By David Leavell
Tennessee Baptist Convention President
Serving the local church for over 30-plus years as a senior pastor has been a privilege and joy — as well as a challenge and a heartbreak. It’s a privilege to be called of God to serve His church in the role of pastor.
The church is the one, eternal organization founded by our Lord Himself. Remember the interaction of Jesus with Peter in Matthew 16:13-18? Jesus told His disciples, “Upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” What a joy to be a part of a group that has been saved by Jesus, set apart for Jesus, and serving the mission of Jesus. That is what makes the church so special. What a privilege it is to be on the Lord’s team!
The pastoral ministry has been a challenge and a heartbreak as well. How so? It is not easy to lead people spiritually in a post-modern world. Increasingly, our values and the world’s values are like daylight to dark. Pray for your pastor. As I heard one person put it, “Your pastor needs your prayer and you need the practice!” Amen! Heartbreak in ministry? Absolutely — the heartbreak of divorce, the heartbreak of death, the heartbreak of people rejecting Christ, and the heartbreak of disunity in the fellowship. A pastor is asked to be involved in all of these situations and more.
So, the life of a pastor can be a roller coaster of activity and emotions each week. In the midst of this personally, the pastor is called to lead and feed the congregation corporately. What are the gospel baselines that we should focus upon? Rick Warren spoke of the five purposes of the church. They include: evangelism, discipleship, worship, missions/ministry, and fellowship. I would certainly add prayer to that list since Jesus said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer” (Matthew 21:13).
If you accept Warren’s list as a general template for church focus, then you will need to evaluate how your local church is doing from time to time. Over the years, I have done this to discover that most of these purposes take place in the life of the believer and the church after salvation. This means you cannot be discipled unless you are first converted. You cannot worship unless you are first saved. You cannot be involved in New Testament missions and ministry without a salvation experience. You cannot have fellowship until two people relate to each other as “brothers in Christ.” Each of these purposes are to be enjoyed by believers while on this earth and activities that we will enjoy in heaven. These are areas in which each Christian and church must seek to grow and develop.
But, there is only one of the purposes that we will not be able to be involved with in heaven — evangelism. Evangelism is the “here and now” purpose of the church. Theologians call this current time “the church age.” It is the season of God’s grace to be extended to humanity. It is the time for God’s people to share the good news of Christ with people who have not yet come to an understanding of His death, burial, and resurrection.
That is why the John 3:16 Challenge is so needful and necessary. The John 3:16 Challenge is for every Tennessee Baptist to share John 3:16, once a week, with a lost person, with the intention of leading them to personal faith in Christ: (1) He loves, (2) He gave, (3) We believe, and (4) We live. It’s a message so simple that a child can understand it yet so profound that we will spend the rest of our lives comprehending the love and grace of God for us. It’s a message that millions of Tennesseans need to hear, a message that Christ calls us, even compels us, to share. It is impossible to be an obedient follower of Christ and not share one’s faith with others.
We are in a 16-year decline as it relates to baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention. Think of the potential of 3,200 Tennessee Baptist churches joining forces for one goal — to share and show the love of Christ with our state. We have the numbers of people in our pews each Sunday to impact lostness in Tennessee if we were all committed to the John 3:16 Challenge. BUT, currently we don’t have the active evangelistic workforce to impact lostness. The most generous statistics indicate that only 10 percent of church goers have ever shared Christ with a lost person. If we don’t see the urgency of the hour, if we don’t repent and become fully devoted followers of Christ, current gospel declines will continue, unless we all commit to a process like the John 3:16 Challenge.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Jesus paid it all! The Lord is still in the business of calling people to personal faith in Christ. He calls us to share the hope that is within us. People are still being saved and baptized. We cannot be content with status quo. We must become sold out missionaries for Jesus each week where we live — whether it be across the street or across the world.
This is not a pipe dream. It’s our future in Christ! Join me and thousands of believers who have taken the John 3:16 Challenge. Together, with God’s Word, God’s Spirit, and God’s blessing, we can impact lostness in Tennessee!