By Sharon Mager
BALTIMORE, Md. – During a recent whirlwind, two-day visit to Baltimore, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president, Johnny Hunt, told Baltimore church planters, “if Christians don’t reach the cities, we won’t reach America.”
Hunt came to Baltimore to see first-hand the work of “Embrace Baltimore,” one of the SBC’s “Strategic Focus Cities” initiatives – a cooperative effort by the Baltimore Association, the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D) and the North American Mission Board to foster evangelism and church planting.
During his two days in Baltimore, Hunt, pastor of First Church, Woodstock, Ga., toured the city, met with church planters and directors of missions, preached a one-night revival service at a local African-American church, and dined with Embrace Baltimore and BCM/D staff and Baltimore pastors and their wives.
“Time is short and we must engage the culture now,” Hunt told the group. “I desire to lead First Church-Woodstock and influence other churches to become engaged in your great city. I’ll be challenging my church’s missions staff to really seek to be engaged at a level where we could really make a difference.”
Hunt spent much of his time in Baltimore with church planters, listening as the young men described their visions. Hunt also toured the neighborhoods the planters want to reach for Christ.
“Dr. Hunt was very encouraging,” said Tally Wilgis, lead pastor of Captivate Church in Towson, Md. Captivate Church is a new plant Wilgis plans to launch in September. “He’s the real deal. When you talk to Dr. Hunt, he’s not pretentious. He’s a pastor’s pastor.”
Joel Rainey, Mid-Maryland director of missions, called Hunt’s message and tone “refreshing.”
“While he stands unapologetically on the authority of Scripture, he made it clear to our guys in the field that he is not interested in narrowing the parameters of cooperation. His responses to questions from church planters were candid, transparent and full of passion regarding the future of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Rainey said.
Rainey said Hunt also made it clear to young church planting leaders that “walking away” because they sometimes disagree is not the way to generate the kind of change they want to see.
“He knows there’s tough terrain within the denomination and he responded frankly to the questions we asked him,” said Aaron Pankey, pastor of Infinity Church in Laurel, Md. Pankey plans to launch a second church in Baltimore in September.
Pankey said he asked Hunt about recent articles in USA Today and The Christian Science Monitor about the predicted collapse – by secular media – of the evangelical church in the next 10 years.
“Dr. Hunt’s response was that the word ‘evangelize’ means spreading the good news and as long as the church continues to share the good news, there is no threat to the evangelical church dying. He said church planters are a cause of celebration,” Pankey said.
“We are Christ’s church,” Hunt told the group. “As long as there is a prophet proclaiming Christ, there will be evangelical Christianity. Don’t buy into the surveys and polls out there, but just be faithful to what God has called us to. As church planters, you are the future of Christianity in our country.”
Hunt preached a one-night revival at one of Baltimore’s leading African-American congregations, Colonial Church. Preaching from I Kings 17, Hunt told listeners the place Christians must be is in God’s “there” – the place God tells you to be. Hunt explained “there” is the place of God’s purpose, a place of God’s power and a place of dependence (on God).
“I’ve heard young seminary students say, ‘I tell you one thing, I’m not going to an established Baptist church and fight through all that tradition. I’m going to start a church.’”
“That’s not your call!” Hunt said. “You don’t make the decision as to where you are going. We’re reporting for duty. Last time I checked, He’s Lord. I surrender. He gives the orders and I need to serve exactly where He sends me.
“Men wonder why they never feel God’s power or see any evidence of His working and it’s because they’re out of His purpose and not in His will. Sometimes, the place of power and dependency is a place of dryness. Some who go through difficult times are right smack dab in the will of God,” said Hunt.
Fellow Southern Baptist pastors joining Hunt in Baltimore for the two-day “Capture the Vision” tour were Ken Lassiter and Jim Law, First Church, Woodstock, Ga.; Keith Kluthe, First Church, Danville, Ark.; Bill Morgan and George McRae, First Church-Concord, Knoxville, Tenn.; Jim Locke and Brian Barlow, Hillcrest Church, Pensacola, Fla.; Brian Foster, Burnt Hickory Church, Powder Springs, Ga.; Cliff Smith, First Church, Daytona Beach, Fla.; Chuck Tanner and Ken McCoy, Baptist Church, Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Patricia Marder, Calvary Church, Clearwater, Fla.
Embrace Baltimore offers “Capture the Vision” tours designed to give attendees the overall vision and needs of Embrace Baltimore, and how their churches can participate Upcoming “Capture the Vision” tours in Baltimore are May 18-20, July 20-22, Aug. 17-19, Sept. 14-16 and Oct. 12-14. For more information, contact Jaimee Lafave, Embrace Baltimore director of mobilization, at email@example.com.
Sharon Mager is the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware’s staff correspondent for BaptistLIFE.