EDITORS’ NOTE: The following two stories are part of a new series initiated by Baptist Press to explore and describe how individuals, churches, associations and conventions exhibit a passion for Christ and His Kingdom.
PATASKALA, Ohio (BP)–What would drive someone to spend 14 years, four nights per week in rain, snow or shine, knocking on doors to find where God might be at work?
Phil Duncan, associate pastor at Jersey Baptist Church, intensely recalls the day in 1954 when he saw a car hit his big brother. Two days later his brother was dead, and Duncan understood that life on this earth has no guarantees. That same month Duncan gave his life to Christ.
“When I watched my brother die, I realized I didn’t know where I would go when I died,” the 62-year-old Duncan said of both his salvation experience and his lifelong fervor for evangelizing the lost.
Immediately following Duncan’s salvation at age 13, God burdened him for his unsaved family members. For years, on every visit to his grandfather, Duncan would sit by his grandfather’s chair and ask him, “Granddad, wouldn’t you like to invite Christ into your life today?” For years, his grandfather said, “Nope.”
But at age 88, in a tearful conversion, Duncan’s grandfather finally said, “Yes.” Duncan has had similar experiences with cousins, aunts and uncles.
In high school and college Duncan shared the Gospel with classmates, some of whom he still works on today. Throughout his 20-year military career, Duncan shared with officers and airmen and worked closely with missionaries in their ministries while stationed in Japan.
After retiring from the military in 1984, Duncan enrolled in Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Two years into his seminary career, he knew God was calling him to evangelism and discipleship. Some people discouraged him, saying there were few opportunities for that kind of role on a church staff. “But that’s what God told me to do,” he said, and the year of his graduation God opened a door for just that kind of role at Jersey Baptist Church in Pataskala, Ohio, near Columbus.
Now, through his 14 years at Jersey Baptist as associate pastor of evangelism, discipleship and adult education, Duncan estimates he has been to more than 10,000 homes to share the Gospel and has been privileged to lead hundreds and hundreds of people to Christ.
“Christianity,” he noted, “is a 24/7 lifestyle, not a job. I’m not doing anything different now than I’ve done my whole life. I’ve served in many positions — deacon, Sunday School director, a Sunday School teacher of all ages — but I rarely missed visitation. I was always one of the four or five that showed up every week to visit.”
JOINING GOD IN HIS WORK
“Satan is trying to convince us that people don’t want to hear the Gospel,” Duncan said. “But there are so many people hurting out there who are at a point to hear it.” He mainly focuses on people who have visited the church, believing that God is already at work in their lives. So he joins God in that work.
Tom Stebbins was one of those hurting people in whose life God was already at work. Stebbins grew up in the Catholic Church, but dropped out at about age 18. “In 1995 some things began to happen that were out of my control,” Stebbins explained. He and his wife, who had been visiting some churches, enjoyed Jersey Baptist because it seemed friendly and open.
Duncan visited them a couple of times, but Stebbins said his heart was still hard and he didn’t listen. Then some trouble started with his job, where he thought he was untouchable in his 30-year tenure with his employer. But when Stebbins found himself unemployed, God began using the circumstances to soften his heart. He got home one night, and Duncan was there again. He thought, “Oh, no. Why is Phil here?”
That night in 1995, Stebbins received Christ. “Phil shared with me, and God just broke my heart,” he recalled.
Reflecting on his visits to people like Tom Stebbins, Duncan said, “You learn it’s best to go where God may be at work, but you don’t know for sure until you get there.” It is a “daily dynamic” discovering where God is at work. He relies on prayer and other Christians like Amanda, an outreach leader in a Bible Fellowship class. Amanda’s class recently provided food to the family of a man who suffered 27 broken bones in a car accident. When Amanda told the man, “God is trying to get your attention,” the man replied, “Tell Him He has it!” That’s when Amanda called Phil to begin visiting with the man and his family.
Duncan gives each day to God to guide him where he should be. Another church member told him about someone who needed to hear the Gospel, but that the man was usually only home around 2 in the afternoon. Phil looked at the clock. It was 2, so he went and shared. The man received Christ.
“It’s a daily walk, and I’m still learning,” Duncan said. “You’ve got to believe that God is going to do it. If you think it’s you, then don’t do it. Wait on the Lord until you know He’s in control. He is supposed to BE your life. Wherever you are — at work, at the store — it doesn’t really matter. The point of it all is: How can God love people through my life today?”
PASSION WITH A PLAN
Ministering to some 20 towns outside of Columbus, Jersey Baptist Church has grown since 1990 from 278 to more than 1,100 in weekly Bible study and from 400 to more than 1,500 in weekly worship attendance. They maintain a high percentage of serving members. Seventy-three percent of adults attending Bible fellowship (their Sunday School) are serving somewhere in the church.
That high percentage could be attributed in part to the administrative gifts of Nancy Morbitzer, Duncan’s loyal assistant of nine years, and their focused methods to track evangelistic prospects and new believers. Duncan keeps a detailed log of every visit he makes, so that he knows exactly where to pick up with each person.
As soon as someone makes a decision for Christ, Duncan shifts to a discipleship mode. He immediately gives new believers a tract explaining baptism — who should be baptized, what it means and why and how we do it. The next day he sends a letter; a Bible if they do not already have one; and a booklet called “Beginning Steps,” a growth guide for new believers.
