Pastor stresses making ‘Gospel’ appointments
WILDWOOD—Phil Hunter, pastor of West County Community Church here, continues to work an event-based evangelism strategy with men that generates hundreds of potential appointments on an annual basis.
Dubbed “Manly Night,” the idea is to get high-profile professional athletes speaking Gospel truths before crowds of men and boys at a place like Lafayette High School, which played host to the latest event Jan. 5. The result was 232 decisions for Christ, which is probably the highest total since the concept came to life about five years ago, Hunter said.
The power of “Manly Night” is not in the decision or even in the status of the pros who stand behind the microphone. It rests in the power of Christ working mightily within Hunter, a former Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) state evangelism director who has a passion for witnessing. Hunter said he has learned over the years that making appointments with people after the event is more important than the actual decision itself, with the appointment being weighted toward discipleship. He and others from the church who follow up want converts who will stay in church, not temporary religious enthusiasts with fading faith.
“Tonight is just an overflow of what I do every day,” Hunter said.
Hunter is on the lookout for disciples. A disciple must first come to Christ, which can happen at a “Manly Night,” but the main thing in discipleship is finding someone whose heart pants after Yahweh. Hunter found such a heart five years ago in St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, and his testimonies over the years have helped make “Manly Night” a special time of blessing on a cold winter’s night in suburban St. Louis. Just like he does for the Cardinals, Pujols batted third in the speaking lineup Jan. 5 behind former University of Missouri and Indiana Pacers center Steve Stipanovich and former Cardinals pitcher Andy Benes.
A total of 32 men and boys recorded that they received Christ that evening, but Hunter expressed a view about those decisions that could be described as healthy (or even godly) skepticism.
“That’s our problem in America—we prayed a prayer, but we don’t understand repentance,” he said.
The remedy is to pursue those who are being drawn into a relationship with Christ with a zealous, heartfelt love that Hunter has demonstrated over the years toward men like Brad Gilbert, who was saved in 2002 and sponsored a table at the Jan. 5 event.
“I lived for 42 years apart from Jesus Christ and suffered all the consequences of that life,” Gilbert said. “I got the opportunity through our youth ministry to come into West County Community Church, Pastor Phil shared the Gospel with me, it immediately broke my heart, and I gave my life to Christ.”
Gilbert hosted a table filled with his sons and their friends who came wanting to hear the athletes speak.
“It gives you the opportunity to invite people who normally wouldn’t come into a church environment,” he said. “That’s the beauty of this event.
“Over the years, I’ve had lost friends who have experienced incredible hardship in their relationships come here and say, ‘I never really knew that this (a relationship with Jesus Christ) was an option.’”
Hunter has been blessed to build several relationships within a pool of arguably the most famous group of professional athletes in Missouri, which typically means that “Manly Night” is a big draw.
Stipanovich, who played in the National Basketball Association in the 1980s, had several of his family members in the audience and was part of a move of the Holy Spirit that led to seven of them making one big appointment with Hunter for the purpose of having the Gospel being explained more clearly and directly to them. His testimony of conversion during his junior year in college is one where “it began a journey that radically changed my life and is still changing my life even today,” he said.
Benes, who was the first person selected in the 1988 Major League Baseball Draft, told a story of how Jesus is helping him overcome pride as a Christian. “I have a lot of rough edges, and He’s having to continually help me out, but do you know what? He loves me and he loves you,” Benes said.
Pujols spoke for 23 minutes about how he tries to do everything to the glory of God. An executive sitting with him from the Pujols Family Foundation said he turns down dozens of speaking engagements but prioritizes his “Manly Night” date because of his relationship with Hunter. Both Pujols and Stipanovich are members of West County Community Church.
Hunter was asked whether other Missouri Baptist churches could improve their evangelistic efforts by means of a “Manly Night” type of event. He said it would be possible, but only through desperate prayer.
“A pastor in his love for the Lord gets on his knees and asks God to give him the how to’s,” he said. “If it’s not in a high school commons, wherever the room is.
“When I was a youth pastor in Meridian, Texas, in 1973, I got on my knees and said, ‘How am I going to reach this community of 1,800 for Christ?’ I never had a ‘Manly Night,’ but I went to the principal of the high school and said, ‘Can I turn on the lights on the football field?’ I would play football with every kid in that town. And then I had ‘Manly Night’ every Friday night. After we were sweating and hot, I’d tell them about Jesus and we’d have 2-10 teenagers saved every Friday night. That was an event that God had for that place.”
A “God-wrought passion” is another essential ingredient, he said.
“Get on your knees, get a vision, and then trust God to do it,” he said. “Use what God gives you. He specializes in a few fish and a little bread.”