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Evangelism | Dr. Leighton Ford (Mentoring)

Interview with Leighton Ford on evangelism

February 6, 2015

MaryKate Morse Evangelism Class 
March 29, 2004

Tell us the story of your spiritual journey

  • 5 at Keswick/
  • mother Ford’s influence- wanted to be missionary: prayer bench!
  • 14: mother left home/ lonely and seeking/ Blue Water: praying the Psalms
  • God became very real
  • College days: prayer group/ Jeanie
  • My “second journey” at 50: Dorothy
  • Sandy’s death

How did you get interested in evangelism?

  • YFC at 14: monthly rallies/ 30-40 to 700
  • Met Billy – January 49 – only one response/ his encouragement/ his influence
  • Bob Pierce/ World Vision
  • Became my passion – on through college and seminary

What were the characteristics of the evangelism movement when you began?

Graduated and ordained as a Presbyterian evangelist in 1955

In the post-war era evangelism was characterized by

  • Church planting (extension) – new suburbs
  • Crusades – refined “revivalism” – reached many who had moved during World War II and were displaced from the heartlands e.g., Oklahoma to Oakland
  • Radio – Dr. Fuller, Walter Maier, and beginnings of television
  • and other parachurch efforts: e.g., CCC, Young Life (relational), Navigators (one to one) – ex GIs
  • (Not “crusades” now!)
  • emphasis many fold: preaching/ relational/ personal/ multiplication

How did you contribute at that time?

  • first preaching for YFC – near Blenheim on Lake Erie! Dropped book! Japanese girl
  • gospel team in college and preaching in seminary
  • Billy in Toronto, my birth city … asked if I could help … then an “associate evangelist” – preparing for Billy’s crusades .. meeting pastors, and preaching all over a city to every kind of group – railway workshops in Toronto, home meetings in Ok. City
  • Began holding crusades myself – small Canadian towns to start
  • Early 60s – Billy called to Montreat – “commissioned” me to Canada” – started a team including Irv who just retired after 48 years!
  • Began to think and write and practice a theology of evangelism: The Xian Persuader
  • mid to late 60s saw the need for evangelism to include Christian social conscience and action – Seattle inner city – poverty, civil rights – “Christian Action” nights
  • this was pretty controversial then! Even within BGEA!
  • In the 70s became involved in world evangelization through the Lausanne Congress of 1974nd Lausanne Committee – a rich and rare experience to meet evangelical leaders worldwide –
  • “cooperation in world evangelization” – a way to express my two-fold passion: e.g. Zinzendorf, Mott, Billy
  • Z “I have but one passion … I would go anywhere
  • Lifetime friends and relationships : JACK DAIN – MY THIRD FATHER!

Has your understanding of evangelism changed, and if so how and why?

3 definitions have appealed to me

  • the simplest: “one beggar telling another beggar …”
  • classic: Wm. Temple “so to present X Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, that men may come to put their trust in God through him, to accept him as Savior, and to serve him as Lord in the fellowship of the church”
  • my favorite: 2 Corinthians 5: “God has changed us from enemies to friends, and given us the task of making others his friends also

The “Arrow” image and vision

  • how Billy has changed
  • point: sharp cutting edge/ broad in vision/ shaft goes deep in character and spirit
  • shows the fullness and wholeness of the gospel
  • some leaders lose that cutting edge and get dull and flat
  • others do not grow, become tiresome and repetitive
  • need to keep sharp, grow broad, and go deep!

Fresh images of the evangelist

storyteller, artist of the soul, friend on the journey

From your perspective, what is the relationship of evangelism to discipleship?

  • can’t make a sharp distinction: Matthew 28: to make converts is to make disciples!
  • There is a continuum: (see diagram) ________T___________
  • A beginning point all the way through to maturity in Christ
  • Ford M : discipleship is helping people to take the next step to Christ or in Christ
  • GOD IS THE EVANGELIST! That’s the main point!
  • God is moving in history, and in people’s lives
  • See Acts: Philip and the Ethiopian, Saul and Annias, Peter and Cornelius: God was at work in their lives before the evangelism got there!
  • Where is God working in this persons’s life (the importance of listening)
  • J. Wesley: “we second the motions of the Holy Spirit”

What do you think are the unique evangelism challenges we face today?

  • Pluralism and post modernism: how do we proclaim truth without being arrogant?
  • The challenge to live the truth


  • Ignorance of the basics
  • The challenge to communicate the truth (storytellers)


  • The negative image of “evangelists” and “evangelicals. What words describe an evangelist?
  • The challenge to “grace” the truth (the voice and the touch)


  • The hunger for community in a broken hurting world: tribalism 
  • Hunger for community, yet the church is broken
  • The challenge to “embody” the truth


  • C.S.Lewis – what is unique about Christianity?
  • Bilquis Sheik: Bible and Quran: which of these is Your book? In which do you find me as Father?

Why did you get involved in mentoring/training/supporting young evangelists?

  • Billy and me
  • Sandy
  • The leadership shift and challenge
  • The new for “spiritual friendships”
  • My mission statement: an artist of the soul and a friend on the journey

 What advice/wisdom would you like to share with pastors getting started today in the Church?

Mother Theresa: be holy and love one another

Oswald Chambers: I can’t give people what I have but I can make them hungry for it

Richele: a true commitment to Jesus .. the joy of the Chinese Christians through persecution .. that’s why they have been growing! We have so much but not that joy!

Boldness without brashness (LF)



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