Empower evangelism conference targets 18 million unsaved Texans

LAS COLINAS—With 18 million unreached, Texas is no longer the Bible belt, Shane Pruitt, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention director of evangelism, told about 2,000 assembled at the Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas for the Monday evening session of the 2018 Empower evangelism conference,  held Feb. 26-27.

The conference broke records with a registration total of over 2,827, Pruitt confirmed, praising the multi-generational make-up of attendees.

Empower featured something for everyone.

Christian comedian Dennis Swanberg entertained guests at Monday’s Classics Luncheon, followed by praise and worship by the Erwins and sermons from Junior Hill, Herb Reavis, and Tom Elliff.

Monday’s events included a men’s and women’s dinner, a Next Gen leadership reception, a late-night session with Bob Goff, while Tuesday featured the Cooperative Program luncheon and the African American fellowship dinner.

Apodarlos, the SBTC Hispanic ministries event at First Baptist Euless held prior to Empower, Feb. 24-25, attracted 500 and featured both Christian performer Julissa and evangelist Luiz Diaz Pabon, recording 47 professions of faith, said Bruno Molina, SBTC language evangelism associate.

“It was a very inspirational time,” said Mike Gonzales, SBTC director of Hispanic ministries.

Monday breakout sessions were led by Kie Bowman, Robby Gallaty, Leah Holder, Shane Russell, Juan Sanchez, Grant Skeldon, David Stockwell, Dennis Watson, Scott Kindig and Barrett and Jenifer Johnson.

Monday evening featured recording artists Shane and Shane, who led music in the main sessions Tuesday morning, afternoon and evening.

In an unexpected appearance Monday night, Sutherland Springs pastor Frank Pomeroy expressed thanks to all who had helped his church in the aftermath of the Nov. 5 shootings which claimed 27 lives. Pomeroy explained the ongoing evangelistic impact of the church memorial and called on pastors Paul Buford of River Oaks Baptist and Mark Collins of FBC Yorktown to pray.

Robby Gallaty, pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, and founder of Replicate Ministries, led off the evening program, speaking on the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20, using a kayak fishing analogy to pose the question: “As leaders of the church…could it be possible that we have been trying to row the Christian life with one oar, evangelism, and we have neglected the other oar, discipleship?”

In Matthew 28 Jesus gave us a “strategy to change the world,” Gallaty said, challenging pastors to pray, read Scripture and share the gospel: “Jesus emulated discipleship; go and do the same.”

Lamenting spiritual infancy even among long-time Christians, Gallaty urged, “Baptism is not the finish line. It’s the starting line . . . where the real work begins.”

Following Gallaty came Bob Goff—New York Times best-selling author, lawyer, honorary Consul of the Republic of Uganda and founder of the international relief organization Love Does—who encouraged the audience to “get real” with Jesus, evoking frequent outbursts of laughter while telling stories of relating to “messy” people.

“I spent my whole life avoiding the people Jesus spent his whole life engaging. You know why? I didn’t want to get any on me. The simple message of the gospel of Christ: ‘Get it on you,’” Goff urged.

With stories of building schools in Uganda, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan to dealing with witchcraft practitioners and terrorists, Goff stressed that “The only thing that matters is faith expressed in love.”

“Following Jesus means a life of constant interruptions,” he also urged, telling the audience to answer their cell phones and be available.

“Hungry people, thirsty people, creepy people, sick people, naked people, people in jail–find some people you’ve been avoiding and see what will happen,” Goff said, adding, “I want to fail trying. I don’t want to fail watching.”

J.D. Greear of The Summit church in Durham, North Carolina, followed Goff, assuring the Texas audience that Davy Crockett was his distant uncle, according to a family Bible.

Greear described his church’s missional strategy of planting 1,000 churches by 2050, explaining what he humorously called the “Mormonization strategy of The Summit church,” whereby college graduates are encouraged to pursue careers in regions where they could also be involved in strategic church plants.

Joking about the “warm glow of God’s word on faces,” Greear asked the audience to call up Acts 4 on their smartphones, reminding all that evangelism is “quite simply reaching people for Christ.”

He cautioned against getting distracted by certain doctrinal issues and political agendas that “bog down” evangelism, citing seven-year forecasts predicting the closing of 55,000 churches and an expected attendance drop from 17 to 14 percent, before exploring Acts 4.

Invoking Charles Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards, Greear underscored the urgency of the gospel, reminding all of that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” Cautioning against arrogance, he affirmed the authority of Scripture and Jesus.

Stressing the importance of having a platform, Greear explained The Summit’s commitment to community action and emphasized the intimacy of a relationship to Christ.

Finally, Greear discussed dependence upon the Holy Spirit, adding that Old Testament revival is “always described as Israel remembering what God had done.”

Tuesday Empower events included morning sessions with Ryan Fontenot and Jim Richards, afternoon sessions featuring Gavan Spinney and DZ Cofield, and an evening program with Robert Smith, Jon Akin and OS Hawkins.

Smith, Charles T. Carter Baptist Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School, roused the crowd with a message from Acts 8, the account of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.

Smith called for a “theology of integration” rather than “avoidance,” illustrated by the example of Philip and the eunuch who first sat down “together in the chariot” before going “down into the waters” of baptism.

“Reconciliation will not take place in the baptismal pool until we sit together in the church,” Smth said, later describing the “learning, burning, yearning” experience of the Gaza, Emmaus and Damascus roads, and urging all to “preach Jesus.”

Jon Akin, director of young adult engagement for the North American Mission Board, spoke next on Acts 16, emphasizing Jesus as the “hero of the book of Acts” and focusing on what “Jesus continues to do through his church on the earth” today.

Highlighting the salvations of Lydia, the demon-possessed girl and the Philippian jailer, Akin emphasized the “simple teaching of the word of God” and cautioned against categorizing people: “There is no one Jesus cannot save.”

Emphasizing the “big tent in the SBC,” Akin urged audience members to reach their relational networks with the gospel: “Our role is to share. God’s role is to save.”

O.S. Hawkins, president of Guidestone, concluded the evening with a message from 1 Kings 17, stressing that, in evangelism, “being comes before doing” while describing Elijah’s experience “absenting” himself at the brook Cherith where he experienced God’s provision.

“The brook Cherith always leads to the Carmel experience,” Hawkins said, describing Joseph, Moses, Joshua and even Jesus spending years waiting for God’s “recognized plan” and emphasizing the importance of obedience and trust.

Monday evening also featured the presentation of the Roy Fish evangelism award to evangelist Mike Courtney and the W.A. Criswell lifetime achievement award to pastor Tommy Oglesby.

Empower will return to the Irving Convention Center Feb. 25-26 next year. For more information, visit sbtexas.com/evangelism.

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