WHAT HAPPEN TO REVIVALS?

1930's Baptist Tent Revival
1930’s Baptist Tent Revival

The Southern Baptist Convention has consistently declined over the last few decades. The Baptist Press reported a couple weeks ago we lost more than 200,000 members in 2014. This is the largest single yearly decline since 1881. What is even more troubling to me is the fact that we baptized 305,301 people last year. From 1998 -2002 we baptized right at or over 400,000 people each year. We, as Southern Baptist, topped the 300,000 baptisms a year threshold  in the 1940’s. This means Southern Baptist are now baptizing the same numbers of people we were in the late 1940’s. This is an issue because in the 40’s we had 6 million members and today we have 16 million members. Why is the Southern Baptist Convention baptizing fewer people? In this blog I want to share one thing I believe might contribute some  to the decline in Baptisms.

WE STOPPED HAVING REVIVALS. 

Now it’s true not every church has stopped having revivals but revivals have become almost taboo throughout the SBC. To drive this point home I am aware of two full-time evangelists in the entire Mississippi Baptist Convention, one music evangelist and one preaching evangelist. There are some part-time evangelists but there are not enough revivals being conducted in Mississippi to sustain many full-time evangelists. The Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists website, shows 146 dues paying members. Let that sink in, a denomination with 16 million members and approximately 46,000 churches has 146 evangelists.

  1. Some of my best memories are from revival meetings. I look back on many great times and times of spiritual growth during revivals. My hometown church had a great preacher from Oklahoma by the name of Alan Day conduct a couple revival meetings. Dr. Day was an excellent preacher. God used him to instill in me a desire to study the Word. Through the years it was a joy to see Alan at various functions throughout the SBC and reminisce about his times in Purvis.  In my late teens, I attended a Sunday School revival conducted by Mr. Sunday School,  Bro. Leon Kilbreath. Each night the crowds grew and decisions were made. The last night I remember he taught on how a teacher of the Word had to be consecrated. He urged teachers to quit smoking, dipping and drinking. I enjoyed smokeless tobacco when I was a teenager. I remember during the altar call I walked down the isle and laid a brand new pack of chewing tobacco on the altar. I was committed to giving it up for I was preaching fairly regular at this time. I remember as I backed my car out of the space I put it in park and opened my door. The passenger with me asked where I was going. My response was, “I am going to need that chewing tobacco before I get home.” I am glad God has given me victory over that nasty habit today. I often speak of these revivals with joy. They were some of the best of times in my life. As a pastor, I often discuss the highlights of our church’s history with my members. These highlights  were often during times of revival meetings.
  2. Some of the greatest movements of God I have seen have taken place during revivals. As a pastor my practice has not been to have a revival annually. I have always had revivals when I felt impressed to have a particular preacher conduct our revival meetings. I can honestly say some of the greatest movements of God I have witnessed have taken place during some of these meetings. I have seen dozens, if not hundreds, saved through the years during revivals. I have seen broken relationships and families repaired during revivals. I have witnessed my church come together and work hard for Jesus’ cause during revival times.

WHY HAVE MANY STOPPED HAVING REVIVAL MEETINGS. 

  1. It takes a lot of work to have a successful revival. When I first went into the ministry you could stick a sign up in your church yard reading, “REVIVAL WEEK” and people would come. The reason why is there was not much else to do. In my first church community we had two local television channels and a gas station for our entertainment. People went to church during revival week. Now you have to plan well in advance so a busy congregation can schedule for revival. Constant reminders have to be kept before the people. Time must be spent in prayer for revival meetings. Meals and schedules must be coordinated. Advertisement must be taken care of. A church must commit to giving four nights to the revival meetings but they will have to do so much more to have a successful meeting. Some pastors and churches may forgo revivals because there is a lot of work involved.
  2. A bad meeting can do as much harm as a good meeting can good.  I have had a few bad meetings. I have had revivals where the hard work was done and the crowds were simply low and no visible decisions were made. This is a morale killer. This may surprise many of you but there are some nuts preaching today. One time I was excited to schedule a well known evangelist to preach a revival for me. I booked him well in advance. I had a chance to hear him preach several times leading up to our revival. His preaching had changed. He now was very dogmatic about the End Times and he started preaching on a few pet topics. He preached the Masons were demonic instruments of Satan. He preached politics and how true Christians would vote exactly like he voted. He preached contemporary music was spawned from Lucifer. I had a long conversation with him and asked him to preach the Bible when he was with me. Sure enough, the second day he was with me he unloaded on all his favorite topics. Needless to say I spent months undoing what this nut job tore up in four days. Some pastors have had bad experiences and for this reason don’t schedule revivals.
  3. Insecurity may be the reason some are not scheduling revivals. I am merely speculating on this point, but it could be some pastors are insecure about allowing well known and highly effective preachers preach to their congregations. Also some may be insecure in that if the church works hard for this one week and gets everyone involved the question might be asked why doesn’t our leadership work this hard every week.
  4. Theology may be one reason why there are fewer revivals. I am careful about mentioning this last point because I do not want to offend any of our brothers and sisters in the SBC. However, there has been a increase of reform theology in our convention. It is important to note that while I reject this teaching it is orthodox and a perfectly acceptable interpretation of certain passages of Scripture. This theology holds the belief that God has elected some to be saved. These elect will be saved regardless and the non-elect will not be saved regardless. I have many pastor friends who are Calvinist and who feel revival preaching often leads to false professions and the crowding of our church rolls with lost people. For this reason, many of our reformed brothers do not have revivals.

