The 2011 State Evangelism Conference was blessed with good weather, dynamic speakers and glorious music led by Randy Lind, worship leader at Oklahoma City, Southern Hills, as approximately 1,500 Oklahoma Baptists gathered at Moore, First, Jan. 24-25.
Speakers, staying with the theme of “Take Him Personally,” urged participants to share their faith beyond the walls of the church. The theme was based on 1 John 3:16, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (NIV), and focused on serving others in the name of Jesus.
Following are synopses of the eight featured speakers.
by Brian Hobbs
Converting to Christianity from any other faith is a radical step. To convert from Islam in today’s dangerous world can come with even greater costs.
Yet Afshin Ziafat, a converted Muslim, counts it all joy to follow Christ.
The itinerant evangelist, who recently accepted the pastorate at Providence Church in Frisco, Texas, has spoken at various church events and conferences in Oklahoma.
On Monday Ziafat delivered two powerful messages at the State Evangelism Conference on the topics of service and sacrifice.
“I stand for ‘incarnational ministry,’” said Ziafat. “By that I refer to how we should be like Christ, who in (the) Incarnation, set aside His rights to serve others. We should do the same.”
Standing in the way of service, said Ziafat, is pride.
“C.S. Lewis called pride the ultimate anti-God state of mind,” he said. Pointing to Paul’s writing to the Philippians, Ziafat called on leaders attending the conference to become like servants.
“Pride feeds on comparison to others,” he said. “Our pride makes us want to be superior to other people, but humility is born in comparing ourselves to Jesus.
“We must create a culture of selfless service by proclaiming the Gospel and modeling that behavior,” said Ziafat.
Upon converting to Christianity, Ziafat was disowned by his father. He has used this testimony, however, as a springboard to call other Christians to make great sacrifices.
“There is a cost to discipleship. Incarnational ministry is not a ‘bring-and-listen’ approach, but a ‘go-and-tell’ one. God opposes the proud yet uses the humble,” said Ziafat, who continues to pray for his father’s salvation and today is reconciled to the point that they see each other from time to time.
Citing stories of Iranian believers living today who risk their lives converting to Christianity, Ziafat said he sees hope for the Body of Christ in this age.
“Every member of the church is an ambassador for Christ. We are sent into the world, but our citizenship is in Heaven,” he said.
Quoting both the Bible and the movie “Braveheart,” Ziafat offered a challenge to Christians not to shrink back from risk.
“It is time we leave our comfort zone, follow Him (in discipleship), and learn a life of selfless sacrifice,” he stressed.
“We must lift up the greater cause, knowing a leader in the Kingdom of God must be a server. We must be willing to lay down our rights—our lives—for others.”
There is a difference in knowing joy and having happiness, said Ken Ellis, team leader at the North American Mission Board.
Ellis, speaking from Philippians 4:10-13, said Paul was in prison writing to the young church in Philippi telling them everything will be all right.
“Every word he writes is a celebration of freedom,” Ellis noted. “How can a man have this much joy in a prison cell?”
Paul, Ellis continued, has learned some things that allow him to rise above the circumstances.
“When you serve God, you don’t need accolades from others,” he said. “When your prayers go up, blessings will come down.”
Ellis, who has been preaching for 30 years, emphasized that praise is not something you do, and that Paul teaches there is a freedom that happens in the soul when God calls you and has a purpose for you.
“Freedom creates joy in knowing this place we call home is not really our home,” he said. “Some people are locked up behind spiritual bars, mental bars, bars of low self esteem and of not knowing who they are. But God wants to set us free to love, live and focus on the freedoms in life.”
Ellis pointed out that people should know who you are by the way you carry yourself—you should walk like a child of the King.
“God gives you a hope that allows you to see beyond the sight of eye and celebrate the reality of future blessings,” he said. “The way you celebrate in the midst of crisis speaks to the hope you have in Christ.”
by Dana Williamson
“There are a lot more people wanting to know how to go to Heaven than there are people who want to tell them,” confessed Bob Waitman.
