The third blog of The New Methodists, a six part series exploring the challenges that face the SBC today.
By Dr. Chuck Kelley
The methods we use are not the crucial issue. The Bible speaks little of methods. An open fire, an oven, or a microwave will all accomplish the same purpose. Tasks will always outlive methods. By the way, this applies to whatever better way of doing things some of you might develop as well!
The amount of money available to spend on evangelism is not the crucial issue. In 1906, W.W. Hamilton created the first department of evangelism for the SBC. With no budget allocation at all, he found a way for the department to make a great impact and grow to include more than 20 evangelists. After a tragic embezzlement by the treasurer of the Home Mission Board, the Board was nearly bankrupted and had to shut down the evangelism department for a decade.
In 1936, Roland Q. Leavell was asked to relaunch the department with only one staff member—himself! With little money and no assistance he laid the groundwork for the greatest period of fruitfulness in the history of the SBC. During that legendary period of 1945 to 1955, when we doubled in baptisms, the staff of the evangelism department never grew larger than 3 people, including a secretary. Money is important, even very important, but it is not the crucial issue reducing our fruitfulness. Having more money will not turn things around.
Money is important, even very important, but it is not the crucial issue reducing our fruitfulness. Having more money will not turn things around.
The Gospel’s power is not the crucial issue either. Our message has the same power to transform any human life today as it had in the first century of the church.
The penitentiary in Angola, La., is the only maximum security prison in the state. With more than 5,000 prisoners, it houses the largest collection of violent people in the United States and has long been known as the bloodiest prison in America. More than 90 percent of the men have prison sentences so long they will die and be buried in prison. Most would agree these men must be terrible prospects for salvation, much less for a call to the ministry.
In 1995, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary began a program of training for ministry in the Angola prison, teaching a small group of prisoners whom God had touched. They studied the same curriculum we teach in the Seminary’s Leavell College. The results have been stunning.
We have more than 200 graduates to date, and upon completion of their studies, each man becomes a pastor in some part of the prison. Call it a cell church movement! Violence has dropped dramatically. The prison has become a different place, and it has amazed people in the justice system all over the United States. The impact of these prison preachers has been so great they are now being sent out two by two into other prisons to teach there what they learned in Angola. There is that ancient Hebrew expression again: Wow!
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of incredible power still today!
So in SBC life, available money wasn’t the issue. Personnel wasn’t the issue. The power of the Gospel wasn’t the issue. What, then, went wrong?