Interview: Dr. Bobby Welch, President of SBC

What is the role of a denominational leader?

According to Bobby Welch, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the main role of a leader is to stay in contact with local churches and members and to keep evangelism as the focus of the church.

Welch, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., is completing his first yearlong term as president of the nation’s largest non-Catholic denomination, and will begin his second term this week at the SBC’s annual meeting, in Nashville, Tenn.

At the center of Welch’s term last year was an effort to boost evangelism and baptism rates within the “plateauing” denomination. Under the theme, “Everyone Can!” Welch set off on a 50-state bus tour last year to tell “every Southern Baptist” that they can witness and reach the lost.

The Everyone Can! Kingdom challenge officially launches in October with a goal of witnessing, winning and baptizing one million in one year. There will also be a kick-off rally for the initiative this Wednesday.

The following are excerpts from an exclusive interview with Dr. Welch on June 10, 2005:

Your focus from the beginning of your presidency was on baptizing and reaching one million people. Was this successful?

Well of course the official launch has not yet begun and will actually start in October. This has been a preparation time. But so far, everything has been above expectation and I am optimistic for the effort.

What will be happening at this coming convention?

There will be a number of things going on in Nashville and one of the things is on Saturday, and this is called Crossover. This is a big effort and we worked very hard to get many people out [to Nashville] for that event.

As of today, I am told that 12,500 people signed up for Crossover, and although signing up and showing up are two different things, this will be a very big deal.

Many people in the middle Tennessee area are connected with Crossover, and we have mechanisms and churches out there fore people to move toward the ministry task.

This will give them about three months to make their final preparations for October, when we will be launching the [Everyone Can!] challenge, and the convention is all part of that challenge.

When did you first get the vision for this challenge?

The Lord put it on my heart for several years now since Southern Baptists were not baptizing as much as we could. This has been a huge concern of mine.

As likely you know, I originated the FAITH evangelism strategy because I had that same concern that we were not doing what we should be doing and were not keeping the main thing the main thing.

So when it became obvious that I might be a likely president for the convention, I began to pray and the Lord placed this approach in my heart. I also talked to a lot of people, and that’s where the 50-state bus tour came in. I relocated to Nashville for two months, and that was all part of that plan for this convention.

Is this the spiritual revival many Southern Baptists waited for?

I believe what it will require of Southern Baptists to witness, win, baptize and disciple a million, is the making of a great awakening. The prayer it will take, the humility it will take, and the forgiveness within the body it will take – these are what will bring us to that revival.

You cannot get to a million by doing business as usual. This goal will drive us to our knees, it will drive us to our streets, and it will drive us to depend on God more than we’ve ever depended on him before. Those are the essentials of a great awakening. The rest of it is just the markings of a great awakening.

It’s not just about the one million that counts, but what it takes to get to that million. That is what will make the awakening.

You see, people are already making huge sacrifices to get [to Nashville], and they are coming because they believe something God-glorifying is going to happen. That’s a step in the right direction.

My prayer is that when these people go home, they will go home passionately, concerned that everybody back home could catch what they caught. And if that’s the Holy Spirit, the folks back home will receive it.

How can someone maintain a passion for evangelism

Intentionality. Getting committed to do it. This morning, I was under the conviction about my lack of witnessing. I thought I have been witnessing because I witness everyday. But burdening me was that I did not bring anybody to pray in the last couple of weeks to receive the Lord. It’s really about having a longing to see people getting off the road to hell and on the road to heaven.

I also believe with all of my heart that evangelism really has an environmental aspect. If you’re in an environment where evangelism is alive, you will find yourself far more inclined to have a passion for evangelism.

Another thing that is important is that you lose your passion for evangelism slowly – not overnight. But the good news is that you can get it back in an instant. You just have to get around where it’s happening.

How did you come to receive Christ? Were you born into the Southern Baptists tradition?

I followed a girl to church when I was 16, and I saw in her and her friends’ lives something I did not see in my life and in my friends’ lives. She told me that was Christ, and invited me to go to church. I waited and waited and waited, and did go, and I heard the gospel, and I wanted to know more. Immediately, the Lord brought me in contact with a person who knew how to share the gospel comprehensively, and because he was able to clearly lead me through that and show me what I needed to do, I did it. The nine friends I was with did not go in that direction, and they all died a violent and miserable death.

