Evangelism with Johnny Hunt

#8 – Earning the right to be heard in your community


Join co-hosts Johnny Hunt and Kevin Ezell for a special episode with guest, pastor Steven Kyle of Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, Fl. Hear how Pastor Kyle inspires his church to reach their community with the gospel in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. Discover ways long-haul volunteering and community aid pays off and turns into evangelistic opportunities, and be inspired by Christ’s ultimate example of service and love.

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Announcer: 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 today. I’m Kevin Ezell along with my cohost, Johnny Hunt. Our desire is to see every church on-mission in an effort to share the hope of the gospel. We really believe this begins with you, pastor. You are the one who can ignite a passion for evangelism among your church members, which is why we’ve created this podcast. We want to provide you with the resources and tools that can encourage you and help you lead your church in evangelism, while mobilizing your members to live on-mission.

Johnny Hunt: Kevin, you’re exactly right. If a church is going to be evangelistic, I’m absolutely convinced the pastor is the one who must lead the way. So, I’ve asked a good friend of mine, Pastor Steven Kyle of Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, Florida, to join us today, because I think there’s a lot we as pastors can learn from one another. Steven’s doing an incredible job of leading his church in evangelism, particularly when it comes to reaching the community with the gospel.

Johnny Hunt: Steven, thanks for joining us today, brother.

SSteven Kyle: Yeah, thank you guys for allowing me to be here today.

Johnny Hunt: Well, let’s begin where we ought to, and that is, you all were affected greatly by the hurricane that swept through Florida last year, and we want to talk about opportunities your church has had to reach out to community since then. But first, how are you doing, and how are the people of your church doing in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael?

SSteven Kyle: You know, I preach all the time that true faith shines through when difficulties come. Now we’re walking through it, and I tell you, our folks … they so impressed me and I’m so proud of them. We’re starting. We’re still out of our facilities. We’re meeting in a local high school. All three of our campuses received significant damage, and so we’re in the middle of a rebuild. The community, just basic everyday needs became so very valuable. It’s just a slow go. It’s been, by golly, it’s been about four months. Just slowly getting things back in.

Johnny Hunt: Wow. I’ll tell you, we pray for you often, and us having a campus over on Panama City Beach, we’ve been able to stay abreast. Thank you for the way you’ve not only ministered to community, but the way you’ve reached out to pastors as well.

Johnny Hunt: Hey, I want to ask you about something I heard you say that I think every pastor can benefit from hearing. You said, and I quote, “You must earn the right to be heard in your community.” Tell us exactly what you mean by that.

SSteven Kyle: Yeah, Pastor Johnny. For us, it’s just the simple example that Christ set for us. He always met physical needs so in turn he might get to the heart of the issue, which is the spiritual need. With our folks, that’s what I said, how we’re called to be bearers of the gospel, but we want to earn that right. We want someone to understand that we care and that we’re kind of in it for the long haul. We’re going to come alongside of them.

SSteven Kyle: So, we look to follow that example of Christ, from everything from going in to elementary schools to helping military. We’re digging military community, or at least we were. Our base has been closed down after the hurricane, but just looking for those opportunities to love on people, so in turn they might say, “You know what? I’m going to listen to what these folks have to say.” For us, it has just been tremendous and kind of changed the DNA of the church.

SSteven Kyle: Our folks now are engaging this themselves and not even necessarily needing many a ministerial team to come along and say, “Hey, do this.” They’re engaging in as they go every single day.

Johnny Hunt: You know, during a situation like this, it’s so easy to turn inward and self-centered, but it’s also a great opportunity to magnify the reality of others when you have so many needs yourself, realizing your own people are in the same crisis. It’s a good work.

