Western Kentucky Evangelism Conference

Adam Greenway, president of Southwestern Theological Seminary, speaks at the Western Kentucky Evangelism Conference in Princeton on Monday.

Pastors and churches were challenged to step out of their comfort zones, to shake off complacency and invite those who do not know Jesus Christ to accept Him as their savior at the 34th annual Western Kentucky Evangelism Conference in Princeton.

Six preachers told the audience of about 125 people Monday that more laborers are needed in that effort. Messages focused on the importance of “calling out the called” — specifically on the need to pray for men to discern God’s call in their life to enter the ministry.

Adam Greenway, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, used the first eight verses of Acts 8 as his text, noting the drastic change that occurred following the martyrdom of Stephen. “It was because they (Jews) did not like the message, they decided to shut down and snuff out the messenger,” noted Greenway, a past Kentucky Baptist Convention president. When severe persecution came to the church at Jerusalem, “in one fell swoop everything changed,” Greenway said.

From Jesus’ crucifixion to His resurrection, to the Holy Spirit falling at Pentecost and 3,000 being saved, and with scripture saying that people were being saved every day, “Jerusalem was the epicenter of ministry.” He said the church at Jerusalem “didn’t have staff, didn’t have property, but the one thing they had was the undiluted power of the Spirit of God. If you have that, you don’t need all the other stuff.”

“In Acts (chapters) 1-7, it was Jerusalem all the time. Life was good, the church was having success, there were baptisms and the temptation was to never get outside the walls of Jerusalem” Greenway said that persecution “allowed disruption to shake them out of their comfort and complacency and propel them forward to missions,” fulfilling the missions strategy of Acts 1:8 strategy reach Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.

“They (believers) responded and acted as though nothing had changed — those who were scattered went on their way, preaching the word. in a moment when everything changed, nothing changed. Why? Because of Acts 1 — you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you …”

He went on to say the adversity those early followers faced was “not like anything we have faced.”

Greenway then jumped to present days, noting that “no matter how hard COVID-19 has been on you and your church, nobody has told you to not come back to church. There’d been no political oppression forcing you to relocate from west Kentucky, (no one telling) you that you can’t come back here and minister again.

He said he texts and talks with pastors regularly, and “if anybody has been caught in the crosshairs (of COVID-19) it has been pastors,” confronted with challenges involving masks and keeping certain distances. “I know of church members who have left their church over COVID policies, and all hell has laughed. (That happens) any time the enemy can get us off Him (God) and onto each other, were we will feud and fight and fixate over all this frivolity.”

Greenway observed that it is not until Acts 8:1 that “we actually see them (early church) get serious about Acts 1:8. All of a sudden a light bulb went on, it clicked, and all that language about being a worldwide force about advancing the gospel clicked. That’s why we see in them no degree of hesitation, complaint — they were not going back to Jerusalem, but going on with God forward to Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth.

“How different their response is than ours,” Greenway said. “So many of us are trying to get back to where we were in 2019, but that should not be our prayer — 2019 wasn’t everything God wanted it to be to impact lostness across Kentucky.

“Far too many of our fellow Kentuckians are doomed in darkness apart from the gospel of Christ. If anything, it (COVID) should have shaken us out of our complacency to realize how short time is.

“When we start living with the perspective of eternity, it helps sort out what matters most and what doesn’t matter at all. What matters most is to make it, as much as (we) can, impossible for anybody to go into a Christless eternity. When life and death issues are on the table, these brings clarity and focus to our task.”

Greenway lamented the complacency in our country over evangelism efforts.

“We got fat, happy and lazy spiritually speaking,” he said. “We became content week after week after week to never see the waters of baptism stirred. Until our hearts break over those empty pews, we’re never going to make an impact.”

Greenway pointed out in Acts 8:8 that there was great joy in the city (of Samaria) where the gospel flourished. He asked the probing question — “would the witness of your church (result in) great joy in your city?”

Greenway suggested that perhaps COVID-19 was a wake-up call. “We have been humbled. Are we now prepared to make the most of the opportunities God has given to us to make it humanly impossible for anybody to die (spiritually) in our cities?”

Also speaking at the conference were:

• Lee Brand, first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, who talked about what prayer looks like in the life of a preacher.

“Is there any place in the life of a preacher that we need more edification, more encouragement, more building up, than in our prayer life,” he said. “Prayer is the place we can go as human beings and make contact with heaven. Of all the riches we have in prayer, it pains me that we so seldom implore its power.”

Brand used Romans 10 as his text, noting that the Apostle Paul said his heart’s desire and prayer is for the people’s salvation. “Paul is saying the thing that feels me to bend my knees is that I want to see my people saved.”

Brand cited three ingredients to a strong prayer life:

• A passion for lost people. “We gauge the health of churches on the bottoms in the seats and bucks in the bank,” said Brand. “You cannot look at those two metrics and prove your church is healthy. Those two things do not make us vibrant unto the Lord. If we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves majoring in the minors and minoring in the majors. We must have a deep passion for lost people. Do we agonize for people to be saved?