New believers are then encouraged to continue through the church’s discipleship program with classes such as Growing in Christ, Survival Kit, MasterLife and Serving with Joy. Duncan said new believers who complete those courses know more than lots of people who have gone to church for 20 years. They become “doers of the Word.”
Jersey Baptist has always baptized more adults than youth and children combined. “Most people think it’s harder to win adults,” Duncan said. “In my experience, I’ve found you get who you go after. Jesus is passionately in love with people and His followers must go and tell of His love.
“But you have to love fishing, not catching,” Duncan added. “It takes more than just a one-time visit. You must be sowing continually. You’ll eventually get them.” He told the story of a man named Woody who recently accepted Christ. According to Duncan’s detailed log, he had witnessed to Woody for more than 11 years. Duncan also mentioned having been in at least one house more than once with two different sets of homeowners, with a harvest for the Kingdom occurring in both instances.
Besides patiently fishing, it also takes prayer, and Duncan has a network of prayer warriors and a system to keep them informed weekly on how to pray. The senior pastor and staff, the intercessory prayer teams and the prayer room all receive weekly updates, but Duncan also has a system for himself to be sure he stays prayed up for those he is trying to reach. On Sundays he prays for those who have made decisions for Christ but have not followed through with believer’s baptism. The rest of the week he prays for the unsaved prospects alphabetically.
IGNITING PASSION IN OTHERS
Duncan’s passion is not only reaching the lost for Christ, but also transferring that passion to others. His prayer for every believer echoes that of Paul in Philemon 6: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.”
Duncan always has four men under his wing teaching them how to share their faith. Together they visit in homes on Monday through Thursday evenings every week, rain, snow or shine. He and his trainee for the night typically knock on four or five doors and experience at least two “good” visits per night. On the average, two to three people per week come to Christ as a result of the home visits.
Tom Stebbins was one of Duncan’s evangelism trainees. “I went out on home visits with Phil each Wednesday for about two months,” he recounted. “It was good because you get to visit with people. Some are hardened, but so many times people are receptive and ask questions.”
Stebbins recalled one memorable visit with “an affluent couple that seemed to have everything in the world, but they were still empty inside. They did not accept Christ that night, but the following week, they came forward in the service. They are now very involved in the church.”
Now at age 60, Stebbins is a Bible fellowship teacher of a class that has grown from 12 to 34 and will soon be birthing a new class. He said he still doesn’t feel qualified to teach, but the Holy Spirit gets him through it every week. Stebbins’ passion is for people to know that Jesus meets them on their level. “You always fail trying to change yourself from the outside,” he said, “but Jesus can change you from the inside out.”
Duncan noted, “When God saves us, He gifts us. Every person will be judged by the use of his gifts.” Any gift can be used to share the Gospel, and people can learn to become comfortable sharing their faith, he said. “If your gift is mercy, go to the hospitals and the nursing homes and love the people there, and share Christ with them. If it is the gift of encouragement, spend one night per week writing notes,” he tells those he disciples.
A LIFE OF OBEDIENCE
After years of systematically sharing his faith, Duncan’s passion burns brightly. “I think it is impossible to run out of energy if you are in the will of God. He supplies the energy.” Duncan notes that his only distractions from his purpose come in the form of other well-meaning Christians. “You’ll burn out” and “You should spend more time with your family” are reproofs he encounters.
Duncan acknowledged that he has been blessed with an understanding family. “My wife and five children have always supported me. That’s really important,” he said. “But I don’t believe you can burn out when you are in the will of God. When you persevere, He makes you like Him.
“And,” he posed, “what could be better than telling people about Jesus?”
Duncan desires to know more and more that Christ is working in him. He sites 2 Corinthians 4:7-11: “We who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.”
“It is God’s plan to save people. He’s the one who is passionately in love with people. So I fall in love with Him over and over again. It all depends on Him,” Duncan said.
He has methods for falling in love with Jesus as well. “It’s nothing new. Quiet time is always critical. But I believe that the way you really know Him is by being in the homes of people from all walks of life -– ‘to go is to know.’ When you hear problems that people are experiencing, it reminds you of how much we need Jesus to give us victory in every circumstance of life. This causes you to fall in love with Jesus because you realize your dependence is totally on Him.”
Serious Scripture memorization is another way Duncan keeps his love for Christ alive. In times between appointments and during his regular exercise times on the treadmill he has memorized passages such as the entire Book of James and is currently memorizing the Sermon on the Mount. “The Sermon on the Mount has been tough. It makes you realize that unless you are Spirit-filled, you can’t do anything that Jesus says to do. HE is your life. You CAN’T do it,” Duncan said.
Duncan once thought that to be in a Christian vocation you needed to be serving in a fulltime church position. But he has come to realize that every Christian is in a Christian vocation. “We are all fulltime ministers,” he said, acknowledging, “It might be more difficult to witness as a layman. But in the end, every person has to answer the question, ‘How can I best use my 24 hours?’”
He added, “The more I go, the more I feel that God flames the fire. I’ve gone visiting when I didn’t feel like going, but I never came back not being glad I went, even if a door gets slammed in my face. It’s God’s work.”
Duncan can’t imagine ever not witnessing and said he’ll be ready to go when that happens. “My real home is in heaven,” he said. “I feel that all the time.”
Do you know someone in the Southern Baptist family whose passion for Christ stirs others to a deepened passion for the Lord or first-time encounter with Him? Let us know at [email protected]. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: PASSIONATE WITNESS and PHIL DUNCAN.