Risk speakers: ‘Make Much of Jesus’

Originally published at Western Recorder – www.westernrecorder.org

By Myriah Snyder and Todd Deaton

Bowling Green—“How do we make much of Jesus?” asked Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd. “With humility,” he suggested to the more than 260 Kentucky Baptists attending the RISK Conference in Bowling Green Feb. 8-9.

The two-day event at Hillvue Heights Baptist Church featured Floyd and more than a dozen other speakers—all sharing practical ways to “Make Much of Jesus” in an increasingly hostile and unbelieving world.

Frank Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, launched the conference with a message from John 1, urging participants to “look up and see the power of the Lord Jesus.”

“What is this power we use for the church and evangelism?” Page asked, underscoring the power of the creative Word, the eternal Word and the incarnate Word—not the denomination’s resources or one’s own abilities.

“Be strong in the Lord and His mighty power,” he charged. “I did not come here to help you be better Baptists; I came here to get you to look up at our Lord Jesus and realize that He is the one who we are all about.”

Alex Himaya, pastor of one of the five fastest growing congregations, The Church@ in Broken Arrow, Okla., and author of “Jesus Hates Religion,” advised church leaders to “go back to the building blocks” found in Acts. “We didn’t read a manual (on church growth); we went to the Book,” he said.

A general theme throughout the Bible is, “God did not go out and find people who had righteousness to stand on, who were the best people, who got it right,” he said.

Recalling how God wove the stories of Tamar, Rahab and Bathsheba into the genealogy of Jesus, Himaya asserted, “Christianity is not for all those who got it right, but for all people who have a past … and because of that past, they think they can’t get close to God.”

“When they think about getting involved in church, they get like a Heisman (trophy),” he continued. “They stiff arm God.”

“It’s great news that we have!” he exclaimed. “Their sin might have distanced them from God, but the story of this Book is that God has not distanced Himself from them; He is pursuing them. That’s the invitation of Christianity.”

“The evangelical church is smaller than most of us have been told,” asserted John Dickerson, author of “The Great Evangelical Recession” and a California pastor, noting that it now accounts for less than 1 in 10 Americans.

Setting the stage, Dickerson outlined key trends in the evangelical church by pointing out that it is shrinking because a majority of young evangelicals are abandoning the faith by age 30.

“The shrinking church is on the verge of a fuel crisis,” he continued, explaining that the older generations contribute about 70 percent of donations, and that the church is not converting the lost fast enough to keep pace with the rapid population growth.

“We are increasingly hated,” he said, observing that the external culture is no longer apathetic, but antagonistic. Meanwhile, the struggling church is sharply divided over how to respond to a changing culture,” he concluded.

“How do we prepare for these trends?” he asked, leaving the question hanging in the air.

Ricky Chelette, director of Living Hope Ministries in Arlington, Texas, picked up where Dickerson left off, urging, “We must be willing to proclaim the gospel in a culture that does not want to hear it.”

Observing that young men and women are confused about their identities, as “old definitions (of marriage) are blowing up” and seem “far too limiting and restricting for the modern world,” Chelette asked, “In the world to come, what is youth ministry going to look like?”

Highlighting the conflict between the intention of God and the reality of man, he asserted, “The call of Christ is not to define ourselves, but to deny ourselves.”

“We have a story that transforms people’s lives at deepest part of who we are,” Chelette proclaimed.

“What year is it in your church?” LifeWay President Thom Rainer began, observing that most are stuck in 1990.

A majority of churches are growing at a pace less than the community’s growth, Rainer noted, advocating awareness of five key issues in order to become an evangelical force in their communities:

— For most churches, practices that were common in 1990 are still common today.

— The church has gone through a tumultuous period recently, and things have changed from a stewardship perspective.

— A major shift has happened in how to reach communities—from attractional to incarnational outreach.

— Most church members operate from a selfish mindset of “serve me, meet my demands, listen to what I want.”

— The greatest challenge is understanding how to lead change in a change-resistant church, and the need for unity. “You cannot send a fractured, fighting body into the community and expect it to be a force for the gospel,” Rainer said.

Shane Farmer, a pastor from Highlands Ranch, Colo., asserted the need to become a “welcoming church,” suggesting members start thinking of Sunday as an open house and practice being good hosts by not limiting our interactions to family and friends.

