MOORE—Oklahoma Baptists reversed a four-year downward trend in baptisms in 2009, registering 14,569 baptisms, up 910 (6.7 percent) from 13,659 the previous year, it was announced during the “Take it Personally” MY316.com State Evangelism Conference, Jan. 25-26 at Moore, First.
“This was the first increase since 2004, and the largest jump since 1999,” said Randall Adams, leader of the Church Outreach Team of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. “We had a small increase two or three years ago, but it was only 100 baptisms. It has been 10 years since we’ve had a large increase.”
Adams said he believes the BGCO’s partnerships with associations across the state played a major role in the increase in baptisms.
“Whenever we do associational partnerships, we work together to develop strategies to start new churches, do evangelism and promote Sunday School growth,” he explained. “We sit down at a table together with directors of missions and pastors to pray and see what their dreams are that they don’t think they can do for whatever reason; maybe finances for example. Then we’re able to help some of them see those plans and dreams come true. Even in these last four years of (baptisms) decline, we have seen increases in those particular associations.”
In line with the theme of “Take it Personally,” three individuals were honored with a Faithful Sower Award in Evangelism during the conference. The award is presented annually to individuals who have done something extraordinary in evangelism or who have led their church to do something extraordinary in evangelism.
Honorees this year were James Cline, a member of Antlers, First; Billy Morgan, pastor of Duncan’s Freedom Biker Church, and Estelle Teeter, a member of Oklahoma City, Quail Springs.
Cline, a meth dealer, went to church eight years ago after his children begged him to go.
“I was so high on meth, I didn’t think God could touch me, but halfway through the sermon, I walked down to the preacher and told him I needed to be saved,” Cline said. “I am now dealing a new drug called Jesus.”
Cline started a dirt track race team, and last year, 25 members of the team were saved.
Morgan’s biker church was started in a machine shop with 13 people, and had 523 present Jan. 24. He said his church, which welcomes sex offenders, alcoholics, those living in adultery and homosexuals, baptized 83 people last year and since October, has baptized an additional 36.
Teeter, 86, is involved in after school tutoring, Friendship International and teaches a class of the oldest members in her church. Just last month, one of those class members, a 95-year-old woman was baptized. Teeter has been reading God’s Word daily since July 7, 1938.
Also recognized were churches and associations who were leaders in baptisms (total and ratio of resident members to baptisms) during 2009, by category of resident membership.
Leaders in total baptisms, with resident membership range in parenthesis, were, Stilwell, Fairfield, (1-99), 27; Cole, First (100-199), 50; Duncan, Freedom Biker (200-399), 83; Fort Gibson, First (400-699), 63; Muskogee, Timothy (700-1,499), 87; Broken Arrow, BattleCreek, (1,500-plus), 324; Capital Association, 2,233.
Leaders in baptisms in ratio of resident members, with resident membership range in parenthesis, were, Gans (1-99), 1.86; Cole, First (100-199), 2.8; Duncan, Freedom Biker (200-399), 2.7; Fort Gibson, First (400-699), 9.14; Muskogee, Timothy (700-1,400), 12.01; Broken Arrow, BattleCreek (1,500-plus), 4.70; Johnston-Marshall Association, 18.81; Cherokee Native American Association, 12.09.
The conference featured a variety of speakers.
If laughter is good medicine, then those who heard psychologist Charles Lowery should be extremely healthy.
Moving from one punch line to another, Lowery insisted that laughter is a form of faith.
“You don’t have to take life so seriously,” he admonished. “Some people have their halos on too tight.”
He said he believes Jesus wanted to have fun.
“After all, He started His ministry at a party (wedding),” Lowery said. “Laughter is a form of letting go. There are some things you need to let go. Don’t let the same things keep you from being the person God wants you to be.”
Lowery said in order to love people, you have to overlook stuff.
“If you have to sing silly songs in church, sing silly songs,” he said. “We’re going to lose a generation because we can’t overlook things that don’t matter.”
Lowery said we should never get to the point that we think we’re here because we’re good.
“We’re here because He’s good,” he said. “Eighty-five to 90 percent of your life is filled with good stuff. Ten to 15 percent is problems. If you’re not careful, that’s what you start to focus on, and life becomes miserable.”
He noted the Book says to focus on stuff that’s praiseworthy.
“Don’t speak negative words,” he said. “The best evangelism tool is joy abundant in your life.”
Lowery said most churches are not “catching” anything because they fish with the bait they love.
“How do you know God loves you?” he asked. “Because He left His world and entered your world. People know you love them when you enter their world.”
The church, he emphasized, is the only institution God created for other people.
“Worship is more about reaching out your hands than reaching up your hands,” he declared. “If we win this world, it will be with a personal touch.”
He added that people will flock to your ministry if you are an encourager.
“How many of you get too much encouragement?” he asked.
Alabama evangelist Junior Hill told the Monday afternoon crowd that God’s love is a creating love, a converting love, a caring love, a commanding love and a crowning love.
“We are uniquely, divinely created in the image of God,” he said. “You didn’t seek God, God sought you. You didn’t get saved because you deserve it, but because God desired it.”
Speaking on the everlasting life part of John 3:16, Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Seminary, said Jesus described eternal life when he was talking to the rich young ruler.
“He said we will celebrate eternal life forever in a new world where we will be with God and there will be no more pain,” Iorg observed. “And we will celebrate eternal life with honor and authority, with material blessings and with perfect relationships.”
Dallas, Texas evangelist Afshin Ziafat, was born in Houston and raised as a Muslim by a prominent Muslim physician in that city. Referring to himself as “The Turban Cowboy,” he was charged with speaking about the “whosoever” of John 3:16.
“That really resonates with me,” Ziafat said. “We align ourselves with God’s heart when we think about the whosoevers of the world. I represent the whosoevers.”
Referencing the story of Jonah, who resented the salvation of the City of Ninevah when the prophet finally preached the impending judgment of God to it, Ziafat asked, “I wonder how many American Christians would be upset if Osama Bin Laden would repent and be saved?
“Our heart should be for the enemies of God because we also were once the enemy of God. We need to remember that God’s heart beats for people of all tribes and nations.”
Ziafat focused on praying for the lost world in the Tuesday afternoon session.
He said prayer “aligns us with God’s heart. God’s heart is to seek and save the lost. I absolutely love this MY316 initiative because it motivates us to pray for the lost.”
Prayer also is the beginning of evangelism, he said, and is an invitation by God to be a part of His redemptive plan.
“Persistent prayer is what pleases God’s heart,” he reminded the congregation. “And, when we pray, we acknowledge our complete dependence on God . . . prayer acknowledges that God is sovereign over all of the details.”
Scott Dawson, Alabama evangelist and youth speaker, wrapped up the conference’s theme of John 3:16 by emphasizing we have to be dead to ourselves and alive to Christ.
“If My316 is going to be a success, we have to be dead to self,” he noted. “We are already dead in Christ—we have to stay dead.”
He said there are several things that keep us from staying dead, including arrogance, affluency and not believing you deserve what happens to you in this life.
“We battle pride, but we have to humble ourselves before the Lord because we are all called to be servants,” he said.
He observed that we live in a nation that has too much stuff, and enough is never enough.
“It’s not just the world,” he said. “It’s filtered into the church. It’s not something that’s missing in our lives, it’s someone.”
He concluded that the Christian message is like that of the terrorist.
“His life is less important than the cause he stands for,” Dawson acknowledged. “Isn’t that our message?”