SSteven Kyle: Absolutely. Well, now I’ll give you a perfect example, Pastor Johnny. After the hurricane that hit in October, every year we’ll adopt one elementary school in our community, and we give Christmas gifts to every child in that elementary school. Sometimes it’ll be 500, 600, something along those lines. We were getting ready to do that this year, and many of our folks are out of their homes, displaced, living in campers, and various things like that. We’ve probably lost about 500 regular attendees because they’re military, and they’ve been sent to other bases.

SSteven Kyle: And so I stood before the church and I said, “You know,” I said, “This was what we had planned. We had this elementary school that we were going to do, and I know we’re hurting and stuff. I’ve talked to the staff, and we’re not real sure. I just need to know, do y’all want to …” just kind of bait, like pastors do. “I’m not sure. Do y’all want to do this?” And overwhelmingly, “Yes, yes.” And I’m saying, “Well, good, I’m glad you said that, because not only are we going to do one school this year, we’re going to do two.”

SSteven Kyle: We doubled our efforts in the midst of this hurricane relief and we were able to take two elementary schools. Every child in that school got a gift, to the tune of about 1500 Christmas gifts. That came directly from our people, and it’s weird because the only thing we’ve got open down here right now unless you go to the beach is a Walmart. So, man, just again, just making a pastor’s heart swell up with pride.

SSteven Kyle: We kind of call them bridge events. Hey, we may never see that child in our church. We may not see moms and dads. In the case of several of them, there’s not necessarily a traditional home. But I tell our folks, “Hey, it’s not about us seeing them here, but what’s going to happen is one day, that child’s going to grow up. They’re going to face a difficulty, and they’re not going to know where to turn, and they’re going to say, ‘You know what? There was that church that when I didn’t have a pair of shoes, they gave me a pair of shoes.’ Or, ‘When I didn’t have a Christmas present, they made sure that I had something. Huh. Maybe I’ll go down there and maybe they can answer this question.’”

Johnny Hunt: Well, that’s a great word. Basically, the way you led your church even before the hurricane really just helped establish a presence so that now when this crisis hit, you just continue what you started then. And by the way, if my wife were listening to this podcast this morning, she would have simply said, “If there’s only a Walmart, what else, what ever do you need?”

SSteven Kyle: Yes, sir.

Johnny Hunt: She wouldn’t have understood that statement at all. But that is great. So it looks like you are taking advantage of the opportunity to reach out to the community since the hurricane.

SSteven Kyle: Yes, sir, and I’ll tell you, we were blessed to have our Baptist disaster relief roll into our main church campus day number three after the hurricane hit. As a result of that, we were doing a feeding unit there, and we were able, golly, we were able to feed 10,000 to 15,000 people per week for six weeks after the hurricane. Amazing opportunities during that time to share the gospel, and to come alongside folks, and to just help them with tarping roofs and cutting down trees. Again, just continuing to build on the reputation over the last several years that our church has gotten in the community of, man, those folks down there, they’ll love you. They’ll help you.

Johnny Hunt: You know, the truth is, it’s been years now that I led First Woodstock to embrace LOVELOUD, and basically challenging every single member in the church that would to give three days. If not three, give me two or give me one, but whatever you do for a living, or whatever you’re gifted at, let’s use that gift, that calling, that position to leverage it to the community. What a difference it made. When you mobilize your people to do that and you do it just in everyday life, because there’s always needs, but boy, when a crisis like this comes, the church is already pretty much engaged and mobilizes. It’s just a matter of then taking advantage of, really, a hardship that comes your way, and making it a lot easier for a lot of people.

SSteven Kyle: Yes, sir. Well, and in our case, we didn’t even have buildings to do anything out of. One of our church members said, “You know what? We’re going to go buy a tent. We’ll stage everything out of a tent.” He went and bought a huge circus tent up in New Jersey and he drove up and got it and brought it back. We set it up in one of our parking lots, and that served as our headquarters for all of our relief efforts for roughly two months.

Kevin Ezell: Well, Steven, what you guys are doing during the relief effort has been incredible, but that just doesn’t happen. I mean, you obviously have equipped your church members to live missionally in their community before the hurricane, so what would you say to a pastor today, how … What is the best way for him to equip his church members to live missionally?

