How does a church become passionate about evangelism? It starts with the pastor and church leadership. The passion and zeal of a pastor and leaders of a local church to share the gospel inspires members to live missionally where life exists. Join co-host Johnny Hunt and Kevin Ezell as they interview James Merritt, Senior Pastor at Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, GA, to discuss the critical role pastors play in inspiring and equipping their local church to share the gospel.
Speaker 1: You’re listening to Evangelism with Johnny Hunt, a podcast from the North American Mission Board that equips you and your church to share the gospel. Now here are your hosts.
Kevin Ezell: Thanks for listening to the Evangelism with Johnny Hunt Podcast. I’m Kevin Ezell and here with me is Brother Johnny Hunt. This podcast is a resource to help equip you, pastor, and your church to share the gospel.
Kevin Ezell: On our last episode, James Merritt, pastor of Cross Pointe Church, joined us to talk about turning everyday conversations into gospel conversation using his Best News Evangelism Method. Today we’ve asked him to talk with us about leading a church to become evangelistic.
Johnny Hunt: Brother James, thanks for being with us and coming back to help us with this podcast. Want to throw a few questions at you that we are confident is going to help our people. What has sparked your passion for evangelism over the years?
James Merritt: Well, Johnny, let me preface my remarks by saying, I really mean this, I think two of the best things that’s happened the SBC since I’ve been a part of the Convention is number one, bringing Kevin on to head up the North American Mission Board and I can brag on him all the time what a great job he’s done.
James Merritt: And Kevin, A people hire A people and you could not have found a better man anywhere on the planet to head up the evangelism vision and department now with Johnny Hunt. I just want to commend you for that, because that’s one thing I’ve said many times, Johnny. You’re the greatest motivational speaker I’ve ever heard in my life, and your passion on steroids.
James Merritt: But all that said, Johnny, here’s what happened. Several things. Number one, when I was a student, I began my ministry as a youth pastor, and actually my home church is Blackshear. It used to be Blackshear. It’s now called Christ Church. But long story short, Laveda Macola was my pastor and he had an evangelistic heart, and I begin to catch this from him.
James Merritt: And then I served with another pastor named Cliff Duvall, he’s the pastor of Piedmont Marietta, as a student pastor in the summer when I was going to college. And Johnny, he took me out two days a week, every afternoon from 4:00 to 6:00, we’d go soul winning.
Johnny Hunt: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
James Merritt: I’d just never seen anything like it. I didn’t know what, I’d never done that before.
James Merritt: And then the third thing was I went to seminary, Southern Seminary, and I have to be honest, that was not a bastion of evangelist passion when I was there. But, Johnny, my supervisor and professor in my PhD program was Louie Drummond.
James Merritt: And Dr. Drummond was always perfunctory. He was always right on time for class. Well, one particular class I was taking with him, he didn’t show up. There was a 20-minute rule in seminary and you didn’t get there in 20 minutes, you left, so we left. I didn’t know what was wrong.
James Merritt: So that was a Wednesday. We had Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Friday, he comes in and Johnny, this just lit my fire. He came in and he said, “I want to apologize for being late to class. I was leading the telephone repair man to Christ.”
James Merritt: And Johnny, when he said that, two things hit me. I said, “Lord, that’s what I want. I want that in my heart.” Number two, that’s who I’m going to do my PhD with. I’m going to do my PhD with him.
James Merritt: So it was those kinds of experiences. And then going to the SBC in St. Louis and hearing Jim Henry preaching about evangelism, that was kind of a final nail in the coffin. And ever since then it’s just kind of been a real fire in my heart.
James Merritt: You know, one of the things that I wanted to tell you guys was, I do put this on social media sometimes. Johnny, you mentioned that and I want to clarify one thing. That’s your people here. I was hesitant to do that at first because it can look like you’re self-aggrandizing and kind of look like you’re trying to make yourself the hero and all that.
James Merritt: Johnny, that’s not my heart. God knows my heart. I don’t know my heart but God does. I just feel like people need inspiration. I feel like people need to know there’s guys out there. We’re not just preaching it from the pulpit. We’re not just telling you to do it. We’re out there doing it ourselves.