“What you want is what you pray about. Sometimes, if we are not careful, what we pray for is no more conflict, no disruptions, can we just get along and have a season of peace.”

• Identify with the pain of lost people (vv. 2-3). “Paul said he knew where they were because he had been there. He was trained in the law, was a persecutor of the church, was doing all he could to be right with God and was still wrong.”

Brand noted the misconception of some that being sincere is the equivalent of being right.

“Sincerity is not the litmus test about whether you are right, but are you right about the right thing?” he said. “My faith cannot be in anyone or anything but the Lord Jesus Christ. I am afraid we have forgotten the pain of being lost.”

• Be strengthened by the provision found only in Christ (v 4). “Jesus Christ died for all and His blood is sufficient to save everyone. Paul says … the sufficiency of your salvation is Christ alone, not your ability to do good and act good.

• Jeff Noffsinger, pastor of Dripping Spring Baptist Church in Olmstead, urged pastors and churches to personal evangelism as “our greatest need.”

He added, “A lot of people are evangelizing with the wrong message, the wrong scriptural foundation — I hope and pray we see how important the harvest is and how abundant it can be, and allow God to do a work which only He can do.”

Noffsinger pondered “how many times I have missed sharing the gospel. It’s something we always tend to talk about, but never really do a great deal of — or we think it is someone else’s responsibility or job to do rather than ours.”

An example of missing the opportunity to share came from the time Noffsinger was age 13 and visiting at his grandparents. A cousin, who was a junior in high school, lived there, and Noffsinger said he kept “thinking I need to ask him if he has been saved or if he had thought about being saved. I never ever did ask him, and I’ve thought back numerous times — if I had spoken up, (would) things have been different for him or me. He died several years later. I have thought about that night in 1985 when I didn’t speak up. There’s no excuse for never speaking up for the glory of God.”

He encouraged people to “quit talking about winning a ball game, but understand that man’s greatest need is Jesus Christ.”

Preaching from Luke 10, Noffsinger said Jesus “tells us about the potential. The harvest truly is great.” He said there are lost people in rural areas as well as there are in urban area. “Where did John the Baptist go to preach? Wilderness. God gave him a harvest. Why? Because there is potential. There is potential right where you are.”

Also, Jesus tells the problem — the laborers are few. He said the “last thing we need to get is knee deep in problems. We need to get knee deep in prayer.”

Next, Noffsinger said prayer is need. “We need God to raise up another generation of preachers. We need to ask for the Father to call out the called — to send forth laborers in the harvest, and see God do something great.”

• Larry Purcell, west regional consultant for the Kentucky Baptist Convention, said that believers are “fellow travelers on a road, and the road sometimes is rocky — but when we are together, it makes such a difference.

Preaching from Titus 1, said being called to ministry “is a call to lead.” He defined leadership as a believer becoming more like Christ. “My task is to help others grow to be what God wants them to be.”

Purcell voiced his concern that a poll showed that — of the thousands of pastors in the survey — 94% said they do not view themselves as a leader. “Only 6% identified themselves as leaders. That’s sad. We are more than a preacher, more than someone who knows something about the Bible and theology. We are influencing people.”

Referencing his scripture text, Purcell said the pastor is to “set right what is left undone. He doesn’t say go in and make a good impression, but to go set things straight.”

Purcell noted that before he could fulfill God’s call to seek elders into ministry, he had to know his own calling. “God has not called you to be somebody else, but to be a better version of you and reflect more readily who Christ is.” Paul acknowledged certain traits in somebody and said, because of those trails he went out after them. He invested in them. Are we investing in somebody. Who do you know who may be struggling with what God is calling them to do?”

In recent weeks, Purcell said he had conversations with three men he believes are dealing with a call on their life. He noted the calling “has to be something already there (in their heart), but somebody is need to fan the flame and encourage them.

“We ought to pray for the called — when I see someone God is dealing with, I begin to pray for them. Pray that God will raise up people, help them understand what that calls means, then mentor the called, teach and send them.”

He was quick to point out that “God is calling men of character. As He called me, helped me shape my character to be what I should be. When we say someone in blameless, it doesn’t mean sinless. It means God has delivered you, and from this time forward you have Him working in your life. Our calling first is to live in a Christ-like manner. The No. 1 trait everyone must possess for a follower to trust the leader is honesty. It needs to be someone genuine, someone real, who says what you are going to do and you do what you said you would do.”

• Wes Fowler, pastor of First Baptist Church in Mayfield, talked emotionally about the impact of the Dec. 10 tornado on his church and community.

When the discussion turns to pastoring during a crisis, Fowler knows much about that.

“Many times I have wept. Lately the tears have become a regular part of our life,” he said, evoking thought about Jesus — when He wept and why He wept.

Fowler asked the crowd, “What makes Jesus weep?” His text was Luke 19 when Jesus wept over Jerusalem.

“Jesus wept over rejection,” Fowler said.

“The word in this text means to mourn or grieve — He wailed over Jerusalem. It was a city He loved but did not love Him in return. Not everyone rejected Him — a week before many had hailed Him. But the very people who should have welcomed the Messiah rejected Him.” Fowler said Jerusalem was the city where the presence of God dwelt in the temple, but it was a city that despised presence of God who dwelt among them.

