Great Commandment and Great Commission work together, Cass says.
Don Cass became evangelism director for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention in March. In the following interview with the TEXAN, he discussed evangelism ministry and his vision for the SBTC’s role in strengthening evangelistic work among Texas Baptists.
Q. Baptisms among Southern Baptist churches have been flat in real growth for many years. Do you believe the culture is harder to penetrate or is the church apathetic, or both?
A. I really think that the big problem is the apathy of the church. I think the culture in places is harder to reach, but I do not think that is the case in Texas. I’m finding more people are open to the gospel today than ever in my lifetime. The problem is we’ve been convinced it’s not good to confront people intentionally with the gospel, that you have to build long-term relationships. I believe all evangelism, ultimately, is both relational and intentional. But relationships can be built in a few minutes, sometimes. And other times it takes months to build a relationship. But all evangelism must be intentional for it to be Great Commission evangelism.
Jesus confronted people about himself and he instructed his disciples to do the same. So we’ve got to do that. Our problem today is we listen to too many other voices rather than the New Testament.
Q. For churches that wish to recapture a passion for souls, what must that church do?
A. I think what we need today more than anything else is to fall in love with Jesus. When you’re in love with a person you’re not ashamed of them. For example, I love my wife. I love my daughter, my son-in-law and our grandchildren. If you want to talk to me about them any place, anytime, before any person, I will do it. The reason, of course: I have a passion for them. I love them passionately. And I think there is a real need today for the church to fall head over heels in love with Jesus again. Jesus said, “The ones who love me obey what I tell them to do.” And so, there’s a need to love Jesus.
Also, there needs to be an emphasis on the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. And the reason I say that is, when you love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, mind and strength, then telling people about him is not going to be a problem. The issue today is we need a passion for Jesus.
The second thing is we need a brokenness for the lost. I think universalism has creeped into our churches, even the strongest conservative churches struggle with this. If they don’t struggle with it verbally they struggle with it in practicality, in that they somehow believe that someday, some way, everyone will end up in Heaven, and that’s completely foreign to the New Testament. We need people who believe in Hell again, that those who are lost have no hope in this life nor in the life to come. We need to be broken for their soul. Paul was so broken he said, “I would be willing to be severed from my relationship with Jesus if by my being cut off from Jesus Christ, my kinsmen would come to know him.” When he spoke to the elders of the church at Ephesus in Acts 17, he said, “I came to you in tears, I was broken for the lost.” It’s been too long since we had people who were broken, who wept for those who are lost. The Bible says, “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” And so, we need a brokenness for the lost.
Q. What is the correlation between brokenness and God’s moving among his people?
A. I don’t understand it completely, but I will tell you this: It’s been my experience when I see people weeping for a lost person, generally, that lost person gets saved. If they’re broken for a husband, if they’re broken for a wife, if they’re broken over their child’s lost condition or they’re broken over their brother or sister, generally, that brokenness leads to that person’s conversion.
Q. You have mentioned the SBTC evangelism ministry beign one that will address various types of evangelism. What does that vision include?
A. Of course, I’m a strong believer in personal evangelism. I think that’s the key to reaching our world–one on one, face to face, eye to eye–sharing the gospel with neighbors, friends, work associates, relatives, so forth. But we also need great events that attract people who normally would not come to church but would come to an event and through that event hear the gospel of Christ. For example, in Tyler, on the fourth of July, Pleasant Hill Baptist Church has a fireworks display that’s second to none. And they have a singer come in. Last year over 2,000 people came to that fireworks display and had great music and then I got up and presented the gospel, about a 10-minute presentation, gave an invitation. Several people gave their lives to Christ and wer were able to do follow up with them. So there are great events that will attaract lost people that might not normally come to a Sunday morning service.
We need ministry evangelism, where we minister to the needs of lost people. We respond to their needs and through that ministry they ask, “Why are you doing this?” And we have the opportunity to share the gospel.
I still believe strongly in revival evangelism, crusade evangelism, I believe they work very, very well today. You may have to call them something else. Even Billy Graham has changed the name of his crusades I’m told, to the Billy Graham Mission. Changing the name is fine, but we still need to have the emphasis. That’s another road to the harvest.