James Merritt: And so I really struggled with that for a while and I said, “Lord, I know some people misconstrue it. I know people say, ‘Well, James is just trying to brag on himself.’ But you know my heart. That’s all that matters to me. And if just one person, if it sparks a fire in one person, say you know what, I’m going to do that. I want to be like that. It’ll be worthwhile.” So that’s why I put those stories on there.
Johnny Hunt: Yeah, and I wanted you to be honest. When you were talking just now, I’m sitting here with pen and paper and I literally wrote the word “inspiration.” And one of the needs, James, we can exhort all we can, but there’s times that we need to tell stories that we believe are inspiring.
Johnny Hunt: By the way, what you’ve just said, it’s almost like you read our script. You’re talking about evangelism. You’re talking about pastors that led out in evangelism that influenced your life.
Johnny Hunt: So here’s the question. How does a pastor’s passion for evangelism affect his church members’ passion for evangelism?
James Merritt: Johnny, that’s a great question and it really is a very easy answer. You know it because you lived it for over 30 years in two different churches that you led to be two of the greatest evangelistic churches in the history of our Convention. It’s not taught, Johnny; it’s caught.
James Merritt: You can have a PhD in Evangelism like I do, but if you don’t have a passion that people can see and people can feel and people can hear and people can touch, it will never, ever translate to your people. Evangelism, at the end of the day, it’s not a matter of the head. It’s a matter of the heart.
Johnny Hunt: Hmm.
James Merritt: If you get a fire, and Johnny, you know this. If you give me a guy that may not even speak good English, you give me a guy that may have only read his Bible one time in his life, and that guy has a passion and a fire to see people saved, you can train that guy easy to share the gospel. It’s just like a thoroughbred. Just let him run, he’ll run.
James Merritt: But you can take a CEO of a company who may be the best giver in your church, and he may come and sit and hear you preach every Sunday. You can talk to him till you’re blue in the face about sharing the gospel with his employees, but till he catches that fire and catches that passion, it will never happen.
James Merritt: It has to start with the pastor. Here’s the way I put it, Johnny. The river of evangelism flows from the fountain of the heart of the pastor.
Johnny Hunt: Wow.
James Merritt: If the pastor is not passionate about evangelism, his church will not be. Johnny, you’ve heard me say this. This one reason why you’re such a great motivator. Your people, Johnny, will not be more passionate about your sermon than you are.
Johnny Hunt: Mmm.
James Merritt: One of the reasons why, and I’m not going to try to butter you up, one of the reasons why people love to hear you preach is one thing they know about Johnny Hunt. They may not like what you say, but they know one thing. By thunder, that guy believes what he say. He’s passionate about it.
James Merritt: So everything rises and falls on leadership. Everything. Not most things, not big things, not little things. Everything. And if a pastor is going to build an evangelistic church, the only shot he has is to be an evangelist himself, to do the work of an evangelist, which is exactly what Paul told Timothy he needed to do.
Johnny Hunt: I hope you’ll make note of the statements you’ve just made and put every one of them on social media one at a time. Those were really, really just powerful. And I really believe in leading evangelism for North American Mission Board. James, I feel the answer is so narrow that I can actually say it all hinges on the pastor.
Johnny Hunt: If we can get our pastors passionate about evangelism in the Southern Baptist Convention, I’m telling you, one year we’re going to totally turn around what’s happening in evangelism.
Johnny Hunt: Hey, you really talked about key components just now. You really did. The head instead of the heart. This river that really flows to the people but finds its fountainhead in the pastor. Tell us a little bit about how do you equip the members at Cross Pointe to share the gospel?
James Merritt: Well, Johnny, we actually kind of revamped all this when we did our Best News thing, and so we just decided we’d go. Most of the time it’s bottled up. We decided to do top down. So I started with the staff and we trained our staff and we trained our staff not just to know it, but I call it ammunition.
James Merritt: On my phone, I’ve got a little Who’s Your One? A little thing I’ve got on my phone. It holds tracts, and I call it my gun. I keep it loaded all the time. I’ve got four in there right now.
