Intro: 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: Well thanks for listening. I’m Kevin Ezell, along with Johnny Hunt, and today we have Larry Wynn joining us. Larry was Pastor of Hebron Baptist Church in Dacula, Georgia, for many years, and currently serves as the Vice President of Church Revitalization and Evangelism at the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. He basically was the Pope of Dacula, Georgia. Larry, thanks for joining us today.
Larry Wynn: Hey, glad to join you guys.
Johnny Hunt: Larry, I’ve had the privilege to know you a long time, ever since I came to Georgia 33 years ago. And you were one of the most evangelistic pastors known in the state, and now you spend a lot of your time investing in others. So you have that opportunity, by the grace of God, to just see exponential growth across the state of Georgia, in helping to lead churches to live on mission.
Johnny Hunt: So with that in mind, what would you say are some of the common struggles that we see many pastors facing when it comes to becoming an evangelistic pastor who leads his church to become an evangelistic church.
Larry Wynn: I think there’s two or three things. One, and you don’t hear this talked about very much, but it’s the lack of a role model in evangelism, and I’ll explain that. I was very fortunate. I grew up in South Georgia, in a small town. But there was a pastor who came there, stayed 25 years, young guy. But he was very evangelistic. He modeled evangelism. He taught it on a regular basis. He preached it.
Larry Wynn: So I had the opportunity to grow up in that environment where people were constantly coming to Christ. And our pastor was leading people to Christ, our church was. But as I meet guys around the state, and as I’ve talked to guys through the years, a lot of them did not have that role model. So they’ve not had anyone that actually modeled evangelism for them. I think that’s one issue.
Larry Wynn: Another one is loneliness. When I first became pastor at Hebron, and I invited people to go on visitation, one person showed up, and that was me. And I’ll be honest with you, most times I didn’t want to show up, because it was just me. And I really just had to be intentional and make myself go out on visitation, or to share Christ just as I was going about my daily routine of church work. So that’s an issue.
Larry Wynn: And then a third one’s just pastoral demands, especially in a church where it’s one staff member and his pastor, or maybe a very small staff. There’s just so many demands… hospitals, funerals and all the things that go with being a pastor. I think that’s a struggle too, is if you don’t just really become intentional, evangelism will always go to the backburner.
Johnny Hunt: Boy, that is such a true statement. Intentionality. And you’re really hitting in the areas that we know the average pastor in America is facing. And so, when we think about whatever’s important to a pastor, becomes important to the people, and what’s celebrated in the church. As you mentioned, in the church you were raised in, you saw people come to Christ, it was a point of celebration. And you were able to learn from them.
Johnny Hunt: And when I think about the Great Commission, how we’re to go into all the world, we know the emphasis is on “as you are going,” and so that gets back to intentionality. Because you’re right, a pastor’s lonely. A church, say, 150-and-under, oftentimes just led by a single staff person, and they are overwhelmed with duties. So if it’s not intentional that as they’re going to make Christ known, it’s normally not going to be the priority of ministry.
Johnny Hunt: What encouragement do you give pastors to overcome these obstacles? You are the main point man, across Georgia in particular, challenging and encouraging pastors.
Larry Wynn: Well I really believe in mentoring, or coaching, whichever term you want to use. And I encourage our guys to find someone, another pastor, who is evangelistic, who has a reputation for being evangelistic, and spend some time with that pastor. And here’s what I get very often… well, I don’t know that they would spend my time with me… And I’ve never found a pastor yet, including you, Johnny, being the very first… You have spent time with hundreds and hundreds of guys.
Larry Wynn: Anyone that wants to learn, you give him your time. And I believe every evangelistic pastor in Georgia is like that. So it’s just finding that person that they can talk to, they can learn from, they can listen to, and get some encouragement and some pointers on how to be evangelistic. I tell guys also to start small. Ask one person to come alongside you, within the church, and be discipled in the area of evangelism.
Larry Wynn: I know I had an opportunity to reach a guy named Donny, early on in my ministry. And Donny had dropped out of the church at 18 because he was criticized for the length of his hair, the clothes he wore, that kind of thing. And I had an opportunity to reach him, started playing football on Sunday afternoon… By the way, you can tell I was a lot younger when I’m playing… It was supposed to be touch football, actually it was kill-the-pastor football.
