Long ago I became convinced that if you want to touch a community, you must sow the good news far and wide. You must not become focused solely on the congregation that you serve, but in the words of Jesus, you must “lift up your eyes and look at the fields.” (John 4:35) In rural settings this always meant going to many public gatherings to meet people and look for opportunities to speak to them of Christ. I rode the bleachers at football games and basketball games and judged track meets not so much for the love of the sport as for a way to meet people and have the opportunity to touch their lives for the sake of Christ. I systematically visited homes. I substituted as a teacher and drove school buses meeting some financial needs for our family, but also building important relationships through which people could be reached. When you do ministry this way, your impact is vastly greater than your numerical attendance. Through the years, I have had numerous conversations with people who lived in towns where we served, but never attended the church in all the years we were there. Many of them have shared with me on return visits how very much our ministry and presence meant to them and blessed them even though they never attended or became members.
One classic example of this was a prominent professor in Kingsville who spent years trying to avoid serious conversations with me even though we were friends. He did not want to engage me about matters of faith. When we left the city, I heard from a mutual friend that he grieved for days over my departure and greatly regretted we were leaving. I wrote him a letter and shared Christ with him and he responded with a letter in which he mapped out some of his thoughts. I have no doubt that he has often thought of that exchange. I pray that the Holy Spirit will lead him in the end to bow to our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Georgetown would be different than any field that we had ever served upon. The amazing growth of Georgetown and Williamson County provides an endless need for sharing Christ. Here we not only visit homes, but share in the market place. God has raised up visionary leaders who provide ideas that I would never think of, such as our amazing Camp Crestview which was the vision of a volunteer director who is now our children’s minister, Lisa Burkett. Allow me to illustrate the reach of this program of sixteen years duration that has allowed us to share Jesus with thousands of children and their families. This past fall Shannon and I were at the state convention in Corpus Christi. We had just gotten into town and went to eat at a restaurant. Our waiter was a nice young man about twenty years old who was a student at Texas A&M Corpus Christi. As we conversed, he discovered we were from the Austin area. He asked what part of the Austin area we were from. When we said Georgetown, he got excited. I then told him that I was pastor at Crestview. He then gushed with excitement as he told us about going to Camp Crestview. He and his family never joined our church or attended our church other than his weeks at Camp Crestview, but based on the way he talked, I have no doubt that he had a real encounter with Jesus at the camp and still was blessed by the memory. I wonder how many thousands of similar stories are out there that we will never know about until we get to heaven.
Our men’s steak supper which was originally the vision of two deacons, Rick Gooch and Greg Knight, is another example. Because of their vision a good number of men have joined in this ministry and partnered to gather men regularly to hear the Word. Who would have imagined that hundreds of men who need to hear testimonies and messages about Jesus would do so if you grilled them a steak and sat them down to listen? We now do this twice a year and now average nearly four hundred men each time. Our women’s ministries use creative ways to draw in women who would not otherwise come. Our hosting of Community Bible Study builds relationships that allow us to touch lives. The list goes on and on. I could mention scores of members who have brought forward ideas that God has blessed. My only requirement is that if someone brings an idea they must also bring the energy and commitment to work toward its fulfillment. People often ask me how this church has become so great. I usually tell them that what I have done best is to empower God’s people to fulfill their God given visions while I preach, teach, and witness to those they gather. I am faithfully sowing seed, but I am by no means doing it alone. Year after year we train scores of people in how to share their testimony, begin spiritual conversations, share their faith, and win people to Christ. Just last night I was blessed to see one of our young ladies lovingly share Jesus with a woman who prayed to receive Christ. I have known pastors who could not have done what she did last night. Disciples are not made in classrooms, they are made out in the fields where we partner together to lovingly share Jesus.