I am a big proponent of revivals. I feel one reason we are seeing fewer baptisms today in our convention is because we are having fewer revivals. Statistics can be used to argue my point. Southern Baptist conducted simultaneous revivals in 1990 – called “Here’s Hope,” in 1995 – called “Here’s Hope ’95,” and 2000 – called “Celebrate Jesus 2000.” In all these years we saw spikes in baptisms and we went over 400,000 baptisms in those years.

I am asking all who read this blog to take a moment to pray that we as Southern Baptist will regain our zeal for evangelism.

Let Me Tell You About My Father!

Happy Father's Day
Happy Father’s Day

This Sunday, June 21st is Father’s Day in the United States. The History Channel says this of the origin of Father’s Day, “On July 19, 1910, the governor of the U.S. state of Washington proclaimed the nation’s first “Father’s Day.” However, it was not until 1972, 58 years after President Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day official, that the day became a nationwide holiday in the United States.” So Father’s Day has been around since 1910 but was made an official national holiday in 1972. In this post I want to share with you about my Father.

My Dad was an incredible man, at least in my eyes. He was a hard man, serving over 22 years as a sergeant in the Army tends to make men hard. He never compromised. He never seemed intimidated. He worked hard at two low paying jobs to put with his military retirement to provide what we had, meager as it was. He always seemed to be in control. In spite of all this persona I know he loved me and my older brother, Robert. Not once have I ever doubted how proud he was of us or how much he loved us. In July of 1978 my father was involved in an accident. He was working at our local golf course when somehow the tractor and mower he was working on ran over him. His injuries were life threatening. My father was helicoptered to Forrest General Hospital and I was ushered to Jake and Karen Keith’s home. This would be the best place for me. They lived in the staff home at the golf course that was such a huge part of my young life. There I could swim in the pool and play golf and be surrounded by my friends. The day of his accident was the last time I saw my dad, Bob Stewart, alive. He died a few weeks later on Friday, July 21st, 1978, 26 days before my 10th birthday.

I was able to deal with my Father’s death well. There were a few things I remember even to this day that were difficult. I will never forget the look on my Mother’s face when I walked in the room after my Dad’s death. No one ever told me he had died; that look shared everything I needed to know. My Dad was dead and my Mother seemed to be dying. Seeing my Dad in the coffin was also tough. However, for the most part, I adjusted and life went on as normal as we could make it. One day several months after Bob’s death I went with a friend to his home to ask permission to go down the street to another friend’s house. We three youngsters were inseparable, Lawson, Stewart and Adams. When you saw one you usually saw all three of us. This day my friend asked his dad for permission to go down the street and maybe some money for a coke. The conversation went something like this, “DAD, can I have some change for a coke and can I go across the street? Here you go, SON.” Those words hurt. There was nothing inconsiderate in this conversation. It was a normal conversation. No reasonable person would have ever known how they stung. I realized there is certain finality in death; I would not say DAD or hear SON ever again. I made a silent commitment that day to try to never again hear those words from anyone else. Over the next few years with no one ever noticing I tried to never be present with a son and dad. My life revolved around a handful of places that were safe for me: golf course, school, home, pool hall, Aunt Barb’s to fish.

Church was soon added to the places I loved hanging around. I had been miraculously saved by watching a TV broadcast of Main Street Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, MS. My family did not attend church very often. One Sunday morning as a ten year old boy in a home all alone Jesus saved me. Honestly, I was on the fast track of discipleship. It was unusual how I loved studying the Word and going to church to hear preaching. Let me assure the sanctification process was slow but I was gobbling up the Word. My life was a mixture of golf, pool, fishing, church and a little school. Still silently I avoided FATHER/SON conversations.

