Evangelism Conference a 'mountaintop experience'
January 12 2001 by Craig Bird , BR Correspondent

Evangelism Conference a 'mountaintop experience' | Friday, Jan. 12, 2001

Friday, Jan. 12, 2001

Evangelism Conference a 'mountaintop experience'

By Craig Bird BR Correspondent ARDEN - Talk about your blended worship services. Southern Baptist icons like evangelism professor Roy Fish and evangelist Junior Hill shared the pulpit with fresh faces like church planter Randy Bonner and "missionary to NASCAR fans" Dennis McGowan.

Trumpet master Phil Driscoll, concert pianist Leah Joy Everette, contemporary musicians To Know, soloist Charles Billingsley, the Kingsmen Quartet, and the Biltmore Baptist Church choir and orchestra (among others) offered holy praise in just about every musical format except hip-hop and heavy metal.

Frederick Sampson Jr. spoke with the dignity and cutting relevancy that are hallmarks of African-American preachers; Richard Jackson shared a fresh, witnessing New Testament and Clyde Billingsley spoke of the spiritual needs of Montana, North Carolina and the world.

United by the theme "Exalting the Savior," the 54th annual N.C. State Evangelism Conference offered something for just about everyone.

Michelle Etterlind, a member of host Biltmore Baptist Church, and the church's pastor, James Walker, join the congregation in singing Amazing Grace.
In the process, the first state evangelism conference to meet in the mountains in a quarter century may have qualified for "landmark" status - just like its predecessor that met in Asheville in 1976, said Milton Hollifield.

"We heard lots of comments comparing this evangelism conference to 1976 - and that meeting is generally considered one of the best ever," said Hollifield, head of the Mission Growth Evangelism section of the Baptist State Convention (BSC) of North Carolina, which planned the event.

Frederick Sampson Sr. and Stephen Olford were featured in 1976 and "people still remember what they said," Hollifield added. "Folks left here saying the same kinds of things, talking about what they heard and experienced has changed them forever."

Fears of snow apparently limited attendance but Hollifield does not regret bringing the meeting back to the mountains. "Even if we had been totally snowed out Monday and Tuesday, the youth rally on Sunday evening (see related story) would have made all the work worthwhile," he said.

Not to worry If attendance fell short of Hollifield's hoped for 1,500 (there was no registration to provide an official count but some sessions apparently attracted just under 1,000), there were still plenty of mountaintop experiences in the mountains.

Billingsley, executive director of Montana Baptist Convention, urged attenders to put more emphasis on evangelism. "A tragedy of our day is that we make soul-winning second rate and put programs ahead of soul wining," he said.

"Witnessing is not a gift, but a given," Billingsley said. "We can all reach somebody - and who knows what God will do with that person."

Attenders received practical help in the form of The Covenant of God's Love, a witnessing New Testament developed by Richard Jackson and distributed free by the BSC to participants.

"Witnessing isn't rocket science," said Jackson, pastor emeritus of North Phoenix (Ariz.) Baptist Church and executive director of the RJ Center for Evangelism and Encouragement in Brownwood, Texas. "It's a lot more important than rocket science but it is not nearly as complicated."

Jackson developed the New Testament as a witnessing aid because he was convinced that church-going Christians long to share their faith "but have somehow been intimidated into thinking they have to know enough about the Bible and Christianity to win a debate with a non-believer."

"If necessary, a man or woman can pick up a copy of The covenant of God's Love from a friend or off a park bench and literally read his or her way to salvation," he said.

Fish, professor of evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, spoke on the theme of living waters from Exodus 47. "The real source of spiritual blessings come directly from God," he said, "not from external sources. You draw from the supernatural power of God - God has put a well inside each of us."

"The river of living water comes from the cross," Fish said. "The river of living water brings healing, life and fruit."

Challenges offered Evangelist Hill, from Hartselle, Ala., challenged listeners to "consider the lilies" (Matt. 6:28 and Luke 12:27). "God made us who we are and what we are and we should be content with who and what we are," he said. Lilies don't try to be anything other than what they are, Hill said, and believers should likewise be content with their lives, including where they are located. "Don't move for the wrong reason," he said. "Wrong motives rarely produce a right move."

Speaking to pastors, Hill said "The most dangerous thing for a discouraged preacher is to seek something a little bit better. Don't be content with better, go for the best."

McGowan, who is director of a Concord-based ministry to NASCAR fans called Racing Fan Outreach, said only 20 percent of the 6.3 million NASCAR fans who attend one of 34 races throughout the country are church members. His organization recorded more than 500 professions of faith last year, many in the hard-to-reach group of 40-50-year-old men.

McGowan challenged the audience to become involved in similar types of ministry - to go outside the church where the people are.

Ron Murray, pastor of East Charlotte Community Church, used John 12:32 as a text, speaking of how God draws people to Himself. "Our part is to exalt, glorify and lift up God - His part is to draw all men unto Him," he said. "We get the 'parts' mixed up and we try to draw people with our buildings, music and programs." He said, "The power of Jesus calls all men of all cultures, all walks of life."

Murray, who is African-American, said, "If you're going to reach the masses, you can't discriminate. People are hungry for the living word.

"We are to exalt Jesus by living for Jesus - we are to give the world an 'audio and video demonstration' of Jesus through our lives - point men to Jesus, not to us," he said.

Gene Garrison, who recently relocated to Cary after retiring as pastor of First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, spoke of how the April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City bombing affected his church. Although no members were killed or seriously hurt, many members had friends who were victims. A lady in his congregation came for counseling after the bombing and asked, "Why didn't God stop the bombing?"

"People are tempted to abandon their faith in the power of God in order to maintain their faith in the love of God," Garrison said. "What is power?" he asked. It is the ability to achieve a purpose. "You can never separate power from purpose," he said.

"God's purpose is to establish His kingdom," Garrison said. "In working toward the kingdom, God has self-imposed temporary limitations on Himself. People will only be part of His kingdom voluntarily through their free will. God has ruled out all means of force, coercion, manipulation, and trickery in order to get people into His kingdom. God only loves people into His kingdom.

"Our task is to lift God up, to exalt God. The cross represents the love of God that will never let you go. You give life up to Christ and God will draw people until Himself. You can't bully people into love," Garrison said.

Sampson, a substitute for his father who is suffering from a recurrence of cancer, was the closing speaker both nights. He called on pastors during dark and troubling times to remember that God then "works on the left side" (Job 23:9) where we can't see Him - but He is still working. It is biblical, he said, to consider that bad things happen to God's people when they are following His will.

"It is true that many of the uncomfortable beds we (lie) down in we made," he explained, "but we also get attacked when we are out as sheep among wolves."

People may enjoy living in "right-handed situations" where everything is wonderful, Sampson said, "but we live much of our lives in left-handed circumstances where the wolves of Satan run us to exhaustion, nip at our heels and - if we give up - eat us alive. No wonder the laborers are few!"

He assured those in the audience, "we will never see Jesus as the shepherd until we see ourselves as the sheep - as sheep in need of a shepherd, sheep guaranteed a loving shepherd."

The 54th evangelism conference offered something for everybody, said Gayle Brown, retired director of missions for Buncombe Baptist Association (Asheville) and honorary chairman of the conference.

"It brought back memories of evangelism conferences long ago, a feeling of togetherness, singleness of purpose, friendly and warm fellowship and absence of controversy and fighting," he said. "Those who didn't come missed a mountaintop experience with the Lord."

(EDITOR'S NOTE-Bill Boatwright, BSC communications director, contributed to this story.)

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1/12/2001 12:00:00 AM by Craig Bird , BR Correspondent | with 0 comments
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