I think prayer, evangelistic prayer ministry in the church, is very important. People learning that their spiritual gifts are to be used in fulfilling the Great Commission of our Lord, all kinds of evangelistic approaches need to be used. We need to drop every hook in the water we can to fish for those who are lost.
I also believe that visionary planning for evangelism is essential for every church. The brand new church especially needs that so that evangelism is in their DNA. And then the older churches must have it for an ongoing evangelistic ministry. One of the reasons churches plateau in evangelism is that they don’t plan to do evangelism. There needs to be a visionary plan and people put together so they know where they’re going, how they’re going to get there, who’s responsible, when this will start, when it will be finished, what will we look like five years from now in evangelism, that kind of thing.
Q. What are some things churches can do to reach children and teens?
A Well, older children are some of our most fertile harvest potential. We must focus on helping parents, grandparents, reach older children. Pastors, for example, need to go into older children’s departments at least twice a year, sit down with those kids and share the gospel with them. He needs to be acquainted with the children so that they feel comfortable talking to him. We need to do events that will attract children to the church. The children today, their parents do not bring them to church. There was a time parents brought them to church, then there was a time parents brought them to church and dropped them off, and now neither of those things seems to be happening and we must do what we can to gather up children. There are, of course, some families that bring their children and we’re thankful for that. But we must focus on reaching children. We cannot afford to lose the young generation of children. Jesus said, “Suffer the children to come to me and forbid them not, for such is the kingdom of God.” We often say to children, “Wait until you are an adult.” Jesus said to adults, “You have to become like children to be saved.” Children are very, very open and we need to do what we can from this evangelism division to equip churches to reach children.
Then, of course, today’s teenagers are wonderful. Whatever they get sold on they’re sold out to. And they’re stronger kids that when I was a teenager. And so, when they get sold out on Jesus, man, they’re sold out. They’re on fire. And I want to see us focus on reaching teenagers for Christ. I love teens.
I want to see our Youth Evangelism conference become, eventually, the strongest youth evangelism conference in the nation. And we’re going to be working to that end. Everything we can do we need to do to reach these teenagers with the gospel. Large portions of our kids, when they leave our churches to go to college, never come back to church again. And, we’ve got to stop that. We’ve got to disciple them where they become disciple-makers; I’m told that if parents of teenagers are involved in making disciples, the statistics that indicate a huge number of young people leaving the church goes down to an extremely low percentage. That’s a phenomenal thing. We’ve got to help parents see how they’re a role model for their kids.
Q. What is your vision for emPOWER Evangelism conference?
A. My hope for this is that it too will become the strongest adult evangelism conference in the nation. We have great goals and vision for this. I was talking with Dr. Roy Fish (longtime SWBTS evangelism professor) and he said, “Don, whatever you do, do not lose your vision for what God can do through evangelism and these conferences. There is a need for the conference desperately today. The conference serves, in my opinion, as a catalyst to ignite evangelism for the rest of the year.
I am convinced that this year we can have, and I pray we will have, 3,500 people at our evangelism conference. If we have 3,500 this year, I believe in three years we can have 5,000. We try to challenge pastors and staff people to bring laity to the conference. If you want your church to be set on fire, one of the ways to do that is to bring laity to the conference. I used to say to the laity in New Mexico, “If you’ll give three days of your vacation to come to this conference, I’ll give three days of my vacation voluntarily.” Now I never had a layman challenge me on that, but laity started coming. I promised them if you come one time you won’t want to miss it. And that’s exactly what happened. I believe that’s true for the Texas conference. If we can get them there one time, they won’t want to miss it. It’ll transform their lives. Same thing for pastors and staff members–if they’ll come, God will use it to bless them in evangelism for the remainder of the year. We want it to be a catalyst to help individuals, churches and ministries across the state in evangelism.
NOTE: The 2005 emPOWER Evangelism Conference is scheduled for Jan. 31-Feb. 2 at First Baptist Church of Euless. See a future issue of the TEXAN for more details.