Jay Lowder is an evangelist from Texas God has used to reach hundreds of teenagers and adults. We spoke with Jay recently to discuss his methods and motivation for ministry. We are pleased to share a portion of that conversation.
SBC LIFE Jay, tell us what you do and what brought you to this place in your life.
Lowder I'm a full-time evangelist. I travel doing full-time evangelism through revivals, crusades, assemblies, and evangelism conferences. If I had to choose just one of these it would be crusades, primarily area-wide crusades, because my gift is reaching lost people. Having that gift, my heartbeat is to do all that I can to reach as many lost people as possible. To be honest with you I'm not very good at a lot of things, but God is good through me in one area — winning people to Christ. It's my passion. It's my life. It's all that I do. It's all that really matters to me outside of my wife and two kids.
SBC LIFE When did you know you had a gift for reaching people this way?
Lowder I realized that I had a passion to reach lost people three nights after I was converted. I went to an evangelistic rally in a municipal auditorium. Jerry Johnston was speaking that night and there were so many people there that they actually had to ask the adults to leave the auditorium. I was sitting on the front row. At the conclusion of the message when he invited people to come, repent, and invite Christ in their life, I saw several hundred students come forward, many of them with tears running down their cheeks. In my heart I just knew. I said, "This is what I will do with the rest of my life." I know that may sound a little odd, but my spirit bore witness that this would be my life's focus.
SBC LIFE What is the essence of an effective evangelist?
Lowder An effective evangelist is a man who is no more special than anyone else, but has a unique anointing on his life to reach lost people. I've been in countless crusades where people who had been under sound gospel preaching for months, and even years, gave their lives to Christ. Was it because of the special-ness of the evangelist? No, it was because of the uniqueness of the anointing on his life to reach people. That's what a true harvest evangelist is - one who has that anointing on his life. He's been gifted by God to reach people the pastor might not reach.
SBC LIFE I gather churches aren't doing as many crusades and evangelistic meetings as they did in earlier days.
Lowder I think that's right. Many people think revivals and crusades are a thing of the past. Many pastors have never actually been involved in a crusade where the primary focus is to reach lost people. I think a reason for that is many pastors have never really had an opportunity to use a harvest evangelist. I'm talking about a God-called, God-anointed, harvest evangelist to whom God has given the gift to draw the net, to reach lost people.
SBC LIFE What are some of the things that have diminished the exercise of the evangelist in the churches?
Lowder Without question, part of it is the fault of some evangelists. There have been some integrity issues where evangelistic ministries have done some things that were unethical.
Sadly, some evangelists come ready to be served rather than to serve the church. Some have gone to a church and expected everyone to rearrange everything for their own benefit. There are no big shots in God's Kingdom, but I think there have been some evangelists who, because of their gift, have believed themselves to be something that they were not. No evangelist has ever been responsible for the results; it has always been God at work through the evangelist — through God's calling and anointing on his life.
SBC LIFE Jay, what should a pastor expect of an evangelist?
Lowder A pastor should expect at least six things of an evangelist who comes to his church. First, he should expect honesty from that evangelist. When I say honesty I mean honesty in representation of the gospel.
Next would be humility. Some evangelists have come into crusades or evangelistic meetings as prima donnas — not reflecting the humility that Jesus displayed.
The third thing is moral purity. A pastor should expect an evangelist to be pure in every sense of the word — pure in the way that he deals with the congregation, pure in the way that he deals with Scripture, and pure in his approach to ministry.
Another thing a pastor should always expect is a passion for God's Word. Sometimes evangelists are known for being more philosophical or presenting stories — giving thoughts and ideas and opinions — as opposed to giving God's Word. A lot of pastors and evangelists have gotten away from preaching God's Word. It's odd, but pastors and evangelists will fight about whether or not the Word is inerrant, yet when they have an opportunity to preach it, they don't!
A pastor also should be confident that the money received in the love offering will not be used for personal gain, but instead will go back into the ministry to reach other people.
The last thing that I would mention is accountability. I believe one of the reasons that many ministers have found themselves in scandalous situations has been their lack of accountability. My conviction is that every person should have an accountability partner — I have one that I meet with every Thursday. We are able to open up with one another, share with one another, and hold one another accountable to be men of God.
Another critical thing is for an evangelist to have a group of people that he's accountable to (our board for example). Our board is not just a group of people who meet with us once every three months. They are men who help determine the course and direction of our ministry. Accountability is very, very important, and a pastor should look for an evangelist with a track record of accountability.
