Published January 31, 2008
ROME — When Bart Ponders was a 170-pound tailback for Northwest Whitfield High School near Dalton, one of his favorite plays was 21 Dive.
“It was a simple play,” he recalled recently. “Everyone – all 11 guys on the offense, just worked together enough to make one move forward. Even though the distance might have been small, the result could be a big first down or touchdown.”
As a suicidal 19-year-old, Ponders took another small step forward that now has him in position to impact thousands of teens. The founder of 21 Dive Ministries (http://www.21dive.com) spends his time as an evangelist speaking to youth, many of them in at-risk situations similar to where was so long ago.
One of the newer members of the Conference of Georgia Baptist Evangelists (COGBE), Ponders and his wife Tara attended the group’s annual retreat held earlier this month at Berry College.
“The office of the evangelist is something we look to promote among our churches,” said the group’s outgoing president Brian Fossett of Dalton. “Statistics show that churches that use evangelists see increases in baptisms and memberships. We help in training evangelists and getting awareness of them out there to churches.”
More than 60 attended the retreat, up from last year, said Fossett, who also serves as president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists. They represented various stages of ministry from the 30-year veteran to the rookie. Their stories consisted of those discovering their passion to others testing the waters of full-time evangelism.
In November 2005 Daryel O’Barr came to terms with being a burned out pastor. For thirty years – 25 of them in Georgia – he had served various churches. Now he sat in a cabin on Lake Arrowhead in Waleska, recovering through First Baptist Woodstock’s City of Refuge program, a ministry for hurting and discouraged pastors.
“It’s always been on my heart to preach,” he said, “but during that time I didn’t serve, teach, or anything. It was quite an adjustment.” O’Barr began getting calls from friends to preach, but said he still didn’t sense God leading him back into the pastorate. Last year he took a long-term substitution position at Elkins Point Middle School in Roswell teaching special education. He soon developed a rapport with students who others dismissed as difficult or with limited futures.
“It really helped my minister’s heart to be with those kids,” said O’Barr.
O’Barr was eventually offered a permanent position at the school, but now says he was also hearing a familiar call. Last March his wife, Nancy, (“The Holy Spirit in a skirt,” he says.) asked what he would most want to do.
“I said that I’d always wanted to go into evangelism. I’ve always been a net-drawer, and my primary thrust has been revival,” he added.
Since last April, O’Barr (www.drawingthenet.org) has spoken in 21 places and traveled 22,000 miles, seeing nearly 100 salvations and hundreds of rededications. “I feel like God has used me to encourage pastors and staff because I’ve been in their situations,” he stated.
“Evangelists just starting out need help finding their identity,” said Joel Southerland, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Dalton who led the seminar “Branding Your Ministry for Success” at the retreat.
“We discussed how to brand your personal ministry in such a way as to be ‘specialists’ – such as harvest evangelists, revivalists, music, or youth evangelist – when it came to revivals,” added Southerland, pastor advisor for COSBE. “We worked on developing a short statement that could explain to pastors the benefits of using them for an evangelistic event.”
Jon Reed had been a full-time evangelist for three years before coming to the retreat, but said what he learned will make him retool his ministry.
“I realized I have to do better in promoting my ministry,” said Reed, who also serves as staff evangelist at Hebron Baptist Church in Dacula. “All this time I’ve been waiting for others to call and depending on word of mouth for opportunities to preach. I sustained myself financially by saying yes to everything that came along and serving as interim pastor at different places.”
Get involved . . .
COSBE and COGBE point to Eph. 4:11-12 in outlining the role of the evangelist as especially effective in communicating the gospel. Online tools to contact evangelists are available at www.sbcevangelist.org and www.cogbe.org. For a printed copy of evangelists, contact Evangelism Ministries and Sunday School/ Open Group Ministries of the Georgia Baptist Convention at (770) 936-5232, (800) RING-GBC ext. 232, or email@example.com.
Reed (www.jonreedministries.com) added that he also learned techniques for promoting an evangelism plan he devised -– Strategic Soul Winning. Participants focus on the people in their circle of influence. Those witnessing take pictures of co-workers or family members and let them know it will be used as a reminder to pray for them.
“Within a few weeks I have credibility with that person to share the gospel with them,” he said. “We used this strategy during my interim at First Baptist Buford and saw 156 people come to Christ in seven months.”
Longtime members of COGBE testified to the advantages of membership.
By his estimation, Keith Fordham has led more than 1,350 revivals over the past 34 years. During that time he’s culled valuable advice for those starting out as full-time evangelists.
“If God’s called, you will be a catalyst,” he said. “God does the saving and reviving, but uses the evangelist to do it. When revival breaks out all kinds of things happen. Parents and children will actually skip ball games to come [to church].”
“COGBE has helped us network and connect with other evangelists,” said Joe Stanley, a music evangelist alongside his wife Kim for the past 17 years. “It’s an opportunity to share frustrations and experiences with others who have gone through the same fires and successes in evangelism.
“Don’t give up or give out. There’s something to be said for longevity in ministry.”
Kevin and Allison Wallace felt a call to music evangelism in November. Kevin was driving a delivery truck back and forth between the couple’s home in Newnan and Florida at the time.
“We had been struggling with the decision [to go into evangelism],” he said. “Finally it hit me one day that for me to be able to provide for my family and pay the bills, I needed to stop relying on myself so much and trust that God had called me to do something. And since God has done the calling, He’s going to provide.”
Wallace quit his job and the couple began helping lead revival events. Allison supplements their income through her job as a school bus driver. They both help lead worship at Orchard Hills Church in Newnan.
“We learned so much from the retreat and joining COGBE,” said Wallace. “People like Joe and Kim tell about their experiences and allow us to bounce our own questions off of them.”
“Before the retreat, I’d been lucky enough to have Brian [Fossett] nearby to assist and advise me,” said Ponders. “But being around other experienced ministers gave me a wonderful amount of information about aspects of ministry I’d never thought about.
“Before joining I felt like I was on an island. Now I see there are a lot of great people who are there to support me and my ministry.”
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