Welch calls for ‘more’ in presidential address
GREENSBORO, N.C. (BP)—In a sermon focused on witnessing, baptizing and Cooperative Program missions, Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch concluded his two years of service June 14 at the SBC’s annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C.
Preaching from the John 6:1-14 account of the young boy whose five loaves and two fishes ultimately fed 5,000 people, Welch often repeated the word “more.”
After reading the passage aloud, Welch said Jesus looked at the crowd and wanted more souls to save.
“Isn’t it a wonderful thought that Jesus always has an eye for the crowd?” Welch asked. “He’s looking out for the multitude.”
Revealing his concern that Southern Baptists aren’t looking at the multitudes of non-Christians with the same Christlike compassion because of a waning confidence in the soul-saving power of God, Welch said, “We must rediscover our confidence in the power of God’s Gospel to immediately and radically convert and change anybody, anytime, at any place when they will trust Jesus.”
Welch, who recently announced his upcoming retirement from his 32-year pastorate at First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., said some Southern Baptists demonstrate a flagging confidence in God’s ability to transform someone’s life instantly by thinking that lost people “might get more fully converted” if they came to a series of classes and filled in all the blanks in a workbook over a period of several weeks.
“But that is not true,” Welch said. While affirming all efforts to bring people to Christ, he said the prevalence of such emphases on convoluted salvation processes in SBC churches is evidence “we somehow have become disconnected from the belief and confidence in our heart that God can bring it all on at one moment at one time at one place -– the power of the Gospel to change a soul.”
Since Jesus had asked the disciples about food for the crowd, Welch said that Jesus was looking for more from Christians.
“We’ve got to do more going, and we absolutely have to do more giving,” he said.
Reflecting on a conversation he’d had with one of the International Mission Board’s regional leaders overseas, Welch recounted his asking the leader what was the most difficult aspect of serving God halfway around the world.
“‘The hardest part by far [is to] see the multitudes of millions out there without the Gospel, we see people groups beyond number almost, and we see multiplied millions dying without Jesus, to look at what we have, the personnel, the provision and the money, and realize it’s not near enough,’” Welch recounted. “‘The hardest part [is] having to say, This group does not get Jesus now. This million will not hear the Gospel. This country will not know about our Lord. The hardest part, Brother, Bobby, is saying no to the multiplied millions of lost who are ready to say yes to Jesus.’
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am telling you this today: That ought not be true. That should not be so,” Welch said. “Everybody ought to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Whatever it takes in our giving and in our going we must do it without any more delay. We must,” Welch pleaded.
Noting he wasn’t picking up on any contemporary theme, Welch said the themes of giving and going have been “running through my life for 40 years.
“I didn’t get up a message. I’m a man that God got up and sent here to deliver a message.
“The Baptists’ best bounce for their Baptist buck is through C.P. [the Cooperative Program],” Welch said. “With the Cooperative Program, everyone can.
“Your dollar works seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, all around the world, non-stop; even when you’re snoring, asleep, it’s still working.”
Reflecting on recent issues regarding the Cooperative Program, Welch said, “Not one single, solitary soul has said, ‘Less.’ … All have agreed we ought to do more. And we should do more. And we can do more. And we will do more. For the sake of souls and the glory of God, more, more, more,” Welch said amid a rising tide of applause.
When Jesus asked for food to feed the thousands, one disciple said, “There is a lad, here,” said Welch, reading verse 9, “which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?
“You looked at the Lord. Christ wanted more. Look at the lad. The child had more. It wasn’t easy to recognize immediately, but he had more,” Welch said.
While Christ is calling for a lot, the disciples are majoring on a little, he continued. “If you’d listen long enough, probably somebody would’ve said, ‘Our situation is different here, Lord. You don’t know how tough it is. We just got so little. We’re in a small place, small town, small church, small pews, small Bible -- small print.
“It’s amazing how we disciples want to drag the crowd off to a little. But Jesus, here, He’s calling for a lot. Isn’t that wonderful? But the disciples are emphasizing a little. And all the while all God needed was a lad. Just a lad. Just a lad,” Welch added.
Welch said that a few months ago he’d read this verse about a lad in the early morning and almost got thrown out of his own home by Maudellen, his wife.
“I said, ‘Hallelujah,’” Welch recalled, screaming. “There’s a lad, here! There’s a lad, here! Praise God! There is a lad, here! O, what dynamic declaration of God. There is a lad, here!