Waitman, pastor of Waurika, Cross Brand Cowboy Church, said his dad was a cussing oil field worker when a seminary student came to their door taking a survey. He asked his dad if he knew how to get to Heaven, and his dad said, “No, but I hope you will tell me.”
“That surprised me, but our lives changed after that,” Waitman said.
After being saved and called to preach at age 9, Waitman preached his first sermon when he was 16.
“I was satisfied with playing church for years, until I went to a F.A.I.T.H. convention and learned that every member should be a minister.
“Some of us are doing church because we’re content,” he said. “ Members are content to sit in the pew and give us an Olympic score on our sermons. But what we need is a Holy Spirit revival that happens when we get things lined out. We have swapped revival for church growth.”
Waitman said when he was pastor at Madill, First, they began to do some things and learn about situations in the community.
“A man in our church said he wanted to start a feeding ministry,” Waitman related. “Today, every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, anyone in Madill can eat free. They pass out groceries once a month. They’ve seen hundreds come to Jesus through this ministry.”
He said someone gave the church some lots in town, and they built four units, where people can live if they go to church and participate in financial counseling.
Waitman said people ask where the money for these projects comes from.
“We had a budget, but it didn’t mean anything,” he said. “It is simply an outline. If you are using money to see people come to Christ, you will never run out of money. A church willing to follow God will see people come to Christ. Get your people to work.”
by Brian Hobbs
Kevin Hamm embodies the saying “preaching is truth communicated through personality.” Hamm is pastor of Gardendale, Ala., First.
Called “Impacting Your World though Worship,” Hamm’s sermon was laced with memorable phrases, salty illustrations and quotations from the Scriptures.
Preaching out of the Gospel of John, Hamm encouraged the room full of pastors, ministers and lay leaders to seek God earnestly through sincere worship.
“We must be more like the sinful woman who wept at Jesus’ feet and used her valuable perfume on Him than the Pharisee who disapproved of her,” he said.
“When did we get the idea that church is a museum for saints? No! It is a hospital for sinners,” said Hamm, who admits his own flaws and even those of his own congregation.
“At Gardendale, you will find that we are real people with real problems, but we are serving a real God with real solutions,” he said.
Hamm delighted listeners with several humorous—yet pointed—stories from his home church, where he has served as pastor since 2006. The church averages 3,500 in worship and is consistently a leader in Alabama in baptisms.
“We believe God blesses a church that will worship Him in spirit and truth. Celebrative, passionate worship combined with biblical preaching is critical. People are attracted to life,” he said. “Don’t you love to see the joy of people who just accepted Christ?”
During his ringing oration that included leaps across the platform, Hamm challenged listeners on several points on worship.
“We must be desperate for God if we are to expect Him to move,” he said. “It says something about us that we get more excited about a ball game than church.
“If we lift up Jesus in sincere worship, He will draw men to Him. We need Jesus in the House,” he shouted, which was met with a chorus of “amen’s” from the hundreds gathered. “They need Jesus!”
Calling for a church where Pharisee-like attendees would feel uncomfortable and the lost would feel welcomed, Hamm admonished pastors to ignore fleeting criticisms.
“You simply cannot adjust what you are doing based on every single criticism that comes your way. That is not leadership,” he said.
Hamm concluded, “Our problems as a Church will not be solved at the courthouse or the White House, but only by making it God’s house.”
by Brian Hobbs
Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, is known for his thought-provoking research findings. No stranger to Oklahoma, Stetzer frequents conferences and church events where he delivers information, trends and attitudes within the culture and offers prescriptions for a cure.
On Tuesday, he delivered a two-part message, titled, “Individual Transformation in the Transformational Church” and “Igniting Evangelism in Your Church,” which called on all Christians to show Jesus and share Jesus with all people they meet.
“In the 1980s, we fell into the trap of thinking evangelism is a spiritual gift given to an elite few. On the contrary, every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter,” he said, echoing the words of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
Pointing to the examples of Jesus Himself and Paul’s instructions to Timothy, Stetzer told attendees to “go where no one is going. It’s the ‘bad people’ who make good soil for the Gospel.”
