As a part of the Methodist family, you might be aware that our founder John Wesley believed in and practiced open-air preaching to reach the unchurched for Jesus Christ. One of my favorite pragmatic ministry ideas of John Wesley was that he set aside his conviction that preaching the Word of God was to be done within the church building. He spoke of open-air preaching as a “cross” to him and wrote in his journal that “he submitted to the more vile and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation.”
It was on the highways, in the pastures and even in the cemeteries of England that Wesley often gathered a crowd and preached the gospel to the faithful, the curious and those who did not know Jesus. On June 2, 1739, Wesley’s journal entry read, “Preached in a pasture. 10,000 people came out to hear me.”
Have you ever been to a crusade, a revival or a large Christian conference where your life has been touched by God in a profound way? In November of 1981, as a senior in high school, I attended a Billy Graham crusade in Houston. My United Methodist Youth Fellowship group attended together and when Dr. Graham gave the invitation, I responded. Even though I had become a Christian several years earlier, I felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to rededicate my life to Christ’s lordship. It was a significant milestone, one of many in my 40-year journey of following Jesus. Following Jesus leads us to many life-enriching moments.
While serving in my second full-time appointment as a pastor, my community’s ministerial alliance hosted a revival event that was designed to reach the unchurched of our city. Our church participated in the leadership and support of the event, but to our disappointment, no new converts made their way to our church for discipleship. Our church celebrated only re-affirmations.
It is often hard to measure the spiritual impact of an evangelistic event, and if new believers coming to our church was the only goal, it appeared we missed the harvest. Could God, however, give another blessing that was not expected or sought after? God did for me.
In preparation for the event, several in our church went through a discipleship training led by my friend Dr. Billy Hanks, Jr. You might remember him from his visit to Marvin several years ago. Though my church had no new converts to disciple from the revival event, my heart was captured by a God-given vision to create a disciple-forming church. My ministry was placed on a new trajectory; my calling was brought into clearer focus. God did a good work in me and other leaders in my church.
As we enter this new year, you will be hearing more about the Cityfest East Texas revival that will involve more than 100 churches in collaborative service, worship and evangelical outreach. The planning will culminate Oct. 5-6 as a projected 20,000 people gather on the Tyler square for worship and to hear a gospel message. The Marvin family will have many opportunities to serve, invite and grow in Christ over the next few months.
Happy New Year, Marvin family. Remember that Jesus commanded that we “go into all the world and make disciples ...” (Matthew 28:19). As followers of Jesus and Methodists, the world is our mission field. I invite you to join me in praying for our mission field as we also fast and pray for our denomination during these next few months.
See you in church.