Have you ever found yourself complicating a simple message? It’s easy to do this when sharing the gospel with friends and family. We often need a short, sweet and sticky way to accurately articulate the best news we’ve ever heard. Join co-host Johnny Hunt and Kevin Ezell as they interview James Merritt, Senior Pastor at Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, GA, to discuss a simple method of sharing the gospel.
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Kevin Ezell: You’re listening to The Evangelism Podcast with Johnny Hunt. I’m Kevin Ezell and with me is Johnny Hunt and our very good friend James Merritt, who pastors Cross Pointe Church in Duluth. James, thanks so much for being with us today.
James Merritt: It’s an honor to be with both of you guys.
Johnny Hunt: Hey, James. Your passion for personal evangelism is off the charts, and let me just put a word in there parenthetically. I said it the other day and you didn’t know what I was going to say, but the very first time I met you in Wilmington, North Carolina, we were doing a Freddie Gage event together. I took you to dinner, a place called The Bridge Tender, and I’ll never forget. You did your dead level best to lead our waiter to faith in Christ. That was over 35 years ago, and yet a number of stories have come out of you sharing and the opportunities that you take to tell other people about Jesus.
Johnny Hunt: Talk to us for just a moment. How do you turn these everyday conversations into Gospel conversations?
James Merritt: Well, Johnny, I want to let everybody know, like all of us, I struggle with it at times. I’m not always the soul winner that I ought to be. I wish I had the kind of passion I ought to have every day. I don’t want anybody to think I’m an evangelistic rock star or anything like that. I’m out there just like everybody else trying to get it done.
James Merritt: Tell you what, Johnny, to answer your question, I just learned and I think part of it is passion. I think part of it is just maybe my training. I think part of it is just even as you get older, Johnny, you know this, you just realize how important it is to get the Gospel out because time does start to run short. What I’ve learned, Johnny, is it’s all about intentionality.
James Merritt: Johnny, I’m a big Georgia football fan, you’re a big race car fan, and you know it’s very easy to turn a conversation into anything that you’re really passionate about. It’s just not hard to do that. What I’ve learned to do, Johnny, is there’s always a segue. If you’ll talk to people long enough and listen long enough, there’s always a segue where you can always turn a message towards something spiritual.
James Merritt: Just a quick example. You’re talking to someone and you’re on an airplane. “Well, where are you going?” “Well, I’m going to visit my Mom.” “Really? Well, how’s your Mom?” “Well, she’s not well. Mom has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer.” You say, “Well, death is something we all face and it’s really tough. Just tell me, I like to pray. Tell me how I can pray for your Mom?” Nobody is going to turn that down, and then when you talk about that, then, Johnny, you’re just off to the races.
James Merritt: I just learned… The other thing I’ve learned to do, Johnny, believe it or not, I’ve learned to leverage my position. I used to kind of try to hide it, but now when people ask me what I do, I’m up front and I just say, “I’m a pastor”, and they’ll say. “Oh yeah.” In fact, I was in a conversation with a Mormon yesterday and he asked me what I did, and I found out he was a Mormon. Then, I’ll say, “Being a pastor, I like to talk about spiritual things, as you could imagine. Is it okay with you if we talk about spiritual things?”
James Merritt: That’s the other thing that I do that I think is particularly important in our culture today, Johnny. I practice what I call permission evangelism. And I’ll ask people, “Hey, do you mind, or is it all right if we talk about spiritual things?” And the reason that I do that is because, number one: I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, and number two: I’m trying to find out if God is working in this person’s life or not.
James Merritt: More often then not, people will say, “No.” But occasionally someone will say, “You know what, that’s really kind of a private matter, and I just rather not discuss it.” And I just move on because other wise the spirit of God’s not working.
James Merritt: So it’s really about intentionality and asking permission, and if those two things come together then you’re off to a gospel conversation.
Johnny Hunt: That’s incredible. You know, I’m not at all surprised, and I follow you on social media. And it just encourages me to see so many people you pray for to receive Christ. But I’ve got to be honest with you James, most of them are on the golf course since we all know, that’s where you spend most of your time.
Kevin Ezell: And he only witnesses to Georgia fans. He never led a guy to Lord in Louisiana or Kentucky.
Johnny Hunt: If he did he would not post it unless they changed their shirt.
