Starting with prayer ‘vital’ to leading gospel-centered life, church

Starting with prayer ‘vital’ to leading gospel-centered life, church

By Jessica Ingram
The Alabama Baptist

In many churches, evangelism and outreach is visiting those who visit the church. But according to Vance Pitman, pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas, that’s missing the mark — that’s “in-reach.”

“The church isn’t the goal,” he said during the recent Engage 24 workshop. “The city is.”

On Sept. 17–18, more than 160 church leaders from four states gathered at First Baptist Church, Trussville, in Birmingham Baptist Association, for the Engage 24 evangelism workshop hosted by the North American Mission Board (NAMB).

Engage 24 exists to help church leaders learn how to mobilize their church members and how to see the gospel spread in their communities and around the world. Taught by leading pastors from around the country, the Engage 24 workshops provide leaders of large and small churches with the resources to impact the area around them with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Evangelism is much more than preaching the gospel from the pulpit on Sundays, the pastors emphasized.

Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Georgia, and the new senior vice president of evangelism and leadership at NAMB, stressed the importance of community engagement and being intentional about interacting with unbelievers.

“I’ve found that the longer I’m a part of God’s family, it seems the further removed I am from those Christ died for,” Hunt said. “Jesus didn’t just let His light shine. He shared. He preached the Kingdom and all His disciples did as well.”

Christians should use their jobs, their skills and their passions to find niches in the community where they can share the good news of Jesus.

“A gospel-centered church is not one where the pastor simply preaches the gospel, but one in which the entire church shares the gospel,” said John Meador, pastor of First Baptist Church, Euless, Texas. “At some point I realized that I was not just called to pastor a church but to pastor a community.”

Engaging in the local community is key to advancing the gospel, said Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church, Pensacola, Florida. “If you’re going to advance the gospel, you’ve got to get to the place where you interact with the world,” he said.

On top of community engagement, the speakers also stressed the necessity for renewed passion for prayer in seeing unbelievers come to faith in Christ.

“If you don’t pray you will be lifeless and powerless,” Pitman said. “We must establish a house of prayer. If we want to see souls won to Christ, it will not happen apart from prayer.”

Hunt agrees with this statement. “We only go into the streets that we have covered in prayer first,” he said.

Reading from 1 Timothy 2:1–8, Pitman explained how the passage embodies the entire mission of the gospel and the importance of prayer in that mission. “Look at how the passage starts,” he said. “‘First of all … pray.’” He explained that as pastors and leaders, they must first cultivate the field with prayer, sow the seed of the gospel, then trust the Lord for a harvest. Evangelism is a “supernatural work of God in response to the cries of His people,” Pitman said.

He noted that in many churches prayer has lost priority. “We have (made) prayer in the life of our churches moments of transition when we move people on and off of the stage,” he said.

It isn’t people who advance the gospel, said Tim Dowdy, pastor of First Baptist Church, Eagle’s Landing, in McDonough, Georgia. “God doesn’t need us, but He includes us.”

‘Favor of God’

According to Traylor, it is the favor of God that advances the gospel. “The prayers of God’s people advance the gospel,” he said. “You can do more in a minute with the favor of God than in a lifetime without it.”

Statistics support the importance of prayer in evangelism. Referencing a recent survey of Southern Baptist churches across the United States, Joel Sutherland, executive director of evangelism at NAMB, said in highly evangelistic churches there was an emphasis on prayer and spiritual awakening. “They are saturated with prayer for the lost.”

James Merritt, pastor of Cross Pointe Church, Duluth, Georgia, said the greatest thing to ever happen in his life is coming to know Jesus, and we should all be anxious to share that joy.

“Jesus did for you what you could not do for yourself,” he said. “The greatest thing you can ever do for another human being is tell them about the Jesus that changed your life.”

The next Engage 24 workshop will be held Oct. 9–10 at Highview Baptist Church, East Campus, Louisville, Kentucky. For more information or to register, visit


Practical tips for evangelism

• Lead well. Design times where you can teach and model an evangelistic lifestyle. (Ex. sermon series on evangelism, have witnessing partners.)

• Immerse every ministry with a culture of evangelism. Celebrate those who come to Christ. Create intentional evangelistic engagement opportunities.

• Strategically plan events for your church that will reach into the community. Use holidays and seasonal celebrations.

• Tell the stories of those who come to Christ. Use video testimonies, interviews during worship and/or tracts with a salvation story.

EDITOR’S NOTE — Tips compiled from Tim Dowdy’s session at the Engage 24 evangelism workshop.