Larry Wynn: And so we were playing football, and I got to know Donny, and had an opportunity to lead him to Christ. And I just looked at him and I said, “Hey Donny, you’ve got a lot of friends that are not believers. Could you and I just work together to pray for them, and to see them come to Christ?” And being a new believer, and excited, he did. So we started small, and we built our evangelism ministry from that, one person at a time.
Larry Wynn: And thirdly, we’ve already talked about it, and that is just being intentional. Enlisting those people that you know, that don’t have a relationship with Christ, but in your circle of influence; beginning to pray for them, invest in them, and then ask God for open doors to share with them.
Johnny Hunt: You know, Larry, when I started in the Georgia area, over 30 years ago, everybody was doing newsletters. And what would happen, somebody would say, “Man, are you hearing what God is doing?”, at the cooler. Or different churches… and either I was receiving their newsletter, or I would call that church and say, “Send it to me.” And I’d read articles of what you all were doing, and then I’d follow up, send staff members there, go myself; find out what was happening at those churches, try to transport it back to Woodstock. “God’s really using it. Can we use it here?”
Johnny Hunt: Today, it’s social media. And again, we follow people on social media, and I think, “Good night, they are killing it and winning people to Christ.” Every time I see them on social media, they’re in the baptismal pool. So, it’s really, really encouraging. So, you’re mentoring, and coaching, encouragement, overcoming obstacles. And I never was threatened by another growing church. I was inspired by a growing church. And I trust that this generation will do the same thing.
Johnny Hunt: As pastors, all of us, we study God’s Word to prepare for sermons, but that doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily growing in our personal walk with the Lord. Would you say there’s a direct relationship between a pastor’s personal walk with Jesus and their passion for evangelism? How does this apply to anyone, not just pastors?
Larry Wynn: Absolutely. I believe this: When Jesus gave us the Great Commission, he was not only giving us a command, he was telling us something that he would instill within us, the desire and the passion to see people come to Christ. But if we’re not walking daily with him, we’re not being convicted about those friends or family members, or people in the community around the church that don’t know Christ… I found this, the more time I spent in personal growth, personal spiritual growth, personal prayer, personal Bible study, the more conviction I had to reach the people in my circle of influence for Christ.
Larry Wynn: But I also saw that in the church, again, when I first became a pastor… at the encouragement of a layperson in the church, because I was really discouraged the first six months, because I had grown up in an evangelist church, and I met this layperson and he said, “I know how we could turn our church around. I know how we can see it begin to reach people to Christ.” And I said, “How?” I really thought, Johnny, he’d bring out the… back then, the Sunday School Board Program for bringing people to Christ. He looked me, he said, “One word: prayer.”
Larry Wynn: And I started meeting with three or four guys. And we started praying, first for our church. But as we prayed for our church, God broke our hearts for people in the community; and broke our hearts for people that we knew that didn’t know Christ. And every man in that group, one by one, started sharing Christ with people they knew, and we started seeing them come to Christ. So I do believe there’s absolutely a great correlation between the two.
Kevin Ezell: Brother Larry, you’ve been evangelistic your entire pastoral life. What is the primary tool that you use now?
Larry Wynn: Well now, I use 3 Circles. I just think it’s a great tool. You can share Christ anywhere, at any time… on the back of a napkin, at a lunch; you can share it in someone’s home. And it just clearly shares the gospel in a way that anyone can understand. So that’s the tool, Kevin, that I’m using primarily.
Johnny Hunt: One of the key words, Larry, is focus. And like I say in our prayer time, praying and a question that every person that’s listening could answer in their own heart this morning is: this morning, did you focus on anyone in particular that you’re praying that God would save them? It’s got to become a focal point. How can a focus on evangelism lead a pastor and the church in a healthy direction? I feel like there needs to be some small winds to really encourage our pastors across the Convention.
Johnny Hunt: Speak to us on focus on evangelism.
Larry Wynn: Okay. First off all, as we focus on evangelism and as we as pastors model it, as we teach it, as we share it with our people, as we share them the stories of the people we’ve shared Christ with, it is an encouragement. But it’s also an encouragement to them when we share that we struggle with it, and we have to really pray through it, we really have to work at it.