Kevin Ezell: He’d get to Heaven, it’s like, “Hey, why’s everyone up here from Georgia?”
Johnny Hunt: Wait a minute Kevin, I think I’m confused. Is James, would you say, an adamant Georgia fan? Or is he just Casual? What do you think?
Kevin Ezell: Ah, you know, it all depends on the year. You know.
Johnny Hunt: I’ve seen him leaving the stadium at a bad game.
Kevin Ezell: Listen, James, it’s always good to cut up with you.
James Merritt: Oh yeah.
Kevin Ezell: Tell us, you’re really known for this, and boy we at the North American Mission Board are excited, because it’s going to be printed just in, practically no time, and that is the system you use, what really God’s put in your heart. Tell us about the method you use, that we’re going to be sharing with Southern Baptist across the board soon, called “The Best News.”
James Merritt: Sure, I will do that. Since we are having a little fun, Johnny, honestly, here’s my problem. I have just found that Tennessee, Auburn and Florida fans have probably committed the unpardonable sin, and I’m not going to waste my time with them.
Johnny Hunt: That’s good.
James Merritt: Let me tell you something Johnny, and it brings up a good point, and I’ve said this so many times, is I studied the scripture. If you go back, Johnny, to when Jesus interacted with the Pharisees it’s so interesting.
James Merritt: The Pharisees tried to complicate the simple. Jesus came to simplify the complicated. So for example, Johnny, when you’re at the Sermon on the Mount, that’s what Jesus … You’ve heard it said, “Well let me say this unto you, ‘They had all these commandments, and all these rules, and all these regulations.'” Jesus said, “You know what, can I help you out, guys? I can summarize the ten commandments down to two. In fact, I can get them down to one word.”
James Merritt: So he always simplified things, and I think that’s why the common people heard him gladly. I think that’s why children were drawn to him. So what I’ve always tried to do, Johnny, and thinking about the gospel, is what is the simplest way, what is the simplest core of the gospel message, and what is the simplest way that I can communicate that?
James Merritt: Well, it hit me one day. You know, we’ve all used, Johnny, like “the Romans Road” this is a good example. This is really what it is, is kind of an adaptation of “the Romans Road.” We’ve all used “the Romans Road.” So one day I was sitting at my desk and I was, in fact, I was working on a sermon, thinking about this … presenting the gospel. I mean, Johnny, really just four words came to me. The bad news is we’re all sinners, “we’ve all sinned and come short of the glory of God,” we’re all sinners, and we’re all separated from God. And I put this in the track: your iniquities have separated you from your God and your sins have hidden his face from you. So I tell people … When I’m with someone I’ll say, “You know the bad news is, there’s something …”
James Merritt: John if I was witnessing to you I’d say, “Johnny, you know there’s something I know about you that’s true. And I haven’t known you but a few minutes, but I know it’s tJames Merritt: rue because it’s true about everybody. Johnny, you’re not perfect.” And they say, “Oh yeah, you’re right I’m not perfect, yeah we’ve all done things wrong.”
James Merritt: Now what we call mistakes or misjudgments the Bible calls sin. And I said the problem is not just that we’re sinners; the problem is, sin has separated us from God. Because God’s holy, and we’re not. God’s perfect, and we’re imperfect. So this is barrier. There’s this wall between that’s called sin. So I say, “The bad news is we’ve all sinned, and we’re separated from God. You understand that?” “I understand that.” Well, Johnny, there’s some worse news. There’s nothing Johnny Hunt can do, or James Merritt can do, to take care of his sin problem. Now we try, we go to church. We say, “You know what, I’ll start going to church.” Well, that just makes you religious then. “Well, I’ll get baptized.” Well, that just makes you a wet sinner. “Well, I’ll give money.” Well, that just makes you a generous sinner.
James Merritt: So with all these scenarios, at the end of the day, it’s like trying to remove paint off the wall with water; it’s not going to come off. There’s nothing you can do to take care of your sin problem. Romans 3:20 says, no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.