“You don’t have to have spiritual gift of evangelism for your church to fulfill the first half of the Great Commission,” he encouraged church leaders. Rather, church members possess a high “EQ”—evangelistic quotient—a way of relating well to people. “They have the “get-it” factor,” Farmer observed.

“Community forms best around a cause, and I believe that cause should be an evangelistic one,” he said, advocating the need to create missional communities around affinity groups.

Brian Mills, speaker/consultant for churches and ministries and co-author of “Virtuosity,” stressed the importance of evangelism.

“We live in a world full of sinners, and so are we. Sometimes we forget that,” Mills said.

He asked, “Throughout the journey do we not forget about the day we were saved by the way we treat lost people? Sometimes instead of saying I’m better than that dude, we need to recognize that we are all sinners and all need to be saved by the grace of God.”

Mills stressed that if “you want to be an evangelist, live like an evangelist.”

“In our churches, if we’re not seeing people saved, then we have no disciples. Disciples evangelize and evangelists disciple,” he added.

“There’s a need for evangelism to overflow out of us. We’ve got to stop separating it. We’ve got to stop saying, ‘That’s not my gift.’ You’ve been saved, son

“Wake up! We’ve got to wake up to the gospel and recognize it’s not in our giftedness. It’s who you are. If you’re saved, you talk about your faith. It’s what we do,” he challenged.

David Bailey, founder of Arrabon, a ministry dedicated to reconciliation through community and worship, said that fallen human beings build walls.

“We end up building walls because we don’t know what the other is. We who are the church are called to be a reconciling community. That is part of the mission of the church,” he said.

Bailey presented three action items to help the church break down walls and reach the lost.

  • Collect information on how to engage in cross cultural engagement.
  • Find good practices of cross cultural engagement and imitate them.
  • Integrate that throughout your whole community, throughout all ministries.

Ron Edmondson, pastor of Immanuel Baptist in Lexington, reminded attendees that their calling is to the church.

He shared “five things I’ve learned about leadership from Moses” in Exodus 17.

– “God calls imperfect people to His work and to His churches.”

– “Some of the biggest battles Moses fought were among his own people.”

– “The larger the vision, the harder it is to move forward.”

– “Moses had a group of people around him who were willing to defend him and help him.”

– “Moses stayed committed to the vision and fully relied on God to do so.”

“Dear Pastor, protect your soul; protect your family; protect your ministry; protect your calling; protect your character. We don’t need any more casualties for the kingdom,” he challenged.

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, spoke of the call to the culture.

“We didn’t worry about the culture when we thought the culture was with us. We were the mainstream,” Mohler said.

This is obviously not the case anymore, he observed. “We find ourselves having to ask some hard questions about how we are to engage this culture and we are having to ask it in a completely different way,” he said.

“It’s a sense of urgency that now falls upon us because we recognize we’re not asking this from a position of cultural dominance anymore, we’re asking this from a position of cultural displacement and vulnerability,” he said, drawing attention to the fact that in a biblical context, “losing cultural privilege is not a problem.”

Christians will have to come together and learn from other minorities how to respond to culture as another minority.

Mohler shared “another reset for us.” “We need to stop thinking about the culture as a thing,” he said.

He continued, “The reset needs to be this: We need to engage the culture not because the culture is made up of cultural artifacts, entertainment, politics, economics, sociology and all the rest, but because it is made up of our neighbors. It is made up of human beings, and those human beings, every single one of them, is deeply embedded in culture.”

“So if we really care about reaching people, about individuals, we are going to recognize that every single one of them is embedded in culture,” Mohler said. “If you love God, you will love your neighbor. That’s why we’re called to the culture.”

SBC president Ronnie Floyd pulled the entire theme of the conference together by reminding attendees that they are called to make much of Jesus.

“One event defines human history: the cross of Jesus Christ. This cross event not only intersects time and space but it also speaks to the deepest needs of the human heart. Where there is pain, truth, love, justice, or forgiveness, they all converge at the cross,” he said.

“This cross calls you and it calls me to make much of Jesus Christ,” Floyd added. “We need to leave here with a passionate conviction that we will be preachers of the gospel, church leaders of the gospel, that are committed to making much of Jesus and what He has done for us on the cross.” (WR)