During a recent podcast episode of “Leadership Lessons,” hosted by the Kentucky Baptist Convention, pastor Steve Ayers declared, “I believe the Great Commission, literally.”
Adopted twice over — first into a godly family and then, through salvation as a 9-year-old into the family of God — Ayers grew up “surrounded in a culture of Jesus.” He has been lead pastor of Hillvue Heights Church Bowling Green for more than 30 years, which has grown from 30 members into one of the largest churches in the convention.
Todd Gray, executive director of the KBC, asked Ayers to speak about key elements of an evangelistic church culture: baptism, the altar, events, preaching and a pastor’s personal example.
Baptism is ‘a big deal’
Hillvue Heights has baptized more than 12,000 people in the past 43 years, a majority of those during Ayers’ tenure.
“My whole life and ministry, I’ve always made (baptism) a big deal,” Ayers said. “It (is) a big deal for people to receive Jesus Christ, and baptism is that symbolic sacred seal of commitment … . It’s that outward confession that, ‘I’m buried in Christ and I’m risen in Christ.’”
Noting that a larger percentage of people who are baptized remain faithful in their Christian walk than those who forgo it, Ayers said “there is a power of witness in the baptism that you and I can’t do by just expressing verbal content.”
‘Our altar stays open’
Another key aspect of Hillvue’s culture is the altar, which Ayers said is a symbolic way of expressing response to God’s voice — in the lives of believers, and for those who come forward to repent of sin and trust in Christ for salvation.
“Our altar stays open,” Ayers noted. “The invitation to receive Jesus is always open in our community of faith.”
Ayers said he also preaches the cross and resurrection, imitating the Apostle Paul during Sunday morning services.
Noting a major component of a pastor’s personal evangelism should stem from a conviction that Jesus truly is the only way to heaven, Ayres said, “The more I listen to people, I don’t think we’re convinced of that. I really do believe there’s been a gospel preached in the Commonwealth of Kentucky that says, ‘If I do good works, I’m going to go to heaven.’ And that’s a prominent false teaching in our Kentucky Baptist churches.
“Jesus is my only hope,” Ayers declared. “He’s my only source of salvation. He’s the only way … . I still believe that there’s a hell, and I don’t even want people I don’t like to go there, so I’m going to share that as the sole hope of humanity.”
Keeping the main thing ‘the main thing’
He believes the church exists to save souls, and a mentor once admonished him, “Don’t let anything else mess that up,” Ayres remembered. “There’s a lot of doings that pastors can get involved in that don’t do much … . Keep this main thing the main thing.’”
“I believe he gave me some divine wisdom,” Ayers said. “We as pastors, if we keep the main thing the main thing — and that doesn’t become some cliché or slogan inside the church, but that’s really the way we balance our pastorate, structure our churches, innovate and exercise — we will see the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit in the midst of our congregation.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Tessa Redmond and originally published by Kentucky Today.