Larry Wynn: But also, once we do see the church turn towards evangelism, the people begin to focus more on the outside of the church than the inside. And it takes care of a lot of the internal problems, because they pale in significance to reaching those people who are in the community. I call it, as a pastor, “Taking down the walls of the church,” and really focusing on people who need Christ.
Larry Wynn: But you said something about small wins. A lot of people debate this and argue with it, but I still believe it’s true. The first win that I tried to instill in our people were the wins of praying for people by name who needed Christ, investing in their lives, and inviting them to church. Eighty-five percent of people who come to Christ still come to Christ because someone invited them to some event at church. So, I constantly had my people praying for four or five people, by name, they knew who didn’t know Christ.
Larry Wynn: And then we would give them opportunities, evangelistic opportunities… Easter Sunday, a one-day evangelistic event, Fall Festival, so on, so on… to bring those people to church. And once they see a friend or family member come to Christ, you can’t stop them. Then they want everybody they know to come to Christ.
Johnny Hunt: Yeah. Vance used to say that we need to make our mind up, as spiritual leaders, “whether we’re going to be keepers of the aquarium or fishers of men.” And we make our mind up to fish for men. I’m telling you, God will burden us to take care of those that he brings in. And that’s why J.D. Greear and myself are trying to make so much of: “Who’s your one?”
Johnny Hunt: Boy, you talk about praying for five. What a glorious challenge that is. But if we could just get each of the people that listen to us… those in our churches, over 5 million attending a Southern Baptist Church every Sunday morning… to just say, “Who’s your one?”, and then begin to call their name out to God, to be intentional, to meet him.
Johnny Hunt: Well let me ask this last question, Larry. You think people in the church want to welcome people, but that’s not always the case. How do you help a congregation to be open, inviting new people into the church?
Larry Wynn: I think, first of all, that the pastor has to repeatedly preach, from the scripture, the importance of people who are not in the church… using the illustration that Jesus was always going to people that no one else would have anything else to do with. I think you have to preach that and preach that. I tell guys that I work with, “You’ve got to say it until you’re tired of saying it. And when you get at that point, that people are just then beginning to hear it. So, you have to repeat that.”
Larry Wynn: I think you have to make it personal. I was working with one church, as an interim. And that church had aged, the people in it had aged, and the guy who was going to become the pastor and I were talking: “How could we help that church see the need to reach people in the community, people who weren’t just like them?” And I said, “We’ve got to make it personal.” So, I stood on a Sunday morning, and I asked how many in the church had grandchildren. Well, the average age at the church was 70. So, it was a sure bet most of them had grandchildren.
Larry Wynn: I said, “How many of you want to a church to do anything it could do to reach your grandchildren?” And of course, everybody raised their hands. And then I said, “Well, you know, your grandchildren probably do not live in this area, but somebody’s grandchildren live in this area. What are you willing to do to invite and welcome those folks into our church? Because the Bible says that, “As we show grace, we receive grace.” And if we want people to reach our family members, then we must be willing to reach somebody else’s family members.
Larry Wynn: So I think you have to make it personal for them.
Kevin Ezell: Well Larry, thank you so much for joining us today. And I know you’re known to be a very evangelistic pastor, but I want people to know, you’re just one of the kindest hearts in the Southern Baptist Commission. You really are.
Larry Wynn: Well thank you, Kevin.
Kevin Ezell: You know that. And my dad’s in heaven, but you were very gracious to get me Georgia basketball tickets several years ago, and that was the last ballgame that he and I went together. And of course, it’s always nice to know that when we’re playing Georgia, we typically win, being a Kentucky fan.
Larry Wynn: Yes, but if I remember correctly, that game we beat you.
Kevin Ezell: You did beat us. Yeah, yeah. Trying to be a little Barnabas, encouraging everybody occasionally. But seriously man, thank you for just being you. And you’re a real blessing.
Larry Wynn: Thank you.
Kevin Ezell: And Pastors, it’s all about the gospel. If you have any questions for us, send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And we will try to answer them in a future podcast. So, thank you so much for listening. And Larry, again, thank you for joining us. And Brother Johnny, always, thank you for how you lead us.
Johnny Hunt: Honored to be a part of it. Thank you, Larry.