jesus Christ.”