“Wonder where all the men were?” Welch asked. “There were 5,000 of them hanging out there.”
Referencing the politics associated with church and denominational life, Welch asked, “I wonder if they were busy arranging their seats to see who could sit at the leadership table quicker? I wonder if they were fighting to keep [others] out of the seats at the leadership table?
“I want to tell you ladies and gentlemen, you can fool around, you men and women, and God’ll turn it over to a lad if you aren’t careful.
“There is a lad, here. That’s what made the lad handy. He was paying attention. He’s here. He’s not preoccupied,” Welch said.
Pastors and church members alike often face shrinking circumstances, said Welch said, until they say, “Dear God, I am only one. I am only one. And look at all I don’t have.”
Referencing the lad who was available to God, Welch said, referencing the themes of his SBC presidency, “But if you’re there –- Everyone Can, and you could be it” in the face of impossible expectations.
One such impossible expectation is trying to baptize 1 million people in one year, Welch intimated, recounting that various leaders across the SBC had attempted to talk him out of such a high, if not impossible goal.
“‘You’ve lost your mind. Why would you call for a million baptisms?’” Welch said.
“I wish there was a reporter here who had enough guts to put on the front page of their paper that Welch guarantees 1 million baptisms in 12 months,” he said.
“You say that’s pretty tall talkin’. Hang on. We’re going to do it.”
“You say, ‘You don’t know that.’
“Well, of course I know that. Why, I wouldn’t make a fool out of myself in a crowd like this to say it if I didn’t know it.
“We will baptize a million in a year. I don’t know if it’ll be this year. We could baptize a million this year if you’d get up and get out of here and go to work,” Welch said as the crowd applauded and whistled.
Comparing 1 million baptisms to the high jump bar at a track and field event, Welch said, “That’s a pretty high jump.”
Welch said if Southern Baptists find themselves at a place where the high jump bar is being lowered, then “you ain’t at a high jump contest, friend. You’re at a limbo contest. And some of y’all are practicing limbo when you oughta back up and get a run and jump at a high bar.”
A track and field coach doesn’t talk to the high bar or mentor it or have conferences for high bars, Welch said.
“You know why the high bar exists? Just one reason -- to draw out of the jumper his or her best,” Welch said.
“That’s what these two years have been about,” Welch said, referring to his time as SBC president and his “‘Everyone Can!’ Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism.”
Citing numerous testimonies of people who are witnessing more than they ever have before, Welch said one person told him: “‘We just broke the world’s record in baptisms, Brother Bobby -– three!’ But we just started the church last week and we’ll do better.’ That was a pretty high bar.”
Urging his listeners not to reveal their “spiritual ignorance” by thinking three baptisms are no big deal, Welch said, “I guarantee you that if one of those was your granddaughter, if one of those three was your daddy, that’d be a big deal. You’d say, ‘Those folks know how to jump.’”
Welch said he’d been wondering about Southern Baptists and that if “we’d spend less time on these websites that we’d be able to spend more time witnessing?
“Do you think if we spent less time blogging we might have more time to do some baptizing?
“Do you think if we spent less time fumbling around with those computers we might have more converts?”
Welch advised the crowd not to gloat that he’s chiding “them bloggin’ boys. Why, you run around with that wireless telephone up in your ear all day long like a pacifier.
“You think if we’d spend less time with those wireless telephones and more time on the street we wouldn’t win more people to Jesus?”
There are two reasons Southern Baptists need to “jump so high” for 1 million baptisms: “One is because we’ve been asleep so long. Number two, if you put up a God-sized emphasis, it’ll take a God-sized jump to make it. And you won’t get there without God. And that’s exactly where we ought to be,” Welch said.
Just as the lad had more than he knew he had, Southern Baptists also have more than they know, Welch said.
“The disciples had more than they could imagine. The crowd had more than they could contain,” he said. “And before it was over, the world all around them that they knew heard more about the work of God than they’d ever heard before, because Christ wanted more, and the child had more.”
Citing the sermon he preached at last year’s annual SBC meeting in Nashville, Welch recalled the dead frog he had held up as an illustration of what could happen to Christians who stray from where God commands them to be.
He said a few weeks after that convention, he received in the mail another dead frog in a freezer bag. Also enclosed was a handwritten note that said: “‘This frog’s name is Fred. He left the deep, hopped in the street and now he’s dead.’ … Signed, ‘Adrian and Joyce Rogers. We love you.’