SBC LIFE What is the greatest threat to the ethical exercise of this gift in the evangelist?
Lowder There are some very real temptations that confront the evangelist. Maybe the greatest of them is the issue of power. As an individual gets more exposure, he might believe the power to be his own. That's been the demise of many, many ministries. Even a pastor can get into a situation where he believes himself to be something and forgets that had it not been for the grace of God Almighty, he would be totally ineffective. I think we would all do well to remind ourselves that the Bible says our righteousness, our best, is filthy.
SBC LIFE What is your most fruitful ministry venue right now?
Lowder I would say there are two areas. One is personal evangelism, the other is in crusades. They go together. There is not going to be success in our crusades if Jay Lowder is not being a personal witness outside the crusades.
Right now, though, we are seeing the greatest amount of success in evangelistic meetings. We recently went to the smallest church I have been in all year. An evangelist had cancelled and it was near my hometown, so I drove thirty miles down the road and spoke to a small crowd of about eighty-five people. We saw twenty-nine come to Christ. We are seeing results in reaching lost people through evangelistic meetings.
Sometimes we feel that because we spend so much time ministering to people, we're doing our job. The truth is even if you are winning millions of people from a platform you still have an obligation to be a one-on-one witness in your day-to-day life. Think about D. L. Moody. He won tens of thousands of people to Christ outside of the million he won from the pulpit because everywhere that he went, he would tell people about Christ. Some of the greatest witnessing experiences that I have had were not from the platform, but in my day-to-day life.
A couple of months ago I went to get my oil changed and met two young men — one twenty-one and the other twenty-three - who had never heard the gospel of Christ. I stood there and watched their tears hit the concrete as they got on their knees in the oil bay and were gloriously saved. One of them went home, told his wife, and three days later she came to Christ, too. They were baptized the following Sunday.
SBC LIFE Tell us about your conversion.
Lowder I grew up in a great Christian home, and I had good Christian parents. I made a decision for Christ when I was young but didn't know what I was doing. When I got up into my high school years, I began to experiment with other things. I got involved in the party scene and all that goes along with that. When I graduated from high school and went off to college, I did more of the same.
It all culminated after I went off to college and came back within the year. I was just living in sin. No need to go over the details. I moved back to my hometown and moved in with an old friend of mine. We typically went to the bars when he got home, but one night he came home and said, "Jay, I won't be going to the bars anymore. I gave my life to Christ." I said, "Listen, I've had plenty of exposure to religion and so-called Christianity. It's not real. You'll realize that and you won't stay with it." He said, "Jay, I will stay with it and I'll never go back to my old lifestyle."
I remember that he'd come in at night with a book called The Survival Kit for New Christians. He'd come in, and I don't care if it was 12:00 at night, he'd get his Bible and he'd write things. Well, unbeknownst to him, when he would go to sleep, I'd sneak into the kitchen and read those things that he wrote. I saw a real change in his life, a dramatic change in him. So that began to plant a seed that maybe Christianity was real.
But after losing my job, the girl that I'd been dating for about three years, and my car — all at twenty-one years of age — I decided to end my life. One day I woke up and walked to the bathroom as I always had and splashed water on my face like I had countless mornings before. But when I looked in the mirror I saw someone looking back at me. For the first time I saw myself for who I really was. It was like God had removed the veil that hid from me where I was in life and how far I'd gotten.
I remember standing in that bathroom and yelling, "I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!" at the top of my lungs and punching the window. I walked into the den, got on the sofa, and took the 22-caliber pistol my father had given me. I sat there looking at that gun and decided to end my life. There were two things that I was really worried about. Number one, was the gun powerful enough to kill me? I didn't want to be a vegetable. I was terrified at the thought of that. The second question was, when I do this am I going to go to heaven or hell? As far away as I was from God, there was still a real awareness that I was just about to meet my Maker.
Satan had deceived me into thinking that because I had lived a decent life and had been baptized and had filled out a card at a church that I would be okay. So I took that gun, pulled back the hammer, raised it to my right temple and put my finger on the trigger. Just then I heard somebody pull up the driveway. It startled me because it was around three o'clock in the afternoon, and I knew that no one would be at my house at that time of day. Most everybody else had a job except for me. So I set the loaded gun down on the sofa, walked over and peeked out the blinds, and saw my roommate's green 240 SX pulling into the driveway.