“In addition to proclaiming the Gospel, we must demonstrate it as well,” he said. Stetzer cited LifeWay and Barna research that shows the lost do not believe the church any longer demonstrates the Gospel sufficiently.
Stetzer conducted research among 7,000 churches for LifeWay for his book, Transformational Church. The findings showed that reconciliation is a powerful tool for evangelism.
“We do not need churches full of religious consumers. We need a church that is active and ready to seek and save the lost.
“Jesus was accused of spending ‘too much time with sinners and lost people,’” he said. “It would be an improvement for that to be said about us.”
“Be good news to people, do good news, then tell the Good News to people,” he added.
Preaching out of the fourth chapter of Luke’s Gospel and citing his experience as interim pastor of a once struggling church in Nashville, Stetzer underscored the importance of transforming the church by engaging the hurting and offering tangible help.
“There is a danger in solely demonstrating the Gospel without proclaiming it,” said Stetzer. “Yet, our tendency as Baptists is to proclaim before we demonstrate the Gospel.”
“Evangelism is shrinking partly because it is hard work,” he said.
“People know how to invite (others) to church, but not how to invite them to Jesus. Church evangelism, which can be a good thing, has altogether replaced personal evangelism.
“We need fewer passive spectators (in church). We need to become agents of the Gospel who recognize people are not the enemy. They are prisoners of war.”
Paul wanted Timothy to evangelize, said Stetzer, “even though Timothy was in a more established area, as many of you are.”
Stetzer’s research showed that 26 percent of those polled would be “very open” for a family member to proclaim the Gospel to them, and a high percentage would be “somewhat open.”
“Be unafraid to show Jesus and share Jesus,” Stetzer concluded. “God’s plan for salvation includes both.”
by Hillary Glaze
Nelson Searcy lit up the stage on Tuesday afternoon. As a pastor of a growing, multi-site church in New York City, he encouraged Oklahoma evangelists not to leave any seeds unsown. Preaching on the Parable of the Sower, Searcy focused on Mark 4:1-9. Searcy explained that as believers, we are only responsible for sowing the seed, while God is responsible for the harvest.
Searcy shared that there are four steps to reaching more people for Christ. The first step is to believe that the harvest is possible in your church. He said, “Sometimes we don’t believe God will use us or our church to bring someone to Him.
We have many excuses for why God won’t save in our church.” Searcy himself was tempted to settle to care for the 35 people that attended his small church plant, but God told him that He wants the lost found more than Searcy. Searcy continued that “God is still in the business of saving souls. As long as we will preach the Gospel, He will save.”
The second step to reaching more people for Christ is to plant as many seeds as possible. He explained that the number one reason given for not sharing the Gospel is a lack of finances. Second Corinthians 9:10 says, “Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.”
As Searcy planned an evangelism event a few years ago, Rick Warren challenged Searcy to “add a zero.” What the challenge simply means is to increase your expectations. Searcy challenged those in the audience to, instead of planning one evangelism event in the next year to plan 10. Instead of sending out a mailing to 100 homes, try 1,000.
The third step is to expect a proportional return. “Three out of every four seeds we plant will not reap a harvest.” In the Parable of the Sower, not all of the seeds fell on good soil. He dared the audience not to allow a low return to disappoint. He said, “Let the resistance mobilize you. Don’t focus on who said ‘no,’ rather on who said ‘yes.’”
The final step that Searcy shared is to prepare in advance for the harvest. Searcy said that the farmer in the parable must have been prepared for the harvest prior to sowing the seed. “The wise pastor plans baptisms before there are people to be baptized. Your faith precedes God’s blessing.” Searcy ended his sermon reminding all that our responsibility is to plant the seed.
by Dana Williamson
Lee Strobel was as excited about unexpected adventures with Jesus as he was about telling evangelism conference participants how to have them.
