Chapter 17: D. James Kennedy Training the Laity in Personal Evangelism

Dr. Eddie Pate

Written by a number of experts and experienced ministry leaders, A History of Evangelism in North America (edited by Thomas P. Johnson) provides an account of distinct and influential evangelism figures and methodologies from the early 16th century to today. Dr. Eddie Pate contributes to this volume by giving an account of D. James Kennedy and his evangelistic training of personal witnessing to his church laity.

When Jim arrived at Ingleside Presbyterian Church, Smartt let him know that not only would he be preaching each evening but that he would be sharing the gospel every day, morning, and afternoon, in homes and door-to-door in the community. He was fully aware of his lack of knowledge as to how to witness to anyone. That night in the hotel he prayed for Jesus to return! He knew Kennedy Smartt would be watching “Kennedy Dumbs” feeble attempts to witness. Smartt arrived the next morning, excited and ready to go share Christ. 

Kennedy and Smartt’s first visit was to a man named Hank. Smartt introduced Jim Kennedy to Hank and then allowed Jim to take the lead in sharing the gospel. Jim began a sales pitch that sounded like something from his life as a dance instructor. He told Hank that he needed to turn from his wicked ways and repent, pointing his finger at Hank’s chest. As the conversation continued, Hank was getting agitated. Jim continued, “We are all sinners in the hands of an angry God.” Hank’s irritation manifested with him lunging toward Jim Kennedy, with Kennedy Smart stepping in and calming the situation down. Smartt then said, “Hank, let me ask you a question, if you died tonight are you sure you’d go to Heaven? What if I could tell you how to know for sure that when you die you’d go to Heaven, would you be interested? Suppose you were to stand before God and He were to say to you, ‘Hank, why should I let you into my Heaven?’ What do you think you would say?” Hank was interested, Kennedy Smartt clearly shared the gospel with him and clarified what it meant to accept Jesus and receive eternal life. Smartt then led Hank in prayer, repeating after him and repenting of his sin and asking Jesus to take control of his life. 

I asked Kennedy Smartt the same question Jim Kennedy asked him, “Where did you learn to do that?” He said that Bill Iverson, a friend who’d led a revival a year earlier, had done that. Bill (who still lives and pastors in New Jersey) had been a three-letter athlete in football, basketball, and track at Davidson. He stood at six foot six and Smartt said he would talk to anyone. Smartt recalls that his church was in a mill town; there was a cotton mill and textile mill. People in the community were either working at the mill or at home, depending on their shift. The owner of the mill had given permission and even asked for them to share the gospel in the mill. 

Meanwhile, over the next several days, Jim Kennedy watched Smartt and eventually helped lead more than fifty people to Christ. Kennedy Smartt is still active in evangelism and serves as “chaplain to the community” at Chestnut Mountain Presbyterian Church in Georgia. 

D. James Kennedy returned to Florida after the evangelistic campaign with Kennedy Smartt and began to practice that same method in his church. He realized after several months, that he alone, or sometimes with his wife Anne, would only be able to reach a limited number of people. He began to take others with him and train them in evangelism. Jim had discovered “the secret of witnessing, of effective, productive, personal witnessing. He had learned how to deactivate the paralyzing fear that had thwarted all of his previous feeble evangelizing efforts. He had discovered the sure way to lead a person to Christ in a one-on-one situation.” The church started to grow, from seventeen to sixty-six, just eleven months after it began in May 1960. By 1967, Coral Ridge was singled out as the fastest-growing church in the denomination. As pastors around the country began to ask how he had done it, Jim began to hold Evangelism Explosion workshops, the first in February of 1967.

Taken from A History of Evangelism in North America © Copyright 2021 by Thomas P. Johnston. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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