By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
FRANKLIN — Although there are countless teaching tools and training seminars on the subject, there is actually only one requirement to be an effective sharer of the gospel: The desire to do it.
That’s the message that David Leavell, president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention and pastor at First Baptist Church, Millington, is using as he encourages Christians to engage in “personal evangelism.”
Leavell believes all Christians — introverts and extroverts alike — can be effective in witnessing to their family, friends and neighbors. He likes to say that sharing the gospel “is a conversation, not a presentation,” and he is using that motto as the basis for his emphasis on evangelism.
“The reality is we have the army to attack the gates of hell with the good news of Jesus Christ,” Leavell said. “But we don’t have an active army. (We need to) mobilize the pews for the purpose of evangelism.”
In an effort to turn this vision into a reality, Leavell has developed and initiated the 3:16 Challenge in Tennessee.
“Everybody knows John 3:16,” said Leavell. “It’s the first verse you ever learn. It’s the last verse you’ll ever forget. So, you have the infrastructure to share your faith. My challenge to Tennessee Baptists is that we share John 3:16 once a week with a lost person with the intention of leading them to faith in Christ. If we do that, the results would be absolutely phenomenal in Tennessee.”
After analyzing the data from about a dozen studies, Leavell has concluded that only about 10 percent (at best) of regular church-goers in Tennessee are actively engaging in gospel conversations with their lost friends and family members. He is hopeful that, through the 3:16 Challenge, the percentage can increase exponentially in the months ahead.
“Taking the most generous of those numbers (from the various surveys), let’s just say it’s 10 percent,” said Leavell. “That’s the active evangelism workforce in Tennessee. And with that 10 percent, we baptized 20,302 people last year. So, it’s really simple math: If 10 percent led 20,302 people to Christ, if we could activate 20 percent, we could see 40,604 (baptized).”
If that scenario played out, Leavell noted, it would approach the number that has been designated in the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board’s No. 1 objective: Seeing at least 50,000 Tennesseans annually saved, baptized and set on the road to discipleship by 2024.
“How are we going to get (to that objective)? We’re going to get there by increasing the active evangelism force in Tennessee,” said Leavell. “You see, right now, 10 percent of our people is not enough to move the dial because more people are moving into Tennessee every year than we are seeing converted to Christ.”
Leavell pointed out that because of Tennessee’s population growth — which has been especially prominent in the Nashville area — the challenge of reaching the spiritually lost continues to get tougher and tougher.
“(The stats tell) us that Tennessee is more lost than ever before,” he said. “We’re more lost today than we were last year, more lost last year than the year before, and that is true for the last 50 years. It’s incumbent upon us to wake up to the reality. God has called us to share our faith. We’ve got to be active in the harvest fields.”
Leavell said pastors often feel burdened — sometimes to the point of depression — about their inabilities to reach more people for Christ. He added that, in some instances, pastors feel the TBMB’s No. 1 objective is almost like “putting one more bag on a pack mule.”
But Leavell said it is imperative that pastors understand that soul-winning isn’t a job exclusively for those in the ministry. All Christians should be doing their part.
“The goal (of reaching 50,000 annually) is not designed to put another bag on the backs of our preachers,” he said. “It’s designed for the preachers to pass that responsibility on to the saints which is what we’re supposed to do. In Ephesians, the Bible tells us we’re to equip the saints for the work of ministry.”
To that end, Leavell has a message that he’s sending to pastors in Tennessee.
“(I tell them), ‘Pastor, you have to be a soul-winner, but pastor, you can’t be the only soul-winner in your church and still fulfill your God call,” he said. “You’ve got to begin to take those who are willing and begin to invest in them and give them the confidence that they can share Christ daily.”
Leavell wants churchgoers to understand that they don’t need a master’s degree in theology in order to be an effective sharer of the gospel, nor do they need a pulpit to stand behind. Gospel conversations can take place at the neighborhood barbecue, at a ballgame, at the gym, at the grocery store. Simply starting the conversation “is the key” to it all, Leavell said.
“What you are doing is seeding the gospel into that person’s life,” he said. “If we do that as a church family, we’re seeding the gospel into the community. If we’re passing out those Gospel tracts, we’re seeding the gospel into the community. You’ve got to plant the seed before you can reap the harvest. We’ve got to be constantly doing things that are seeding the message of Jesus into entire communities.”