James Merritt: So I said, “You understand that?” “I understand that.” Now here’s the good news. The good news is, Jesus did for you what you can’t do for yourself. You know we owed a debt we couldn’t pay, he paid a debt we didn’t owe. So here’s what Jesus did. He came and did what you and I couldn’t do. He pulled off the impossible. He lived an absolutely perfect sinless life. And because he did, God could take your sins, and my sins, and Kevin’s sins, and the worlds sins and put every one of them on Jesus. Which is exactly what Paul said again in Romans 3:25, when God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin, people are made right with God when they believe Jesus sacrificed his life shedding his blood. So I’ll say, “You understand the good news?” “Yeah, the good news, okay great.”
James Merritt: Now, here’s the best news. The best news is, you know to get into Heaven you’ve got to have a ticket. I tell the story, Johnny of how I got to go to the Super Bowl back in 2008 evangelist story really. I got to go to the Super Bowl back in 2008 and the reason I got to go, David Greene, who used to quarterback for Georgia, some actually graduated believe or not. I led him to the Lord on a golf course. Bear Best Golf Course, on the 18th hole. I led him to Christ.
Johnny Hunt: Of course you did, we believe that James.
James Merritt: Out of gratitude Johnny, years later, out of gratitude. He worked for a guy that goes to our church. He calls this buddy of mine who’s also going to the Super Bowl, by the way, and said, “I love the doc I appreciate what he’s done. I want to give him a ticket.” He gave me a ticket to the Super Bowl. So I tell this story. When I went up to the ticket guy in Detroit, if I had said to him, “Hey buddy, let me tell you why you ought to let me into the Super Bowl. I’m a pastor, I’ve never had a drink, I was president of the Southern Baptist Convention, I’ve been faithful to my wife, I’ve been a good dad, blah, blah, blah, blah.” What’s that guy going to say to me? “Where’s your ticket? Got to have a ticket.”
James Merritt: I said, “You know, to have a ticket … to go to Heaven, you’ve got to have ticket. On one side it says forgiveness of sins and on the other side it says eternal life.” I said. “Here’s the great news, the best news. That’s a free gift. The ticket is free; all you’ve got to do is accept it. “The free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
James Merritt: So then Johnny when I’ve done that, just to be thorough and make sure they understand. I go back and I’ll say, “Okay, Johnny, tell me the bad news.” And Johnny they’ll do it. “Well, I’m a sinner, and separated from God.” “Well, what’s the worse news?” “There’s nothing I can do to take care about my sin problem.” “Well, what’s the good news?” “Jesus did for me what I couldn’t do for myself. He took care of my sin problem.” “What’s the best news?” “Salvation is a gift, all you have to do is accept it.” Then I just ask two last questions. I say, “Okay, so you understand everything I’ve shared with you?” “Yeah, I understand it.” “No questions?” “No questions.” “Can you think of any reasons you could give God, that God would accept, why you could not ask Christ to come into your heart?” And you know Johnny, I’m sure this happened to you and Kevin. The only one they try to give sometimes “Well, I’m just not ready.” And I’ll say, “Well, let me just stop, is that good enough for God?” “Well, no it’s not good enough for God.”
James Merritt: So then if they’re ready to pray and receive Christ, that’s what we do. And I kind of went a little bit long, but I mean you can do it in a short time, or a longer time, whatever. But that’s kind of how … and the thing I learned about it Johnny, I don’t have a very strong mind like Al Mohler does or somebody else. It’s easy to remember, anybody can remember that. A nine-year-old kid can remember bad news, worse news, good news, best news. So that’s how I kind of came up with it.
Johnny Hunt: That’s good. And the bottom line is, those that are listed in this podcast, and we’ve been really blessed, a lot of people have been listening and will continue to listen, they’ll be helped. Listen, we appreciate you being on the podcast James, and sharing “the Best News Evangelism Tool”, and we’ll be releasing the Best News Kit soon, which will be the third evangelism resource that we put out for pastors use. If they train their members to share the gospel, we are so excited about that, to say the least.
Kevin Ezell: James thank you so much for what you shared today, but also the example that you been for so many years to so many pastors.
James Merritt: Well thank you both guys, for all you mean to me and for the honor for being on the podcast; I appreciate it.
Kevin Ezell: Pastors, this evangelism tool that brother James mentioned today is just one of many that you and your church can use. We don’t really care what tool you use; the most important thing is that we’re all sharing the gospel. On our next episode we’re going to talk with Brother James about leading a church to become evangelistic, so be sure to join us. So, thank you for listening, and we’ll see you next time.