Dialogue: A conversation with Larry West
“Give ‘em heaven!”
With those words as their mantra, Larry West and his “spiritual SWAT teams” have crisscrossed the nation for 33 years, knocking doors and persuading strangers to obey the gospel.
During the past 12 years, West says 5,000 people have been baptized through We Care Ministries’ campaigns.
West — the only son of a Texas minister — says his father instilled in him passion for the lost. Ernest West was a soul winner, using Jule Miller filmstrips and Tisdale charts. Today, Larry West is an evangelist on that same mission.
Larry West joined Louisiana-based World Radio Gospel Broadcasts in 1971 and served as associate editor of World Radio News. The popularity of his short spots led to invitations to speak around the country. That led to campaigning, as West tried to involve churches in soul-winning.
After 25 years of evangelism seminars, the ministry four years ago launched “AfterCare Workshops” to better train local churches how to mentor new Christians.
The White’s Ferry Road church in West Monroe, La., sponsors We Care Ministries . West and his family have been connected with the church’s ministry efforts for nearly 40 years.
How evangelistic are Churches of Christ today?
In our work across the country we’ve seen “pockets” where churches are very evangelistic. There are, however, fewer evangelistic congregations now than we saw 40 or 50 years ago.
The numbers printed in past articles of The Christian Chronicle attest to what we have witnessed. In fact, leaders tell us, “We were full 40 years ago, but now we are three-quarters or half the number.” We’ve even
seen church closings.
And, of course, we see fear in leaders’ hearts for their own congregations. In our work we don’t see much local, hometown evangelism anywhere.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Why do Christians hesitate to teach their neighbors about Christ? .
Fear! I have asked that very question everywhere I’ve been for the past 30 years in our evangelistic training programs.
We have taught our method of evangelism to almost 100,000 brethren in that time. I have asked, “What stops us from sharing our faith?” Every time I hear, “Fear!”
Fear of what? Leading the list is fear of rejection. There are other fears too — fear they can’t answer questions or fear the prospect knows the Christian hasn’t lived the right example.
Fear is real. And we all face it. I think there are other reasons too. I wonder if Christians really believe that hell is real, if people are really lost and if those in the pews are the ones sent to rescue. Does today’s
Christian believe deeply in the saving power of the gospel? Also, there’s apathy and laziness.
How can Christians overcome such fears?
For one thing, by remembering the joy of our own salvation. Isn’t that what King David said? And that comes by knowing Christ and his gospel — really knowing it, I mean, by trusting it deeply, being stirred to tell it.
When we really recognize we have only two barriers between us and heaven — sin and the grave — and when we understand Jesus died to take away the first and was raised to take away the second, for that’s what Paul told Timothy, it conquers fear to tell someone.
The gospel of Christ is good news, not bad. When we really talk the gospel — not about the gospel, not about issues or hobbies — Christ refocuses one’s whole life.
Compare the evangelistic emphasis of churches today to 30 years ago.
I’m not sure 30 is long enough. That would be 1979. That’s when our numbers began to plateau, just as the Chronicle has shown. But 50 years ago, when I was a teen, I remember sitting and listening to powerful gospel sermons directed toward the lost and the saved. We had huge campaigns, evangelistic workshops and visitation evenings where Christians actually confronted people.
And faith still comes by hearing. When we were talking the gospel to people, we were growing. Today, our falling numbers tattle. We’ve changed topics. We’re talking football, baseball, jobs, jokes and money, money, money. And we wonder why our numbers are declining.
In today’s society, who are the most likely converts?
Prisoners are among the most reachable, and several of our churches have jail ministries.
Then there are guests who come to services. The very reason guests are there is because they are looking for salvation and/or a church family.
To reach them, we must step up, confront and convert.
Those who have lost a spouse, or who are single parents, or who are new to the community also may be more open.
But may we not discount anyone. The Lord said that the harvest truly is plentiful.
I speak of neighbors who live right across the parking lot, or people whom church members work with, play with, buy groceries from, bank with.
A preacher once asked me, “Larry, where do you find your contacts?” Maybe I was a little too dramatic, but I put my thumbs and forefingers at my eyes, stretched them open, did a 360 and said, “My friend, there they are!”
What kind of evangelistic approach seems most effective today?
There are two key words in your question. Frankly, as long as we “approach” and as long as it’s “evangelistic,” God will give us fruit. We will not convert until we confront. By “confront” I mean, in order to rescue someone by Jesus’ blood we need to address his or her sin and grave problems. We’ve got to talk about those things, not skirt around them.
We cannot just be friends with someone, we cannot just play golf with him, eat lunch with him, build a church building in his neighborhood and expect him to come to know what to do to be saved. He doesn’t learn the gospel through osmosis.
Now, what approach? We must always show genuine interest. When we do that, we have found we can be direct! Ask him about how he feels his relationship is with the Lord. People enjoy talking about themselves.
But keep this conversation focused on him or her and the Lord. Listen to him or her. Compliment him or her. Never be threatening.
Then, turnabout is fair play. “May I now tell you how I found the Lord?” And they will listen. Then, we say, “My salvation is tied to the gospel of Christ. Look what I found!”
And it works. They want to know. We Care Ministries has seen it. We will bring to the Lord in baptism anywhere from 20 to 100 in a two-week campaign.
Jesus said the church will lose some. Where it’s easy to baptize people, keeping them demands work. But to disciple a person we’ve got to adopt the whole person. We’ve got to make him feel he’s now a part of the family, then we’ve got to put him to work. Focus him on the gospel. Train him to be a soul winner himself.
Lead him into it by being an example. And he will mature.
FeedbackLarry, do you have “Step into the Water on DVD, I would like to get ahold of some of them. Please e-mail me with info.Jim AveryCountryside Christian ChurchOwatonna, Minnesota
USASeptember, 24 2012HI Larry, This is the first time I’ve been on a computer. I thought of you and thought I’d drop a line. I hope all is well with you and your family. I’m working for the City of Indep. I hope to retire in a few years. I trust your work is going well. I’ve thought of you and Whites Ferry Rd. often over the years. I wish you well and hope to hear from you.Ellery Griffith JREast Independence Church Of ChristIndependence, missouri
usaAugust, 17 2011Bruce,
Lary Has CDs on his site: http://www.wecareministries.com/Materials.htmlJeffElk GroveELk Grove, CA
USAJuly, 22 2009We had a “We Care” Campaign back in the Mid 90’s. Larry had a lesson on Baptism where he used Acts 2 as the basis of the lesson. I had a cassette copy of his lesson but seem to have misplaced with passage of time. Does he have anything similar on CD? B. HammerBruce HammerFoote St.Corinth, Mississippi
USAJune, 3 2009Thank you Larry! I heard you speak at the Tulsa Workshop maybe 20 years ago and you lit a fire in me. As a result our ministry (CIA Ministries) have averaged over 20 baptisms a year. We find that College-age people are open to the Gospel. We have also planted four CIA Campus Ministries and they also are finding people open to the Gospel.
Keep speaking Larry, we love you.,May, 15 2009