Students advance gospel in Texas churches, cities

While some students choose to spend the lazy, hazy days of summer lounging at the pool or watching day-long movie marathons, this summer 15 college and seminary students have given up their summer breaks to minister in churches across Texas and led more than 60 people to saving faith.

Those 15 students made up five teams that spent seven weeks this summer serving with Engage—a ministry of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention that sends out student evangelism teams to local churches throughout Texas with the goal of reaching the lost and revitalizing churches.

Engage coordinator Mitch Tidwell said this year’s teams—dispatched in a partnership between the SBTC and the North American Mission Board (NAMB)—made a significant difference in encouraging local churches and leading the lost to salvation in Christ. Through the first six weeks, 63 people had recorded salvation decisions with numbers for the seventh week still out at press time. Many of these churches are in communities that have seen their heyday or in other challenging circumstances.

“When lost people come in the doors, we’re seeing people saved because the thing we tell our teams is to just be intentional about the way they minister,” Tidwell said. “It’s really had a huge effect on churches. It’s just kind of like a shot in the arm kind of thing. It helps them get a leg up and energizes the pastor and the church.”

Most of the churches the Engage teams minister with have an average attendance of 20-30 people, Tidwell said. Yet teams have seen as many as 80 people come to a block party, allowing a church to begin relationships with people in that community and lead them to the Lord. In a given week, the groups also lead five revival services, children’s sport camps, youth rallies, evangelistic training and community outreach during a Saturday-to-Thursday endeavor with each church.

Tidwell said that while working at CrossWalk Church in Round Rock, one of the teams went to a local skate park where they visited with skaters and invited them to come out to the church. Seventeen young people from the skate park came to the revival meeting that night.

“The first night, the team leader, Jonathan McLeod, said once they got there to the revival meeting, the students weren’t sure if they should stay or go,” Tidwell said. “Jonathan got up there and preached and two of them accepted Christ that night. The next night, they showed back up and seven of them gave their lives to Christ.”

McLeod, who served as a preacher and team leader, said those two evenings stand out to him as highlights of the time he has spent serving with Engage this summer. Another high point, he said, was his team’s chance to minister at Navasota Baptist Church in Navasota.

“In one day we saw 15 people give their lives to Christ,” McLeod said. “Thirteen of them were youth from the community who came to our Backyard Bible Club. [One] afternoon, while we were evangelizing at an apartment complex, a lady gave her life to Christ, and that night at the revival service, another lady gave her life to Christ.”

The team saw a similar harvest during its week at Coastal Oaks Church in Rockport.

Tidwell said when the pastor of the church that was scheduled to host the Engage team found out a fellow pastor in town was having difficulty in his church, he offered to have the Engage team hold their services and the block party at his fellow pastor’s church instead. After a well-attended block party where McLeod gave a gospel presentation, three women from the community came forward to receive Christ as savior.

“It was just kind of a neat story how that worked out,” Tidwell said. “Coastal Oaks reached out and sacrificially just gave. We just don’t see stuff like that usually.”

Tidwell said even as the Engage ministry benefits churches, it also benefits the participating students, many of whom plan to go into full-time ministry after college or seminary.

“The ministry experience is just so broad,” Tidwell said. “It’s literally like going on a mission trip. You have to be just as flexible as if you’re going into a foreign country. You may walk into a church and they have everything ready for a VBS, or you may get there and they forget that you’re coming and you just [have] to wing it. If you’re a preacher, you’re preaching 35 times a summer. It’s just an opportunity that I really don’t know that you can get anywhere else.”

McLeod, a master of arts in theological studies student at Criswell College in Dallas, agreed and said his time serving with the Engage ministry has grown him spiritually, even as he reaches out to minister to others.

“I think the most significant thing I have seen in myself this summer as a product of Engage has been spiritual maturity,” McLeod said, mentioning that his team has exegetically studied James, Micah and Mark in preparation for the lessons they lead during Engage. “Constantly being in the Scriptures, praying and pouring into people’s lives invites spiritual maturity.”

McLeod said he would encourage college students who want to serve others to consider serving with Engage in future years. Most important, though, the Criswell student said he wants to encourage people to pray for the ministry.

“As my pastor has reminded me numerous times, revival is not something you can muster up.” McLeod said. “It is something you can pray down. The greatest way to get involved with Engage in the years to come is committing to pray for Engage daily.”

Collegians and seminarians interested in serving with Engage for 2013 can contact mtidwell@sbtexas.com or 817-552-2500. Those interested in following the progress of the teams can read the Engage ministry’s blog at engageteams.wordpress.com.

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