“You do not want to miss any unexpected adventures with Jesus,” he said, as he cited time after time when he experienced these opportunities.
“A good way to prepare for these adventures is to pretend Jesus lives in your house, and follow what He does,” he recommended.
Strobel, a Christian apologist from Denver, Colo., said he believes before Jesus talked to his neighbors about His heavenly Father, He talked to His heavenly Father about His neighbors.
“Jesus kept praying,” he noted. “Jesus’ prayers for lost people continued until His last breath on the cross. I am naive enough to believe that James is right when he says the prayers of a righteous person make a difference.”
Strobel told of a 1-1-1 movement, which starts about two months before Easter, and features people who agree to pray for 1 lost person for 1 minute at 1 o’clock.
“Pray for opportunities to present the Gospel to them,” he encouraged. “And wait for the harvest.”
Strobel said Jesus also would tell neighbors His door is always open for questions.
“When tough times come, we begin to doubt,” said the former atheist. “But it’s OK to ask questions. We have answers—a faith that withstands scrutiny. We have truth on our side—evidence for what we believe.”
He said small groups for non-believers are a great tool, and through these groups, about 80 percent come to faith in Jesus.
“It’s the wave of the future,” he predicted.
Finally, said Strobel, Jesus would be authentic in the way He related to His neighbors—the same in His actions as His beliefs.
“Unauthentic Christians repel people from Christ,” he pointed out. “What they say and what they do never fit.
“You never know what opportunities God may bring into your life if you are motivated and prepared to share the Gospel.”
by Dana Williamson
Although many people in the secular world believe we are a biological fluke, God has created each person for a great purpose, said Robert Jeffress, pastor of Dallas, First.
“Abortion is not only murder, but also the destruction of God’s handiwork,” he emphasized. “God not only made you and formed you, but He also has a purpose for you.”
“God’s eternal purpose is that we become like Jesus Christ and have fellowship with Him,” said Jeffress, who leads Southern Baptists’ largest congregation. “If that is the case, why didn’t God zap you to Heaven where you become like Jesus when you see Him face to face, and where you have unlimited fellowship with Him, as soon as you were saved?”
God postpones that fellowship because your purpose on Earth is connected to God’s purpose, he explained.
“God wants all to come to repentance,” Jeffress said. “God is on a seek and save mission here on Earth. He is trying to rescue people from the grip of Satan. Without God, we cannot, but without us, God will not.”
It is our job to share the fact that God sent His Son to be the Savior of the world, Jeffress acknowledged. “Our purpose is not to build big bank accounts, extract pleasure or have a happy and fulfilling family life. We are to stop the spread of Satan and to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
He said just as salt delays the decay of meat, we, as salt, cannot prevent the decay of society, but we can delay it.
“The reason we take a stand against moral issues is not to save people, but to give more time for people to be saved,” he said. “The only way to save America is to save Americans one at a time.”
He related an event at Dallas, First that saw 887 people come to faith in Christ. Called the Pastor’s Light Force, 1,000 members partnered with Jeffress to identify a lost person, pray for their salvation every day for three months, develop a better relationship with them and invite them to church on a certain date to hear the Gospel.
Jeffress invited Texas Rangers baseball player Josh Hamilton to speak that day and gave a short gospel presentation. The largest crowd in the history of Dallas, First attended and saw the 887 people come to Christ.
Jeffress encouraged churches to develop a strategy that will work for their community, and pushed for pastors to equip their people to do the work of ministry.
“Eternal beings will only be satisfied by that which is eternal,” he said. “Partner with God to introduce people to Him.”
The 2012 State Evangelism Conference will be held Jan. 30-31 at Oklahoma City, Southern Hills, with the theme of “Evangelism in the Disciple-Making Process,” based on Col. 1:28, “He is the One we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ” (NIV).
Hillary Glaze is BGCO communications associate. Brian Hobbs is communications director for Oklahoma City, Quail Springs. Dana Williamson is associate editor of the Baptist Messenger.