Johnny Hunt: I love that.
James Merritt: Yeah. And we teach our staff. I sometimes say we need a table, I will witness to a waiter, or how can we pray for you, or I’ll say to my staff, “You’ve got a Who’s Your One? and you got a Best News card?” And they better have one. So we teach our staff.
James Merritt: Then we went from our staff, we went to our deacons, we trained our deacons. We went from our deacons and we trained all of our group leaders. And then we said to our group leaders, “Now, part of your role as a group leader is to continuously be charging and training your people how to use that gospel tract.”
James Merritt: We have those tracts all over the church. We have them everywhere. We trained our people at our table where people come to make decision on. We have people trained, they are specifically. And it’s always ongoing. It’s always continuous.
James Merritt: Then, Johnny, one of the things I do, and this is so important because you know this, you’ve done it. I just have a conviction, Johnny, and it’s not happening in a lot of churches and you know it. The gospel should be clearly presented every week, in my opinion. And people should be able to respond, “What do I do?”
James Merritt: So when I’m presenting the gospel, you know what I’m doing? All right. Now let me just tell you as we wrap this up: “I’ve got some bad news, good … ” and you start saying to my people, “Now, I know what’s coming. Bad News. Worst news. Good news. Bad.”
James Merritt: So they hear it all the time. They hear it continuously. Because what they hear the first time, they’re not going to get. They’re going to get it some time with the 10th or 15 times. You just keep doing it over and over and over.
Johnny Hunt: That’s incredible. We’re hearing that from every pastor. I mean, it’s whatever God has really put in their heart. They’re going over and over.
Johnny Hunt: I just love your gospel gun there, Brother, so it’s apparent that it’s loaded. And you must have a really large chamber, because I’ve seen your whole living room full of people you led to Christ. You couldn’t have done it with just a clip with nine bullets.
Johnny Hunt: And I hope that the tract that you’re using, I hope it’ll be part of your material that we’re able to present to our churches here in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Johnny Hunt: Hey, let me ask you this one final question.
James Merritt: Sure.
Johnny Hunt: You guys really are getting it done. And I’ll be honest. When I see what you put on social media, I celebrate. It just makes us smile. Kevin and I are constantly talking about, “Hey, did you see James’ posts?” Glory to God. And we just have a blast. It inspires us. But how do you celebrate evangelism in your church?
James Merritt: Yeah, that’s a great word. And John, even evangelistic churches, a lot of times they sometimes forget to celebrate. We kind of mourn our losses when we celebrate our wins.
Johnny Hunt: Right.
James Merritt: So, we do it, obviously one of the ways is baptism. We make a big deal about baptism. And by the way, Johnny, one of the things we do when we baptize people, we baptized the last Sunday, and we baptize people.
James Merritt: One of the things we’ll say, we always start off, we’ll say, “The Bible says we’re on this in Romans 10:9, “if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised from the dead, you’ll be saved.” We’ll say like, “Let’s say I’m baptizing you.” I’ve said, Johnny, what is your profession of faith?” You’ll say, “Jesus Christ is my Lord.” Man, people clap, and then we baptize you, and then they’ll clap.
James Merritt: We do it that way. Then we will capture stories. We’ll capture stories on video. People that have come to Christ. People have been saved. We’ll capture that story. You know, those stories are good.
James Merritt: I’ll tell you something that happened, Johnny, that happened at our church. About six months ago, a guy didn’t want to see me and missed two appointments, and finally I said, “Look, I’ll meet you at 8:00 at the church on Sunday morning.” Came into the green room.
James Merritt: Long story short, Johnny. Lost as a small goose in tall grass. I led him to Christ that morning in my green room.
Johnny Hunt: Mmm.
James Merritt: I said, “I want you to do me a favor.” I said, “No,” I said, “I want you to do something for the Lord.” He said, “Okay, what do you want me to do?” I said, “I’m going to bring you up on the platform. I’m going to do the offering. I told the guys, ‘Hey, I’m going to do the offering this morning.’ I’m going to bring you up.” And I said, “We’re going to talk about your testimony.”
