“Emulation trumps exhortation,” J.J. Washington preached. “Before you book a ticket across the ocean, please take the gospel first to your neighborhood.”
The Georgia pastor was met with frequent applause at the Illinois Leadership Summit Chicagoland in March. Washington was one of two keynote speakers at the event held at Brainard Avenue Baptist Church, which also included breakout sessions led by IBSA staff and Chicago pastors.
Washington described an Atlanta suburb that was mostly white and affluent until about a decade ago. It is now 60% African American and 25% Hispanic. And Austell Baptist Church was once large and thriving. When it dwindled to the point of desperation—50 people in a sanctuary built for 900—Washington was called from a staff position working with renowned Georgia pastor Johnny Hunt to lead this small group in revitalization.
His no-holds-barred style met resistance at first, but six months into a turnaround, the church is showing signs of life—reaching the neighborhood and its black and Hispanic residents. He showed photos of recent baptisms.
“The jury is still out on me,” Washington admitted. “The true test is the legacy a pastor leaves behind.”
His leadership message was cheered by the Chicago-area crowd. “The pastor’s role is to be the motor and the modeler,” he said. “We can’t lead from the back.” He said several times in his presentation, “I motor for the gospel!”
Teaching church members how to have gospel conversations was not his first move. At the beginning, he simply took two elderly white ladies on visitation, asking for prayer requests.
Washington recommended what he is leading his church to do:
• get into the neighborhood and knock on doors;
• get into the schools with sports programs and Bible clubs;
• get the church back into prayer by bringing requests to the altar;
• get diverse representation in the leadership and on the platform.
“What if we have over-complicated the gospel?” Jonathan Hayashi asked in another session. The associate pastor from Troy, Mo., previously served as worship leader for Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago. He urged the church leaders to focus on discipleship. “We cannot microwave disciples; they are a Crock Pot recipe. Maturity takes time.”
Hayashi is the author of a new book, “Ordinary Radicals.” He said creating a discipleship culture in the local church is, in fact, a leadership issue. “Evangelism rises and falls on leadership,” Hayashi said, and making disciples will only become a priority for the church if it is a priority for the leaders.
“Don’t announce the revolution by saying ‘We’re gonna make disciples!’ Hayashi advised. “Just start doing it.” His emphasis on leading by serving as a model dovetails with Washington’s approach.
“Either you are making disciples,” he said pointedly, “or you are making excuses. Which are you?”