Literally?

Yes, in fact, the last of those friends – my best friend at that time – just died in November the state penitentiary in Missouri. He had murdered his wife and was serving the 21st year of a lifelong prison term. So that’s the kind of guys I grew up with. But I had a dynamic encounter with Christ.

Then when I went off to college, and I got away from the Lord. What happened next was I went to Vietnam. I got shot there, and in that moment, I knew I was going to meet the Lord, and I was ashamed for how I had been living.

Now I’d never drunk whiskey, never had any drugs, and never ran-around on my wife, but I was sorry for being a good-for-nothing compromising Christian. And at that moment, I made a recommitment of my life to Christ believing I only had seconds to live. And God stepped in and performed about four miracles that saved my life.

Here is where I am. Having had those two dynamic encounters with the raw gospel and with the power of God, there is no way anybody could make me believe that a stumbling drunk on the road could not be touched by the gospel of Christ. Nobody will ever make me believe that a taxi driver can’t be saved, driving down a highway. I’ve already had that encounter, and I didn’t get it by going to Sunday School, by filling out a booklet, or by listening to CDs. I woke up and I met the gospel and the power of God. And that’s why I believe in what I call “intentional evangelism.”

How would you approach people in intentional evangelism?

I just let them talk, and at the end I’ll ask them something like, “in your personal opinion, what do you think it takes to get to heaven?” They’ll go from there, and after that I’ll tell them, “here is what I think, and here is what the Bible says.”

It’s amazing how many of the people say, “Wow, I’ve never even heard of that before.”

Do you have any examples or stories?

Three weeks ago, for the second time in the last five years, an attendant on the airplane, a lady, got down on her knees, folded her hands about her head like a little girl praying beside her bed, and prayed on that airplane. Can you imagine that? That’s just the dynamic of the Holy Spirit of the gospel.

Now, if the woman were to have said, “I don’t really care for that,” then I don’t try to cram it down her throat because maybe the Lord is just not working in her life right now.

So I’m just here having a great time with people who are looking for me. I don’t bother people, and I almost never talk to people who don’t want to talk about the Lord because I don’t have to -- there are too many waiting for somebody to come.

So many times, they paint us as people who are confrontational, and that’s simply not true.

What about denominations working together to reach the lost?

I think if that will happen, who we’d work together with is the Holy Spirit. The big challenge for Southern Baptists is working together within us. We have to start within the convention, and that’s the whole deal – it’s about having a unity of purpose.

What’s the greatest challenge to this unity and to reaching out as Southern Baptists?

Distraction. I think we’re too easily distracted, and now in this modern world I thing too many people are continually searching for a drive-through approach and a silver bullet that does it all with one easy dose. It just doesn’t happen like that. You need to start with the individuals and people, and you need to be intentional in reaching those people.

Is this the same for denominational leaders?

That’s the same for every level. If denominational leaders stay in contact with local churches, and members stay in contact with local churches, they will never lose hold of the target. But it’s so easy to become a leader of machinery or of a band and forget about why the Lord died.

Dr. Bobby H. Welch is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention and co-pastor of First Baptist Daytona Beach, where he served since 1974. He served in numerous places of leadership and service through the SBC, including the vice president of Southern Baptist Convention, President of the Florida Baptist Convention and a Trustee for LifeWay.

He received a B.S from Jacksonville State University in Alabama, a Master of Theology from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.D. H.C. from the Palm Beach Atlantic College.

Before leaving the U.S. Army he received the rank of Captain. He had become a Paratrooper, Ranger, Jungle Expert, and Green Beret. He received the Bronze Star with "V" Device for bravery, Purple Heart, Air Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge and other decorations.

As a recon platoon leader in Vietnam he was shot and given up for dead, at which time God miraculously intervened in a life changing way that resulted in his call to the ministry. He is one of the most heard Southern Baptist “God and Country” speakers.

He and his wife Maudellen have two married children, Matthew, Haylee and 4 grandchildren. *

*Information for biography provided by First Baptist Daytona Beach.