SSteven Kyle: Dr. Ezell, I would say it’s just being intentional, looking for every opportunity. I would say as well, set the example. Go alongside your people. Don’t be afraid to kind of dream those big dreams, as far as hey, we want to make a difference in our community. I think a lot of times especially with your smaller church pastors, and that’s where I served for the first 10 years of the ministry, is, we think, well, we’re so limited. We’ve only got a couple of … We’ve only got a hundred folks, and we don’t have a big budget, and all this kind of stuff.

SSteven Kyle: But I’ve found if you roll into a elementary school and just say to a principal, “Hey, I want to help you. How can I help?” You’ll be amazed at the answers that you get. For us, it was this constant theme of as you evaluate to our members, as you evaluate everyday life, what you’re engaging in, is that going to matter in five years? Is that going to matter in 10 years? Is that going to matter a thousand years?

SSteven Kyle: Then we also would celebrate that. We’d stand up before the church and naturally we’d have videos and stuff, but we would celebrate. Hey, this past week, look at the opportunity that God gave us to get to go out to the Naval Dive School and to be able to feed 50 airmen and be able to love on them, and just different things along those lines. We celebrate that. I think what you celebrate kind of becomes a little bit of the DNA of who you are.

Johnny Hunt: Now, that’s a fact and I see it over and over again. I’m sure that you do. One of the things we want to do, we want to be an inspiration and an influence, really, to all of our pastor friends, and to our members in our local churches. What piece of advice do you have for pastors who need to know where to begin when it comes to mobilizing their church members to live on-mission?

SSteven Kyle: I would say clearly when you’re doing your preaching, when you’re doing your teaching, to me, the scripture just sets up perfectly for, as you said, loving out loud and living out loud. I think that is the key, as well as I’d look around for folks in your church who kind of have that heart, and let them take ownership of that.

SSteven Kyle: We’ve gotten to the point at times, Johnny, to where so much of what we do, clearly, I’m not a part of it. There’s a lot of things I don’t even know about, that I hear about every day. Yesterday I went to a school board meeting, and was just there celebrating with one of our little local elementary principals. The school board chairman said, “Hey, this is Pastor Kyle. He’s from Hiland Park, and here’s how their church has engaged in the school district.” He’s sitting here reading all these things, and I’m like, I didn’t even know we did this.

SSteven Kyle: So it’s just kind of a neat thing of enabling your folks to do that, letting them know, hey, this is key. This is important. Again, celebrating that over and over. And again, I found that as you teach through the Word, it’s a beautiful example that Christ just set for us over and over.

Johnny Hunt: Well, Steven, we want to thank you for what you’re doing in Florida, and we’re grateful for your ministry. We appreciate you taking time to join us today, and we really believe the best is yet to be. We looking for to your building being rebuilt, time of honoring pastors down there in the near future, and really your fingerprints are going to be in a lot of places, like you say, you’re unaware of. I believe that God’s going to honor it in a magnificent way in the very near future.

SSteven Kyle: Well, thank you, and I’d like to say to you, Pastor Johnny, and to you, Dr. Ezell, I mean, I’m so thankful for the North American Mission Board. As I said, they were here hitting the ground week one, and they’re continuing to be here, not only loving on our community but really focusing on loving on our pastors and their families. Just so thankful to know that we’re a part of a bigger church family that helps us in these difficult times.

Kevin Ezell: Well, brother, thank you. Thank you for how you led before, during, and after the disaster. Pastors, we want to encourage you to lead your church to get involved in your community, just as Steven has done, with the intentions of meeting needs and seeing lives changed by the gospel. So, thanks for joining us on this episode of Evangelism with Johnny Hunt. If you have evangelism questions, always feel free to email us at evangelism@NAMB.net, and we’ll try to answer them on a future podcast. See you next time.