Published February 20, 2014
Zelda Fitzgerald was born in Montgomery, AL on July 24, 1900. She was an American novelist and the wife of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. She was an icon of the 1920s. After the success of his first novel, the Fitzgeralds became celebrities. The newspapers of New York saw them as embodiments of the Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties: young, rich, beautiful, and energetic.
Zelda Fitzgerald wrote only one novel, Save Me the Waltz, with the main character of Alabama Beggs seen as an autobiographical sketch of herself. Of Beggs, Fitzgerald wrote, “She quietly expected great things to happen to her, and no doubt that’s one of the reasons why they did.”
I wonder how many Southern Baptists are quietly, or perhaps even enthusiastically, expecting great things to happen when the North American Mission Board unveils its plans for the 2014 biannual evangelism emphasis known as God’s Plan for Sharing (GPS).
Some contend that the great revivals and personal soul winning emphases of the past are no longer as effective as they were 25 to 50 years ago. Others hold to the view that we should not abandon those things that were hallmarks of our growth as a denomination.
I believe that most Baptist historians would agree that our denomination had its most appreciable growth as a result of personal evangelism and revivals. Robert A. Baker, a Baptist historian who was professor of church history at Southwestern Baptist Seminary, explained, “A great revival affecting all denominations swept through the American colonies about 1740. Shortly thereafter, Baptists in the South began a period of rapid growth.”
Baker emphasized that after the close of the Revolutionary War, Baptist churches in the South gained many new members as a result of the revivals that broke out among several denominations west of the Allegheny Mountains at the turn of the century.
In the book Adiel Sherwood: Baptist Antebellum Pioneer in Georgia by Jarrett Burch, we read about the “Great Revival of 1827” or “The Great Georgia Revival.” Burch reports that there were 16,000 conversions over a two-year period in this revival that started in the Baptist church in Eatonton and the Ocmulgee Association.
Revivals have been commonplace throughout our history and Baptists have traditionally been known for being an evangelistic, soul winning people. So, six years ago SBC leaders launched a new national campaign to bring unbelievers to Jesus and challenge all of us to a renewed commitment to Christ and the Great Commission.
In 2007 then-SBC President Frank Page issued a challenge to NAMB’s leadership for a national evangelistic initiative. The leadership at the Alpharetta-based agency has changed since that challenge was issued, but God’s Plan for Sharing is still a vital part of the agencies strategy for reaching the continent.
More recently Page stated, “GPS is even more important today than in 2007, because there are more lost people now than there was then. This is the third largest lost country in the world, behind China and India.
“We are not reaching the cities. The sheer numbers say you need to do something. This is the nation that provides the lion’s share of the money for international missions,” Page said. “We’re the base of support for the ministry to the world and if we lose the base, we’ve lost the battle.”
NAMB requested LifeWay conduct a survey that would be helpful in knowing how Southern Baptists could do a better job of bringing unbelievers to Christ. The survey was designed to give the agency direction in the launch of their new evangelism initiative. The stated goals were to “fulfill the Great Commission in North America through every believer sharing, every person hearing” by 2020. Pilot versions were launched, including efforts to reach 1.5 million people in Philadelphia, PA; 10,000 in Riverside, CA; others in Lubbock, TX; and even here in Georgia in Stone Mountain.
NAMB avows that since launching GPS in 2010, thousands of pastors have led their congregations to pray across North America, distribute the Gospel, and conduct Harvest Sundays, typically on Easter.
The approach was designed to have biannual emphases during the current decade. Currently, NAMB is gearing up for the 2014-2015 campaign, which will be called “Purpose: Find it Here.”
At the recent Baptist state editors’ meeting in Coeur D ‘Alene, ID, NAMB President Kevin Ezell stated, “NAMB has never stopped doing evangelism. Since most evangelism materials have a shelf life we are developing new evangelism products now to help churches reach their communities for Christ.”
The ultimate goal of GPS is “Every Believer Sharing, Every Person Hearing by 2020.”
With America’s spiritual decline in recent years and baptismal numbers continuing to plummet this editor hopes and prays that NAMB will unveil a detailed strategy for this biannual emphasis that will be both compelling and effective.
I hope many churches will prepare to use the new evangelism tools NAMB is producing so that we can truly become the Great Commission Convention, as our “descriptor” specifies. Also, since revivals have been proven to work when churches effectively pray and prepare for them it just might be advisable for more churches to schedule a revival meeting in the next two years. Special events can also produce prospects and often result in professions of faith.
The point is that every church needs to have some kind of plan to reach the lost in its own community.
Be on the lookout for the next phase of NAMB’s strategy for reaching the lost in North America. Frank Page has been quoted as saying, “GPS will have a great impact on lostness in North America as we see 44,000 Baptist churches, 43 state conventions, and hundreds of local associations truly mobilize – getting the people out and sharing the Good News. I think thousands, if not millions, will come to Christ as a result of GPS.”
I don’t know what is coming down the pike regarding NAMB’s next step in God’s Plan for Sharing, but I know it will be good. I am like Zelda Fitzgerald who “quietly (actually a more appropriate word would be “excitedly”) expected great things to happen” as it unveils its next phase of GPS.
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