I immediately went back over to the sofa and uncocked the gun, slid it back underneath the sofa, turned on the television and tried to wipe the tears off my cheek. My roommate walked up to the door and into the house. I said, "What are you doing home?" You've got to understand that he worked for his father. Now, when you work for your dad, you don't get much time off. He said, "Jay, it was the strangest thing. Dad walked up to me today and said, 'You know, you've done such a great job and I've never let you off early. Why don't you take the rest of the day off and just spend some time at home and relax.'" When he said that to me, I thought, "God's trying to rescue me."
Then a few months later my mother invited me to come hear an evangelist at my parents' church, First Baptist Church, Wichita Falls. I said, "Thanks, but no thanks. I couldn't care less about that guy or about that church and I won't be there." Then that Sunday night came around. I had plans with a friend of mine, but those plans got cancelled. I can remember it as if it were three minutes ago, making an illegal U-turn and driving into the parking lot of First Baptist Church. I sat down and for the very first time, I actually heard the gospel. I'd heard with my ears before, but there's a big difference between hearing with your ears and your heart. I heard a message on the crucifixion of Christ and when I heard him echo the words of Jesus, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do," I knew that Jesus was speaking to me. He said, "Regardless of what you've done, I love you, I care for you, I gave my life for you, come to Me." I dropped to my knees in the balcony of that church on April 5, 1987 and gave my life to Jesus Christ.
SBC LIFE What is your great hope for local Baptist churches in the area of evangelism?
Lowder I believe that one of the greatest ways to see Christians encouraged in their faith is to see lost people come to know Christ. It really builds a fire, and I believe we need that fire in our churches. One of my hopes is that churches will become more focused on carrying out what Jesus said He was called to do. In Luke 19:10 He said, "I come to seek and to save that which was lost."
My second hope would be for churches to learn how to be a personal witness for Christ. You may not be a pastor or an evangelist, but God can use you to make a dramatic difference for the cause of Jesus Christ.
SBC LIFE Do you use or recommend a specific method for personal witnessing?
Lowder Well, we have so many programs and tools that are effective. I think for some people they can be very helpful and meet a real need. However, Jesus said in Matthew 10:26, "Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks." In other words, if your heart gets in the right place, your mouth is going to follow suit. The reason a lot of us don't witness is our heart is not in the right place. We've fallen out of love with Jesus. I find that the closer I am to Christ, the more spiritually aware I am that people need Christ. But when I begin to get away from my quiet time and begin to get away from God, I begin to lose that passion and that focus. If your heart is in the right place, the Spirit of the Living God is going to energize you, motivate you, and even prod you to be a witness for Christ.
SBC LIFE What are your thoughts on the "seeker friendly" approach to outreach?
Lowder Satan is doing everything he can to deceive Christians into believing that to be effective we must be low-key, so that we do not in any way appear to be "fanatical" or turn people off. But let me say that no one has ever come to Christ simply because of the moral behavior of another person. We're not tourists on a cruise ship, we're soldiers on a battle ship. As to the seeker friendly approach, when we look at New Testament evangelism we see Jesus Christ and the disciples communicating the gospel at every opportunity. Every opportunity that presented itself wasn't a gradual progression from a friendship to a relationship to a gospel presentation. Sometimes it was immediately telling people of their need for Jesus Christ.
Let me give you an example. We were in a crusade in North Carolina some time ago and on one of the days we were driving down the street in a church bus. I saw some boys playing basketball, and I used to play a little bit of basketball. So I said, "Let's just go over and speak to these people about Christ." We got out of the van, stood on the sidelines, and watched for a few minutes.
Then, providentially, the ball was knocked out of play and bounced right to me. Well I took the ball, ran down the court, went up, and dunked the basketball. Then I asked those guys if they would give me five minutes, if they would just take a five-minute break and give me an opportunity to share with them something very, very important.
Five minutes actually turned into fifteen where I was able to give my testimony and share with them how they could know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. I asked those young men if any of them would like to receive Christ and all eight of them got on their knees and prayed, out loud, to receive Jesus Christ. Several of them came to the crusade services and were baptized that night. One-on-one evangelism still works!
Everywhere we go people are waiting to hear the gospel. The problem is not that there's a lack of people who are willing to hear it. The problem is there's a lack of people who are willing to share it.
For more information on Jay Lowder, contact Harvest Ministries at 940-696-0560.