GO Georgia attendees get a clear picture of the mountain to climb and what’s at stake.
MACON — Speakers and session leaders at GO Georgia Aug. 17-18 didn’t skirt the challenges in reaching today’s culture with the gospel. Neither did they, though, leave attendees without tools for rising to those challenges.
Beginning Friday afternoon, hundreds of participants chose from 70 breakout sessions covering 14 ministry areas. Turning Point at Mabel White Baptist Church in Macon served as the home of GO Georgia.
John Hogue calls himself a “pew warmer” at First Baptist Church in Gordon. The term doesn’t quite fit, though. In addition to supporting his church from the pew, he also volunteers in leading the Royal Ambassador ministry to boys. Last year was his first to do so.
Last weekend Hogue, 69, wanted some more training.
“I’m here to get a little more insight on children’s ministry,” he said. “I’ve got two grandchildren, and that’s why I’m here. Last year I’d never attended an RA meeting in my whole life. But, someone asked me if I’d lead RAs and I said yes.”
Empowered to reach others
James Charles Chambless, chairman of deacons at Macedonia Baptist Church in Thomaston, agreed that the sessions he attended will be beneficial.
Chambless’ first session, taught by Georgia Baptist state missionary Sam Warner, focused on how churches could manage funds better. Quickly rattling off several concepts from that session, Chambless noted how better stewardship sets a church up for greater ministry.
His second session Friday night connected directly with his leadership role.
“I went to the Deacon’s Toolkit, led by Bryan Alexander. We talked about working with younger deacons and building them up to take leadership when they get older. Also, I feel deacons have lost the focus on prayer. We need to pray with people more when we talk to them at our churches.
“This can help us reach those families. We can find out what’s going on in their lives. Asking them lets you know you care and that you want to help. I’m taking those lessons back to my church.”
Where we dwell
First Baptist Jonesboro Pastor Mel Blackaby opened his Saturday morning general session reminding attendees how, in the past, civic leaders, pastors, and churches had a greated belief in prayer.
“There was a time when America believed its motto ‘In God We Trust,'” he said. “Well, I want you to understand that God’s presence is a place that you can dwell.”
Blackaby referenced Psalm 91:1 in trusting God’s work. But then he pointed out the difficulty that follows.
“Some will choose to draw close to God and some will choose to walk away. … In times of crisis we run to God for help; in times of ease we draw away.”
Those last words can refer to an individual or the Church itself. With its ReachingNextGen emphasis, the Georgia Baptist Mission Board has urged churches to completely rethink ministry practices toward Generation Z.
Should the GO Georgia audience not had a picture of those challenges, James Emery White cleared it up in Friday night’s general session. White, senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, spoke on the theme of “Restore.”
“I believe we’re living in one of the most pivotal times in history,” said White, noting times of crises marked by intense attacks both inside and outside the Church. “We’re at the end of an age and stand at the beginning of a new one.”
Expect changes we currently see to become more normalized, he stated. The center of the Christian church will move southward (“They will soon be the ones sending missionaries to us.”). The radical redefinition of marriage and family will continue. Even more, the very notion of what it means to be human will change.
“The most profound challenge is the culture itself,” he said. “There has been a Second Fall. In our world, most people live as if there is no higher power. This is a new and profound break with the Western culture. In our past true secularity was never at hand.”
White leads a congregation where 70 percent of the attendees were previously unchurched. There was no expectation of them just showing up. Today, all churches are going to have to rethink evangelism, he emphasized.
“Let me put this as clearly as I know how. This is a lost generation. They’re not simply living in and being shaped by a post-Christian culture or context, they don’t even have a memory of the gospel.”
Not a lost generation
The type of growth at his church has led White to some determinations.
“We’ve learned some things,” he pointed out. “The [American] church is going to have to become increasingly counter-cultural. We’re going to have to learn to balance an effective voice with a more evangelistic voice. We’re going to have to rethink evangelism so that it’s both process and event.”
In summary, churches have to look at their approaches to ministry in terms of strategy and methodology. Because, the same trends pointing to a generation shrugging off God also point to a generation with “a profound spiritual emptiness.” The effect is playing out in headlines where the value of life appears to have diminished. T
“This lost generation can be found,” White pronounced.
Looking past ‘what can’t be done’
Blackaby opened the final general session with the story of George Dantzig.
Before becoming known as a celebrated mathematician, Dantzig was a student at Berkeley. Late to a graduate class one day, he saw two math problems on the board. Thinking them homework, he went home and solved them, noting they were harder than usual.
Dantzig didn’t know his professor had placed the problems on the board as examples of “unsolvable” equations. However, the student had accomplished what his professors and others could not.
“He didn’t know it couldn’t be done,” said Blackaby. “Today many people place according to the limits placed upon by themselves. They experience life because they didn’t believe it could be done. They didn’t know there was more. Their limited knowledge of God has kept them from experiencing God’s purpose for their life.
“Refocus. There is power in the gospel to save.”