FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)--Matthew 4:18 details the initial encounter between Jesus and the brothers Simon (Peter) and Andrew by the Sea of Galilee. The two fishermen were casting their nets into the water when Jesus approached them and invited them to follow Him, promising to make His first two disciples "fishers of men." The Bible records that they immediately left their nets and followed Him.
Centuries later on the other side of the globe two young men, Roy Fish and Malcolm McDow, also heard and accepted a like call from their Savior. Both men accepted Christ as teenagers and immediately began sharing the Gospel with all who would listen. They left their nets and set out on missions that would lead them to become Southern Baptist icons of evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
Fish has taught evangelism at Southwestern for 38 years and occupies the L.R. Scarborough Chair of Evangelism. McDow has served the seminary for 21 years and occupies the George W. Truett Chair of Ministry. While these two popular teachers have kept their students rapt attention by their special teaching skills in the classroom, their timely messages in churches and evangelistic conferences have inspired their audiences to greater evangelistic efforts and have affirmed to Southern Baptists across the nation that these spiritual giants not only "talk the talk" of evangelism within the hallowed walls of the largest evangelical seminary in the world, but they also "walk the walk" by presenting the plan of salvation to all who will listen wherever they travel.
Their timely example encourages such pastors as Albuquerque minister Larry Miller who has been "disappointed at the lack of commitment to personal evangelism by so many leaders in Baptist churches in recent years. At the seminary we were taught both church and personal evangelism. Today, sadly, many pastors feel their role is to equip the saints, rather than lead by example. Thank God for teachers like Fish and McDow who point their students to higher roads of service!"
In Luke 6:40 Jesus says, "A student is not above his teacher; but every student who is well trained will be like his teacher." The implication is that water seeps to its own level. It is impossible to lead others to greater levels of spiritual maturity than we model through our personal examples. Fish and McDow have become living examples for their students and all whose lives they touch.
Jack Graham, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church, says this about Fish: " Dr. Roy Fish was, to me, like gasoline on the fires of evangelism. His compassionate heart, scholarly mind and clear focus has inspired thousands of seminarians and his legacy lives in the ministries of Southern Baptists across the globe. I will be forever grateful for his influence upon my life."
Carl Lane, Southwestern trustee from Louisiana, said of McDow: "I learned from this man that the purpose of the church is evangelism, and that everything else is function. His passion became my passion!" Scott Hobbs, an Indiana pastor who received his Ph.D. from Southwestern after studying under both men, said, "Both of these men inspired me to make evangelism the priority of my ministry. They challenged me to deepen my understanding and commitment to reaching the lost for Christ. Because of the influence of these two godly men, my ministry will always be marked by a high commitment to evangelism."
Trustee Ted Stone made a motion that the seminary make the teaching and practice of evangelism the number one priority. It passed unanimously at the October 2002 meeting. The trustee board appointed Stone to serve with fellow trustees Denny Autrey and David Galvan as an advisory committee to the administration to determine how this emphasis might best be achieved. At a recent meeting the committee decided to await the coming of a new seminary president before proceeding with the implementation of Stone's motion.
Eddie Miller, a director of missions from Nevada and second-term trustee at Southwestern, in praising the purpose of the motion, said in a recent interview, "Without a heart of evangelism, persons in ministry tend to work toward good goals, have great plans, build wonderful programs, and accomplish nothing. The enemy is trying to tell us that evangelism is passe, that the work of the church is to build intelligent disciples who know stuff. That is almost right. But it is the power of the Gospel that saves, not our ability, intellect or programs!"
According to Fish, "B.H. Carroll started Southwestern with the idea of having classes in evangelism. No seminary in the world, as far as we can tell, had ever conducted classes in evangelism. The first classes in evangelism ever taught in a theological seminary were taught here at Southwestern. And that was a part of the vision of Dr. Carroll when he started this seminary."
The vision of Carroll continues to have tremendous Kingdom implications. More than 40 percent of seminary-trained church staff personnel in the Southern Baptist Convention and more than 50 percent of missionaries appointed by the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board have studied at the Fort Worth seminary. Last year there were 395,930 baptisms recorded in Southern Baptist churches in the United States, and 395,773 additional baptisms were reported in Southern Baptist-related outreach in other lands. There was a baptism every 40 seconds.
"Although Southwestern has always been in the forefront of evangelism throughout the school's history," McDow remarked, "with this renewed emphasis on evangelism, we are entering a bold new adventure."
Fish and McDow, two modern-day disciples of the Lord, have modeled with their lives what it means to carry out the commission of Jesus to "make disciples of all the nations." They have reached millions of people through the lives of those they have touched in the classroom and elsewhere. They have truly touched the world and impacted eternity.
By Philip Barber