Fowler said not only did Jesus weep over the rejection, but because of the destruction that was coming.

“It was not like His feelings were hurt — it was not the way rejection hurts you and me. He wept because He knew destruction was coming next. Jerusalem was 40 years away from being destroyed — there was no hope for rebuilding, no hope for renewal. Destruction can make you weep.

“For weeks, I wept every day driving into the heart of downtown Mayfield. We spent time with families who lost everything. We wept at funerals. We have an elderly lady that when the tornado hit, she lost her home, her husband, access to her son’s special needs situation (had go to special place for care), lost her car, all her clothes — she had nothing.

“When Jesus wept, He knew the people, He knew the pain and suffering that was coming.”

Fowler said Luke 19:45-46 tells that God’s mission had been distorted. Jesus overturned the tables in the court of the Gentiles and chased out the money changers. “The temple was one of the wonders of ancient world. It was divided into four courts — women, Jews, Gentiles and holy of holies. The Gentiles court was the largest part, looking back to when God called Abraham to be a blessing to the nations, to all people.

“But they had turned it into a stock yard for commercial purposes, where you could buy an offering, a lamb, whatever. Imagine the stench, the noise — a place where God-fearers were supposed to pay and worship and learn about God. It was a mission. It wasn’t cleansed of the Gentiles, but for the Gentiles.

“There’s nothing more distressing than the people of God destroying the very mission of God,” Fowler said.

He posed the question, what makes you weep?

“We should weep over the same things that makes Jesus weep. When God weeps, we should weep. When people reject Jesus as Messiah, does it make you weep?

When look over our cities, do we weep over the lostness? Are you burdened for the lost?”

Fowler then asked, “Do you know what is coming for those outside of Christ. Does it make you weep?

“Jesus wept because the mission of God was distorted. Do we distort the mission of God? Isn’t it to reach the nations with the gospel for His glory. Is this what we are focused on?”

Fowler said, “How often do we distort the mission by majoring on the minors, arguing about the minutia; calling another (believer) a heretic. It’s easy to argue about the theological minutia than going door-to-door and tell someone how to be saved.”

Fowler gave three reasons there doesn’t seem to be much weeping taking place on Sunday mornings.

“Isolation. Some of us have isolated ourselves from the lost. We have insulated ourselves in the walls of the church building.”

Fowler told of a weekend where he and his wife went to a Paducah restaurant for a brief “get away” time. He said it was a difficult time.

“I struggled — it was not an enjoyable evening like it should have been. I looked around and saw people acting like nothing was going on,” but he couldn’t escape the heartache of the tornado that struck his hometown just 25 miles away. “I couldn’t eat — there were people smiling and laughing, but destruction was right down he road and they didn’t care. If we are not careful, we will isolate ourselves from the destruction that is all around us, and we’ll act as though we don’t care.”

He warned of complacency.

“For weeks, I wept as I drove in to Mayfield. It was bad, but then the day came where I drove in and there was not a tear. I saw the destruction, but kept going to our campus. I’ve become complacent. Lord, let us not be complacent. Let us see the lost in a fresh way, let us see all the destruction around us and let us weep as Jesus weeps.”

• Dan Summerlin, pastor of Lone Oak Baptist Church, concluded the conference with a message from 2 Timothy.

“In the Christian ministry, finishing well means everything. If we do not finish well, people will doubt our message people will doubt our Master. Let us finish well,” Summerlin exhorted.

“As Paul is coming to the end of his life, knowing he will be executed, he begins to reflect on his life and ministry: ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith’ (2 Tim. 4:7). All of us would like to say those words: I have finished the course. I finished well.”

Summerlin said “the demands of the ministry are tough and it seems like they are getting tougher. Last year, according to Barna, 38% of pastors indicated they have considered quitting full-time ministry within the past year. But if you look at the numbers, 46% of pastors under the age of 45 say they are considering quitting full-time ministry, compared to 34% of pastors 45 and older. Almost half of those ministers consider quitting!

“I have been a pastor for 38 years and 2020 was the hardest year of my ministry. Pandemic, criticism, the unknown — we didn’t know how to keep score. People think they know what it is like to be the pastor, but they are clueless. There are two professions where people think they know more than the person — coaches and pastors.

“We face problems and criticisms and temptations. Let’s admit it is tough. But it was tougher 2,000 years ago.”

Summerlin said pastors must be determined as a soldier. That means to be determined to endure suffering, to be determined to be focused on the task and be determined to submit to Jesus.

They must also be disciplined like an athlete. That means to have integrity in keeping the rules and training.

He said there are three great temptations of pastors — lust of the flesh (passions), lust of the eyes (greed) and pride of life.

He concluded by encouraging pastors to be dependable as a farmer. “No good farmer will give fruit that is bad. He is dependable that what he is giving is good because he has tried it first.

“Pastors, before you preach to others, you must eat your own fruit,” he said. “Before you tells others what God says, you must accept it yourself. What we tell our people is not theory, it is proven fact.”