Bringing heaven to earth
Robby Gallaty, senior pastor of Long Hollow Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., stood before 1,900 people attending the first of a handful of Christmas services in early December 2023 when the lights started to flicker and the large projection screens behind him malfunctioned. Cell phone alerts began to sound, eerily echoing across the worship center where the crowd would soon be sheltering in place. Outside, severe storms were brewing, spawning deadly tornados that swept across the region.
The church was not directly hit, but the storms impacted many members and devastated several communities. Though tragic, the disaster provided Long Hollow an opportunity to put into practice one of its core values: “Run to the hurting.” Gallaty, who also serves as president of Replicate Ministries, will share some of those experiences, the lessons he and his church learned, and pieces of his personal testimony when he speaks at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Empower Conference in February.
How would you describe the relationship between evangelism and discipleship?
Robby Gallaty: For years, people have thought of them as two different practices or competing disciplines. The word I use is disciple-making. Jesus told us to be about the business of making disciples. Under disciple-making, you have two legs: one leg is evangelism, which is basically leading someone into a relationship with Jesus Christ across the threshold of faith. But after evangelism, the ministry doesn’t stop. The other leg is discipleship, which is helping people grow into the image of Christ and replicating themselves to start the process over.
Think of it as two oars in the same boat. If you only have the oar of evangelism, you’ll just row in a circle. You’ll have a bunch of people sharing the gospel, but you’ll have no one else partnering in the ministry. If you only have the oar of discipleship … you’ll have a bunch of people memorizing and studying Scripture, but you’ll never reach any lost people with the gospel. So you have to have both. The thing I often say is, “The gospel came to you because it was heading to someone else.” That means every person as a Christian has been given a baton at the moment of salvation. And if we’re honest and we look at our hands, we’re either fumbling the handoff or we’re running with passion and we’re passing it on to the next generation to leave a legacy.
How did you see the Lord use last year’s tornados in your area to not only reach your community, but help you make disciples in your church?
RG: One of the core values of our church is we run to the hurting. Obviously, when you have a pastor who’s been sober from drugs and alcohol now 20-plus years, you kind of become an epicenter for people who have hurts and hang-ups. I think we were able to come alongside 32 families who had some kind of need [after the tornado], whether it was a tree in the backyard or they needed supplies or lost it all.
The way we minister at Long Hollow is not a bait and switch where we minister so you can come to our church. We really just want to be an example of the hands and feet of Christ in our community and love people, no strings attached. We feel like it’s way bigger than our church. It’s a kingdom ministry. I’ve been trying to teach our people for years now that we have an opportunity, as believers, to partner with Christ in the kingdom of heaven today and that we’re able to bring the kingdom to earth through obedience as we live for the Lord and love like Jesus loves. The problem with many Christians is we have this preoccupation of trying to get out of the world and into heaven. Jesus has been trying to get heaven into the world through us for 2,000 years, so we just show people that we have an opportunity to partner with Him every day.
What have you learned through your ministry experience at Long Hollow that may benefit pastors, church leaders, and others who will attend Empower?
RG: What I’m going to share at the conference is my own story, my own brokenness that led to breakthrough. I’m going to share that if you want to see people saved and baptized [in your church], see people evangelized … you need God to set you on fire again to be passionate about the things of God. [Long Hollow] started to burn for the Lord and really seek God, believing there was more of God to be had, and it just created this amazing move of God that we are still in now.
We have a natural propensity to go right to the method or the mission or the manner of evangelism. [But] we’ve got to go back and ask ourselves, “Has the fire of revival or the flame of evangelism gone out in my own life?” You have to get to the end of yourself, because that’s where the beginning of God is. Regardless of your skill set or gifts or preaching ability … what every person used mightily by God has in common is they came to the end of themselves and realized they couldn’t do it without Him. What we all have in common is we all have the ability to present ourselves and surrender to the Lord through brokenness. When we’re broken over a sin, it leads to desperation and dependency, and desperation leads to breakthrough. Numbers obviously aren’t everything, but it’s unbelievable [what God has done at Long Hollow]. I can tell you so many stories of lives changed and attendance growth, but it goes back to God having to change the man before any method was implemented. I realized that was the problem. And when God changed me, everything changed.