Soul-Winners who have Influenced Me: Jimmy Nettles, Pioneer Evangelist
For 28 years, Dan Nelson has served as pastor of First Baptist Church in Camarillo, Calif. Pastor Nelson will submit a series of posts to SBCToday about people who influenced him for the sake of evangelism.
Jimmy Nettles was as pastor in Texas and Illinois whose churches grew rapidly in evangelism. Jimmy was a tremendous personal witness whom God thrust into evangelism. Before Jimmy entered full-time evangelism he was struck down with Rheumatoid Arthritis. He was in the hospital for months and the Doctor’s said he would never walk again. He did recover though and entered evangelism with this severe condition he lived with the rest of his life. Each day of his life he had to soak in a bath to relieve the pain. It did not stop him however. He did more than many with no physical difficulties. Those who were around him knew he never complained about his condition.
He and his wife Patsy made a commitment to pioneer missions and conducted only five Revival meetings a year in the Bible belt. The other meetings were in the Northeast, Midwest and primarily in California and Northwest. Jimmy had 3 meetings with the one church I served as Pastor of in Burney and the last two in Camarillo in my present church. We had over 250 professions of faith in all 3 meetings. I learned valuable lessons from Jimmy about soul-winning in all these meetings.
Jimmy knew how to get people to come to evangelistic meetings. He had his “hot dog choir” with the children before the service in which he would teach the children a few choruses and they would sing every night. He shared the gospel with them an encouraged them. The last night they had a hot dog meal. Several children would usually come to Christ who could understand the gospel and respond to it.
Jimmy had a “Pizza feed” for the Youth on Tuesday night of our meeting. Pizza tickets abounded and everyone passed them out. People in the church brought home-made pizzas or went out bought some bringing them to the church. The meal was after the service and the youth sat on the front. This way they heard the gospel before they ate Pizza. We went everywhere giving out Pizza tickets. In our meeting in Burney I remember passing out Pizza Tickets at the public school. I called the school and the principal said come on down and pass them out at recess which is unheard of in California. We must have had half the school at church that night for pizza. Many found Christ. I latter baptized the principal’s son who came to Christ through our youth ministry.
He also revived the old “Pack the Pew” night with the Host and Hostess with the Mostest. People would take a pew one night of the meeting and try to invite friends and guest to sit on their pew. You got one point for a member and five points for a non-member. The one with the most points at the end of the week was given a nice Bible. You can imagine my surprise when my daughter had practically all of her 5th grade class there. She never was happier I thought than when she received the Bible for having the most points.
My former Minister of Music expressed the shock of some of our members in seeing all the un-churched people in services every night. He said you looked around and said, “Where did all these people came from.” When they got there they heard a strong evangelistic message from Jimmy. He really preached short messages for most evangelist but had long invitations because of so many coming to Christ. It was literally unbelievable all the people flooding the aisles each and every night. Jim gave his testimony on tithing one night and preached out of Malachi. We had 14 coming to trust night even without and evangelistic theme in his preaching.
Jimmy planned each step of the invitation carefully to help people know what it meant to trust Christ as Saviour. He was one of the best at giving a step by step guide in coming to Christ. The results were astounding. We were not able to baptize all of them. Many in youth our area now came from Catholic families whose parents forbade them. I do believe if these youth, children and adults truly met business with God they were truly saved. 3 times Jimmy preached for me in Revival meetings and the results were always the same. Many came to Christ through God using Jimmy’s carefully planned methods empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The persistence of Jimmy despite his physical condition was astounding. The way we used almost every avenue in the church for every age group was what was really amazing. I have never seen such involvement in the area of evangelism and for a special series of meetings. I was privileged to lead my church to be involved in such an undertaking. For years Jimmy followed the same pattern of special meetings in pioneer areas for Southern Baptist work when he could have had bigger crowds and bigger love offerings in the Bible belt. He continued this pace till God called him home a wonderful servant of the Lord who reached the masses for Christ.
It was thrilled to talk about Evangelism with Jimmy. He told me that most churches drop the ball my not going to new convert’s friends. He said what really built the churches he served as pastor was to sit down and get the names and addresses of their friends so he could go to them immediately with the gospel. They could see what had happened in their friend’s life could happen in their lives also. He said, “We didn’t separate them from their friends, but went to their friends with the gospel.” Come to think of it that’s the way that Jesus did it.
I really miss Jimmy. Sometimes I want to call him up and schedule another meeting. Then I realize he’s preached his last sermon and conducted his last meeting on earth. What’s to stop us from carrying on his legacy and all the soul-winner’s legacy I have shared about. May we stand in their place and keep doing what they were doing. May we never get too sophisticated or distracted to win souls the way they did. People’s eternities depend on it.