Fast forward in time a few years. I was 14 years old and working through a call on my life to preach. My home church was having an event in which we were having a special prayer meeting. I asked my pastor if I could come to the prayer meeting and he invited me. We prayed for laborers, souls, resources and the speaker. When that prayer meeting was over my life changed forever. My 5th grade teacher, Mary King, came straight to me and before I could stand to my feet she cupped my cheeks with her hands and put her face to mine. She was standing and I was sitting and I was still taller than she was.  We were nose to nose and eye to eye. Ms. King was an old lady when I was born and was a tough teacher. I am sure she had to be near 80 at this time and I was afraid she was about to scold me as she had many times in her life. I will never forget what she said, “Dean, God has impressed upon my heart to tell you that God will be your Father if you will let Him. Son, you don’t have to carry around the hurt you are carrying. You have a Father and He is God.” How did she know? Had it been obvious I avoided certain places and conversations? Was she just so close to God she could see what others couldn’t see?

My life changed that very moment. God no longer would be just God. He was now my Father. How my life changed! From that moment, every Sunday I went to friends’ homes and ate Sunday lunch. There I was surrounded by sons, daughters and dads. Never again did I dread hearing the words, FATHER or SON. God is not an impersonal God who we can’t approach. He is our Father and we can approach Him boldly. What son is afraid to approach his father? Through the years there has been one chapter I read more than any other. It is my favorite chapter. Romans 8 contains every promise a believer needs. Right in the midst of all those promises is this verse, Romans 8:15, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry Abba, Father.” Thank you Jesus! We can call God our Father and we are His children.

Happy Father’s Day to all you dads. You guys are great. I am grateful for Mary King for she was the first to teach me every believer has a great Father.

 

THIS IS THE NEW NORMAL!

Bruce Jenner  set a world record in the decathlon at the 1976 Summer Olympics and was considered the world's greatest athlete.
Bruce Jenner set a world record in the decathlon at the 1976 Summer Olympics and was considered the world’s greatest athlete.

I have read a fair amount of material over the last week on Caitlyn/Bruce Jenner and his transformation from man to woman.  One cannot help but see the pictures of the Vanity Fair cover. The reaction from the Christian community has covered the spectrum. There are those who are quick to condemn anyone they can with the harshest tone. My main problem with this crowd is they seem to be way too happy God is going to judge the wicked. It is with glee they pronounce Jenner is the Antichrist and on his way to the fiery lake. In Romans 9:3 Paul teaches he would be cut off from Christ if it meant salvation for his fellow Jews. We shouldn’t take delight in anyone’s eternal damnation.

On the other end of the spectrum there is a large group of Christians that are trying to figure out how to minister to the LGBT community with the truth without being offensive. This group is in danger of being too tolerant.  I read one blog last week where it was discussed if Jenner should be called a woman or man, he or she. Many writers encourage us as believers to be kinder and more tender toward the LGBT community in order to share the truth with them in love. I Corinthians 13:1 says, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.” No debating the fact that whatever we say must be spoken in love. A few articles spoke of how Jenner desiring to be a woman would be offended if one were to refer to Jenner as “him.” Let that sink in, church leaders calling a person created a man a woman because of gender bending in order not to be offensive. 

Let’s consider the psyche of the LGBT community in America for a moment. To begin with, they are now as mainstream as anyone in America. Open homosexuals have been a part of the NBA and NFL. There are hundreds of openly gay entertainers today in America. They can adopt. They are in the Boy Scouts. They are in the military. There are gay fraternities and sororities in some universities. We have homosexual governmental leaders, news anchors and they permeate every form of media. In the Church in America we see homosexual clergy, singers and authors and after this June their marriages will be recognized across the United States of America. The only way the LGBT community could be made anymore welcome in America would be for the church to say God is wrong, sodomy is normal and we apologize for our centuries of sins against homosexuals. The church is the only holdout in America where homosexuality is not considered normal.

Back to Jenner and him being a her or her being a him or whatever. Many are focusing on his feelings and how to minister to him and people like him. My greater responsibility is to minister to the 40 or so youth that sit under my preaching on Sunday morning. While our kindness must always be visible as followers of Christ we owe it to the next generation to be clear on sin, immorality and demonic activity. Having read a lot encouraging us to be considerate of Jenner I ask has anyone considered how inconsiderate he has been to his children and grandchildren. This MAN has fathered six biological children.  His driver’s license has had “male” stamped on it for 65 years. He married a woman and had two children. He divorced, married another woman and had two more children. He divorced, married a third woman and had two more children. When will someone say Bruce Jenner cares more about himself than his children or grandchildren? For a man who says he felt like a woman he certainly knows how to do the one thing synonymous with manhood. The only way these children and grandchildren cannot be confused is if their minds are as warped as Jenner’s.

Imagine grandparent’s day at the local elementary school where a Jenner grandchild attends.

“Hey everyone, this is my grandmother. He, uh, she used to be my grandfather. She, uh, he was an Olympic gold medal winner for the United States when she was a he. Here is a picture of her when she was a he on the front of a box of Wheaties. My favorite memories of her are when he used to take me to watch the Dolphins play football.”

While this is taking place a pastor somewhere is encouraging folk to call him her and defends her hero status in the name of compassionate Christianity.

Welcome to the new normal.