First Baptist Church of Pelham hosts Alabama State Evangelism Conference

Published 1:02 pm Monday, February 12, 2024

By DONALD MOTTERN | Staff Writer

PELHAM – The First Baptist Church of Pelham served as host for the 2024 Alabama State Evangelism Conference over a two-day period that began on the evening of Sunday, Jan. 28 and continued the next morning on Monday, Jan. 29.

The annual conference, which is held at differing churches across the state each year, marked its third return to the First Baptist Church of Pelham and, as in year’s past, the event saw a large and attentive turnout that gathered to hear sermons and talks delivered by pastors and church members from across the state.

One familiar face and known voice that was missed at this year’s conference was that of Southern Baptist evangelist and preacher Junior Hill, who passed away earlier in the month on Wednesday, Jan. 3. The 87-year-old preacher from Hartselle had been a valued presence at the conference for many years and a video presentation displaying some of his more memorable preaching moments was shared at the event’s onset on Sunday evening.

“Junior Hill preached this conference a numerous number of times, and we thought it right to begin this conference by honoring his life,” State Missionary Daniel Wilson said. “He was a gentle spirit and a powerful preacher—he was an encourager to all of us and we wanted to pay tribute to what he means to our Alabama Baptist family.”

For a number of reasons, several of the listed speakers scheduled to take part at the conference were also absent from the annual gathering. Dr. Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, was meant to introduce the conference on Sunday night, but was unable to attend the conference due to a recent personal injury suffered in his home.

In his place, Wilson assured the crowd that Lance would make a full recovery from his back injury but the recovery process had left him unable to travel to the conference.

“I want to thank Pastor Davin Watkins and this wonderful staff at First Baptist Pelham,” Wilson said. “I’d like to thank Brett, the worship pastor here for all the work he has done here to make this conference possible. To the choir, the worship team and all the volunteers, thank you First Baptist Pelham for being such an awesome host and making this happen this weekend.”

Following introductions, praise and musically led worship, Dr. Jamie Dew of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and president of Leavell College, served as the conference’s first speaker.

“To be honest with you, for a very large period of my career evangelism conferences wouldn’t have touched me with 10-foot pole—I was a philosophy professor,” Dew said. “It all actually started for me with evangelism quite frankly. I came to faith at the age of 18 after drugs and alcohol and being arrested a couple of times and doing all kinds of hard-headed, knuckle-headed things. In between my junior and senior years in high school, the Lord Jesus got a hold of my life and radically and instantly turned everything.”

After spreading his faith and encountering the questions, objections and rejections from others, Dew eventually turned to apologetics, the religious discipline of defending religious doctrines through systematic argumentation and discourse, and philosophy in the search for answers to the questions he had trouble deciphering. Through all of it, Dew cited his dedication to evangelism as what spurred and continues to inspire him forward.

“I knew the night I came to faith that I was home in Christ, and I knew that I would spend the rest of my life doing this,” Dew said.

In his sermon, Dew read from 1 Corinthians 15. He discussed two seasons of doubt and struggle with his faith, including the first which took place when he went from looking for answers to others’ questions to realizing that he was the one with the questions, a realization that compelled him to study the big philosophical questions that bothered him most.

Following Dew, who spoke for spoke for roughly 45 minutes, Pastor Reginald Calvert of New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church in Bessemer took the stage and delivered a sermon that began with a reading from Ezekiel 37 that revolved around the human desire to understand and “figure out” God.

“How can we figure God out,” Calvert said. “I don’t really think we can. At our very best, what we have to do is figure God in and walk by faith and not by sight. Because he gives unusual assignments and we want everything to add up—we want everything to make sense—but it doesn’t make sense until we live life forward and look back and at that point we can see exactly what God was doing and how God always had his hand upon us.”

He likened the story of Ezekiel, and Ezekiel’s acknowledgement of not knowing the answers to God’s questions and subsequent acquiescence to God’s ultimate knowledge as a guiding example that others should follow in their daily lives.

“We have to learn how to place some things back into the hands of God,” Calvert said. “Somebody in here is working too hard—somebody in here is worrying too much—somebody in here is trying to make it happen. But, you’ve got to turn God’s business back over to God himself.”

Calvert served as the last long-form speaker during the opening evening and was followed by a closing prayer. Associate Executive Director Mike Jackson of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions introduced Monday’s portion of the conference, a departure from the planned schedule.

Charles Carter, who was scheduled to speak at the onset of the second day of the conference was unable to attend due his contracting of COVID-19, and was substituted in the morning’s lineup by Daven Watkins, senior pastor of FBC Pelham.

Watkins took his time to speak on being “Gospel grounded” and read from First Timothy Chapter 1. To open the mornings event and set the stage for the other speakers, Watkins encouraged all who listened to maintain their thankfulness and trust in God in the same way as Paul presents in scripture.

The additional speakers for Jan. 29’s portion included Dr. Matt Queen, who presented a conversation centered around “Getting to the gospel,” and sharing it with those who have not yet found faith.

“We’ve got to be willing to show people the hope that lies within us—Jesus Christ—whether they are interested in it or not,” Queen said. “Lost people who are away from God don’t want to hear about Jesus, but the question is not, ‘do they want to hear,’ the question is, ‘do you want to tell.’”

Queen encouraged those in the audience to share the Gospel and to continue to do so whenever and wherever possible. He cited that while not every sermon would result in someone coming to faith, without the attempt taking place there always exists no chance to successfully reach someone with the Gospel.

Queen went on to clarify that the rejections would far outnumber the alternative when practicing evangelism.

“Rejection is not failure and failure in evangelism is not when someone rejects, failure in evangelism is when you don’t evangelize,” Queen said. “Success in evangelism is actually doing it—sharing the gospel.”

Queen also reminded attendees that no one requires official training or clearance to spread the Gospel and practice evangelism.

“Friends, if you know enough of the Gospel to be saved by it, you know enough of the Gospel to share it,” Queen said.

The last long-form speaker during the conference at FBC Pelham was State Missionary Rob Jackson, who also focused on the need, definition and nature of evangelism.

“As ministers, as leaders, as church members and as Christians, sometimes we need to stop talking—stop focusing on the things of this Earth and of the things that are perishing and going away,” Jackson said. “I have been to churches, and so have you, that argue over the most trivial of things and we cannot reach people for Jesus Christ when we are arguing over the color of the carpet.”

Jackson preached on the need to focus less on the trivial and the current and more on the considered eternal and encouraged all in attendance to never procrastinate in their spreading of the Gospel.

“I pray that today we all have a commitment—personally and to go back to our churches—we (all) want to reach more in 2024,” Jackson said.