James Merritt: So I brought the guy up that morning, and I asked him to stay both services, which he did. I brought him up the little platform both times. I said, “Let me just tell you what happened,” I said.
James Merritt: So I told the story, and I said, “Now,” I said, “let me tell you who the hero is. First of all, the hero was Jesus. But, “I said, “Let me tell you what happened. Why did he come to me and why did he come to our church? Because God knows he can trust us with the gospel. God knows he can trust us, that we will be faithful to share the gospel.”
James Merritt: And I said, “I’m telling you, there are many of you out there. There’s somebody waiting on you to share the gospel, and you can do it if you just will do it.” Because, Johnny, I’m convinced there are a lot of people just like, “Well, yeah, Johnny Hunt can share the gospel. I can’t share the gospel.” As you well know, Johnny, anybody is equipped and empowered to share the gospel if they just will get the passion to do it.
Johnny Hunt: Yeah.
Kevin Ezell: Exactly.
Johnny Hunt: Exactly. That’s good James. Well, we are grateful.
Kevin Ezell: Well, James, thanks so much for sharing today, and I so much appreciate your evangelism passion.
Kevin Ezell: But you really have been a model husband. I’ve see how you love your wife and your kids and your grandkids. And not only your evangelism tweets, but the fact that I saw this even last week, you were playing golf with your grandson. The guys, they appreciate you but they don’t know sometimes a lot about your personal life. You want to share about how many grandkids you have, and you do such a great job of loving on those kids.
James Merritt: Well, and listen. Same thing to be said about you and Johnny, let me make that plain. But like, today I took my three-year-old grandson, he goes to a Christian school, a little Christian academy named Hebron, matter of fact. As I took him to school, and so just before he got out, his dad called. My baby boy called and prayed with him, and then I prayed with him.
James Merritt: And I always ask him this question. I’ll say, “Connor, who are you and who do you belong to?” He’ll say, I’m a Merritt, and I belong to God.” I said, “Okay, you remember that and you act like it. You know you’re a Merritt.”
James Merritt: So he got out this morning. Lady picked him up and she says, “Hey, Connor.” He looked at her and he says, “Hey. I’m a Merritt, and I belong to God.” So you know, we try to do that.
James Merritt: But if I can just say this real quick, one last thing. Johnny, as we get older, you know Paul said if every now and then you ought to examine yourselves to see whether or not you’re in the faith. So one of my favorite books is 1 John, because John said, “Hey, these are the marks.”
James Merritt: You know, Kevin, one of the marks that you’re a real believer is you love the brethren. You really love the brothers and you never know when it’ll be the last chance.
James Merritt: So I just want to say, first of all, to you and Johnny, how much I love you. How much you to admit to my life. How you two have inspired me and made me a better man. How thrilled I am that God’s called you two together to work. Johnny, I do believe this. I think we are going to turn it around under your leadership. I think our best days are ahead of us.
James Merritt: And I just want to say to every pastor out there. There’s a lot of discouragement out there. Johnny, you know it better than anybody. You’re the best encourager of pastors I’ve ever seen in my life. There’s a lot of discouragement. Johnny, you know this. Nothing will help discouragement dissipate more than go find somebody that’s lost and tell them about Jesus.
Kevin Ezell: Hmm. Right.
Johnny Hunt: Good word. We love you, James, and you’re a major encourager. You’re one brilliant mind and we’re grateful to God for how you’re using it for the King.
James Merritt: I give all of that to Jesus, Brothers.
Kevin Ezell: Well, thank you, Brother James. And thank you, Pastor, for listening to Evangelism with Johnny Hunt. If you have any questions about evangelism, send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll try to answer them on a future podcast or call Brother James on his cell phone at (678) 412-3456.
Kevin Ezell: Love you, Brother. Thanks so much.
James Merritt: Hey, they can call me any time, Kevin. You call me all the time. They may as well get in line.
Kevin Ezell: I know. Hey, you need a sermon, you got to find the guy. So all right, man. Appreciate you, buddy. Take care.
James Merritt: Love you guys.
Johnny Hunt: Bye bye.