“You know your preachin’ is in trouble when Adrian and Joyce Rogers are out scrapin’ frogs up off the highway tryin’ to help you,” Welch said.
Not all frogs leave the deep. “Some of them stay there,” said Welch, who stepped to a side table, picked up a large, live bullfrog and presented him to the crowd, long, leaping legs dangling.
“I’m tellin’ you, this booger here is a deep water doer,” he said. “This ol’ boy hangs out in the deep.”
Emphasizing that even though the lad was important but that a crowd can do much more, Welch, with the use of some creative sound effects first had the frog croak, and then it was later joined by the croaking of dozens of other frogs.
“You see the difference in one and a ‘Unity of Purpose’?” asked Welch. “That’s why this convention needs to come together on the main thing.”
Advising Southern Baptists to ignore distractions, Welch said, “Let me tell you the great fear you’ve got as a convention. The fear that one day when we all die, God almighty is gonna call us all up together … and cause us to answer for our collective sin of squandering our opportunity as a convention. That’s what we need to fear.”
Welch said one of the SBC’s “unparalled strengths is its size and its potential because of its size.”
He said generation after generation will die before anyone will ever “see any organism or organization that has the capability and potential to change a whole world for Christ like the Southern Baptist Convention. It doesn’t exist. This is it.
“God help you older guys if you fold your hands and say, ‘Well, I did what I could. Let’s see what they can do with it.’
“God help you younger bunch if you jump ship and run and leave the convention that has done so much for you, when you ought to be doing so much for the Kingdom.”
Emphasizing the generational bookends of the SBC, Welch asked if everyone knew what had happened to them earlier in the service.
Welch referred to when Cliff Barrows -– who was on hand to address the convention in response to the unveiling of the Billy Graham statue -– also led the crowd in singing an old-time hymn of faith, “How Great Thou Art.”
Right after that, the Christian rock group Casting Crowns “sprung onto the stage, with the lights blinking and the guitars roaring. And every one of you hung in here. And you lived through it. And God was glorified,” Welch said amid rising applause.
“So, I’d like to issue a warning. You older ones, you leave and you’ll be sorry. You younger ones, you leave and you’re gonna show your ignorance, because you’ll never have another opportunity to help and lead and be a part of anything like this to change the entire world,” Welch said.
“There is a lad, here, and the lad heard that. Can you see the lad? Can you see him? And he stepped out. And he moved forward. I can just hear a woman in the crowd: ‘Oooo, where is that boy’s mother?’ I can hear another one say, ‘Yes, and look how dirty his hands are.’
“And then I can hear a man say, ‘Where you going?’ Another man grabs him by his coattail, says, ‘Wait just a minute son. Who are you? What do you think you are doing?’ And the little boy tugs loose, and he looks over his shoulder, with this stinking little dried up fish and that crumbling up bread, those dirty hands and unseemly outfit, and says, ‘I may be it. I may be it.’
“And he starts creeping forward. And just then, he saw Jesus, with that overwhelming, infectious, come-to-Me smile. And Jesus reached out His hands, and the little boy caught it. And His pace picked up. And he laid the fish and bread in Jesus’ hands. And then the miracle started as Jesus looked at him and nodded in the affirmative. And the little boy’s eyes sprung open.
“‘I am it! I really am it!’” said Welch, speaking for the lad. “‘I’m it. I may not look like much, and I may not have much. Bless God, this is Jesus calling, and I’m not missing it. I’m coming with what I’ve got, where I am, and I’m doing it now -– because everyone can, and I think I’m it.’
“That’s all that needs to be decided by this convention. The rest is only a distraction. Everyone can, and you’re it. God help you and God help us not to mess this up with this great opportunity of ours,” Welch said.
Calling Maudellen, his wife, to come stand with him, Welch said when she arrived, “Maudellen and I want to thank you from the bottom of our heart for the high and holy privilege to just be one of you … and to get to hang out with you.
“I promise you this. I’m not retiring [from the pastorate] for no good reason. This convention is worth the best of the rest of all of our lives. And going and giving for the sake of lost souls is, too. And I commit myself to that end tonight here. And I pray you will too. … God bless you, God bless you,” said Welch, as he and Maudellen turned toward their seats amid a standing ovation.