Torch, Fall 1978

In considering the topic of evangelism, discussion inevitably comes around to the pastor's role in evangelism in the local church . To gain the viewpoint of a pastor, TORCH talked with Rev. David Jeremiah, pastor of the Blackhawk Baptist Church in Ft. Wayne, Indiana . TORCH: Can you begin by telling us about how the church has grown and to what you would attribute the growth? JEREMIAH: "In the past nine years we have grown a little over 100 per year. The church started with seven families , and today we have a Sunday School that averages considerably over 1,000 and a morning worship service that runs in excess of 1,100. I would certainly attribute a large part of that growth to the discipleship of believers who have been won through the ministry of evangelism." TORCH: How did evangelism become such a vital part of your minisbJJ? JEREMIAH: "I guess, like a lot of pastors, I came out of seminary thinking that if I could just get behind that pulpit and preach, then men and women would come to hear and ultimately, in some mysterious way, they would get saved and the church would grow. "I remember the day when I was seated in my study and considered the options that were open to us if our church were to grow. One option was transfer growth. By that I mean growth resulting from people from other churches coming to ours. Then I thought of a church across town-a notable church in our fellowship -and realized that no one would come to a little group like ours as long as a church like that was available. Another option was natural growth-growth simply from the babies born into the families already attending. But I wasn't sure I was ready to wait that long for growth to take place! "As I began to read the Word I realized the only way a church could grow in God's way was for there to be spiritual multiplication. The thought struck me that though I had been through college and seminary, both very good schools, and though I had taken many courses in evangelism, I was unprepared to go out and effectively lead people to Christ Isaid to the Lord: 'If You can't allow me the joy of being a soul winner in the truest sense of the word, then I ought to get out of the ministry, because I don't want to spend my life trying to cover up my ineffectiveness in this area'. "I was also aware of the fact that I could not teach somebody else what I didn't know. I committed myself that day to become what I wanted my people to become. It was not a week from that point that God gave me the first soul as a pastor-even through my stumbling presentation of the Gospel." TORCH: So you see an important part of the pastor's role to be setting the example/or his people? JEREMIAH: "Without question. I am convinced of the fact that if I had not come to the place where I was personally involved in evangelism, there would not be people in our church today who are personally involved in evangelism. The pastor, I believe, has to be the leader. He has to go ahead of his people. It is our job to train, not just to teach-and there is a difference. As trainers we must teach our people what we ourselves have internalized. By his own example, as Paul said to Timothy, the pastor must do the work of an evangelist and be involved in sharing the truth of God's Word." TORCH: What happened after your initial, personal commitment to evangelism? JEREMIAH: "I began about eight years ago by training one man and then, in tum, he and I trained four others.Todaywe have about 80 to 85 people involved in our evangelism training program who are faithful week in and week out, going out to share the Gospel. But it didn't happen easily or quickly. We selectively chose people and trained them over a period of eight years." TORCH: Is there any particular program you follow In your training? JEREMIAH: "We are involved almost exclusively in the Coral Ridge program, 'Evangelism Explosion,' and we continue to see the Lord using this approach in the lives of our people." TORCH: What role do those recently saved have In evangelism In your church? JEREMIAH:"We've discovered that the new converts are the best soul winners because they can still remember what it was like to be lost. They're excited about going out to share their faith. So we encourage them as soon as possible to get in 11 'Evangelism Explosion.' We have many people who are won to Christ in one cycle and become trainers or trainees in the next cycle as we go through the evangelism program again. "Let me give you just one illustration of a man I led to the Lord who has been involved in this program. His name is Gene McCoy. He's probably one of the biggest men I've ever met-6'9" and he weighs about 340 pounds. He had been a Roman Catholic all of his life until one of his friends invited him to this church. I later went to his home with two other people to share the Gospel. He had many deep questions about the truth, but was not ready to make a commitment to Christ. However, he began to come to church Sunday morning and evening and even to prayer meeting. He heard the Gospel over and over again. I would often watch him from the pulpit and see him struggling with his decision during the invitation. "One Wednesday night I saw him walk in and Itold him Iwanted to talk to him. I brought him in my office and said, 'Gene, you know you've been waiting a long time and you've heard the Gospel for a number of months. Don't you think it's time you got this matter settled?' His reply was simply, 'Pastor, I really am ready.' Together we got down on our knees and that night Gene McCoy opened his heart to receive Jesus Christ. "Several months after that, on a Thursday, Iwas home with the flu and wasn't able to attend visitation. At 10:30 my phone rang and it was Gene. He said, 'Pastor, I know you're not feeling well, but I didn't think you would mind if I called to tell you that I just had the joy of leading my first soul to Jesus Christ.' A young lady had come to know Christ as her personal Savior through Gene's witness. "I guess I should share this sidelight. She came forward in the service the next Sunday and when I saw her in the hallway I introduced myself and told her Iwas her spiritual grandfather. She looked at me quite unknowingly, so I explained to her that it had been just a little over a year ago that I had had the joy of leading Gene to Christ. I don't know how you can compare the joys of the pastorate, but that certainly has to be one of the greatest! It is exciting to see your people catching hold of this truth and going out to do the job to which God has called all of us."