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Church growth seminar promoted by Eugene Lawton proceeds, even after his death

'This is a soul-winning event,' the renowned New Jersey minister had said. 'If you don’t know how to win souls for Christ, this is your opportunity to do so.'

UPDATE: Funeral services for Eugene Lawton have seen set for late next week at the Newark church. A “homegoing” service is planned from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, March 25. A wake is set from 8 to 10 a.m. Saturday, March 26, followed by a memorial service beginning at 10 a.m.

NEWARK, N.J. — For the last 44 years, evangelist Charlie E. McClendon has traveled from Jacksonville, Fla., to the Newark Church of Christ to preach and teach about saving souls.

This past Saturday, March 12, Eugene Lawton, longtime minister for the Newark congregation, picked up McClendon, his partner in the Gospel, at Newark Liberty International Airport. Lawton dropped off McClendon at his hotel and headed to the church building. As Lawton, 85, walked up the building’s steps, he suffered a fatal heart attack, church leaders said.

Hours after the minister’s passing, Newark church leaders met and decided to go forward with the four-day workshop, “Doing Evangelism as You Go,” which began Sunday morning during the Bible study hour.


Related: ‘Gospel Trumpet’ Eugene Lawton dies at 85


Newark church leaders said they plan to have “a glorious celebration” for Lawton at a date in the future, but this week the focus is on the workshop that concludes Wednesday.

“We were talking evangelism as we came from the airport,” McClendon told those gathered on Sunday. “Brother Lawton would say we should continue to save souls and keep souls saved. Saving souls is our business, Luke 19:10. We need to do this in honor of Brother Lawton.”

“He is not here in person, but he is here in spirit,” said McClendon, who serves as senior minister and an elder of the Northside Church of Christ in Jacksonville. “I believe he would want us to use this as an opportunity to save more souls.”

Moreover, Lawton would want the church to be unified, McClendon told the audience.

“He would want us to be together because we are well aware of the devil and how the devil can get among us.  … He would want us to love one another. We want to build on the foundation that Dr. Lawton has laid.”

During the Sunday morning Bible class, which also was streamed on YouTube, McClendon said Lawton had inspired men all over the brotherhood.

“But we are not here because of brother Lawton,” he reminded the audience.  “We are here because of Jesus Christ.”

Citing Romans 15:1-7, he told them, “Members must learn to receive one another…We got to be patient with one another If we are going to be of one mind in saving souls.”

Newark church member Michael Graves was one of several who prayed before the lesson began.

“We are joyful that brother Lawton ran his race and finished his course,” Graves said. “Lord, we are thankful for this man who touched many lives. Help us to heal our hearts. We don’t grieve without hope. Brother Lawton has earned his mansion, robe and crown.”

Fellow church member Weston Paton prayed for the Spirit “to carry on this great work.”

“Lord, have mercy upon us. We have learned so much from this hard-fighting soldier. We stand in the unity of one Lord, on faith and one baptism. Let his life be an example to us.”

“We mourn the loss of a great soldier,” Paton said. “Lord, have mercy upon us. We have learned so much from this hard-fighting soldier. We stand in the unity of one Lord, on faith and one baptism. Let his life be an example to us.”

During his sermon, McClendon said the day brought mixed emotions, both sad and joyful.

“I have been coming here since 1978,” the late minister’s friend said. “Brother Lawton wanted souls to be saved. This workshop is done in his honor. Brother Lawton spent his whole life working to get people to be baptized.”

Lawton had conducted his final service at Newark on March 10 at a Thursday-night Bible study.  Seated in his large, high-back chair in the pulpit, he opened his Bible and talked on topics ranging from presidential politics to the war in the Ukraine.

“You don’t have to worry about who is in 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.,”  Lawton said.

“I am going to my grave believing that there is power in prayer. How many of us are praying about the situation in Ukraine,” Lawton said, quoting Psalms 37:25. “I was young but now I am old but I have never seen the righteous forsaken.”

When Lawton extended the invitation that evening for baptism and restoration, he knew those who responded by their names. Then before the closing prayer, his final words to his congregation encouraged them to attend the workshop and to learn how to save souls.

Eugene Lawton, minister for the Newark Church of Christ in New Jersey, delivers a keynote at Freed-Hardeman.

In 2019, the late Eugene Lawton, minister for the Newark Church of Christ in New Jersey, delivers a keynote at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn.

“You come, and bring somebody with you,” Lawton told them. “This is a soul-winning event. If you don’t know how to win souls for Christ, this is your opportunity to do so.”

HAMIL R. HARRIS is a Christian Chronicle correspondent and a veteran journalist who spent two decades with the Washington Post. He preaches regularly for the Glenarden Church of Christ in Maryland.

Filed under: African American churches African American preachers Church growth deaths Eugene Lawton National New Jersey Newark Church of Christ News Obituaries People saving souls Top Stories

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