BARDSTOWN—Danny Haynes' childhood dream was to play professional baseball. After eight years pursuing that dream, he turned to the business world and found success. But his greatest success came when he left that profession and entered the ministry.
Haynes pastored six churches, but now finds himself in a different role in Kentucky Baptist life — serving as a staff evangelist for Mill Creek Baptist Church. That's a rarity — you can count on one hand the number of churches in the Bluegrass State that have a staff position devoted to evangelism.
As he turns 70 this month, Haynes reflects on what his life would be like if he had done what he wanted to do. But those thoughts quickly vanish. "If I had done what I wanted to do, I would never have done what Jesus wanted me to do. It's been a great life. God used sports and business to help me along the way."
While he relishes the opportunity to serve as a staff evangelist, he laments the overall decline of vocational evangelists in the state. "If we have half a dozen vocational evangelists in Kentucky right now that would be pushing it because people are not holding revivals today.
"We talk about America needing revival—we have certainly drifted away from our moorings because according to history 47 of the 57 signers of the Declaration of Independence were born-again Christians. Revival is, first of all, for Christians who are saved but need to be revived. But if you really want to see Jesus go to work in a church, train and motivate the person in the pew to be excited about telling somebody about Jesus. When that seed is planted and the power of the Holy Spirit brings conviction, that's when you really get excited. Revival is for the saved sinner who needs to recommit, and it's for the lost sinner who has never been saved."
Haynes preaches 12-14 revivals a year, saying he "loves to encourage the local pastor and the people." But he is also heavily invested in ministry work at Mill Creek. "It's a great situation—Mill Creek is probably one of the best kept secrets in Kentucky," he said. "It's amazing what God is doing there." There are three Sunday morning services with total attendance of about 800. In the last five years, the church has recorded 381 baptisms.
"We're in the process of building a new sanctuary, but our heart is in evangelism. The church gives me the opportunity to be gone quite a bit and when I'm away from Mill Creek I'm representing Jesus first, but also representing the church."
When he is not in a revival meeting, Haynes attends Mill Creek's three morning services. At the end of each service, he is one of several staff members who counsels people who respond to the invitation. "We expect somebody to respond every Sunday, and we have people responding. It's amazing. We believe every Sunday somebody will come, and we're disappointed if someone doesn't come."
That expectation of people responding to the gospel is evident as Haynes explains his calling as an evangelist. "We can't go forward until we go back—back to a hot gospel, back to preaching in love about hell, back to preaching the good news of the gospel."
The role of evangelists
KBC Executive Director-Treasurer Todd Gray points out that Eph. 4:11-12 identifies evangelists as one of God's gifts to the church, who have a purpose of equipping the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ.
"The role of the evangelist is to help believers in the church become witnesses, or soul-winners, for Jesus," Gray said. But he added that in churches there may be evangelists who have not been recognized. "He may be a businessman, an entrepreneur, a salesman or teacher by vocation, but one who has a heart that burns for lost people and who wants to see the church mobilized to take the gospel to the community." Gray said he encourages churches to pray for God to raise up men in our convention who answer the call of the evangelist in order to help churches reach Kentucky and the world for Christ.
Two-time KBC president Don Mathis is a staff evangelist for Eastwood Baptist Church in Bowling Green, mixing those duties with supply and interim work. He's presently serving as interim at Glendale Baptist in Bowling Green.
Mathis says having a staff evangelist is beneficial for both the church and the evangelist.
"It puts additional attention on the church reaching people for Christ, and it enhances the evangelist," Mathis said. "You carry the reputation of the church with you. It helps the church to sense it's part of his ministry. It encourages folks to pray for the evangelist.
"For the evangelist, when he is not preaching in meetings, he has ministry responsibilities with the church. When he is asked to preach in a meeting, he has the freedom to preach on issues that the church may be facing."
Another Kentucky evangelist, Randy McPheron, agrees there is a shortage of evangelists, but says, "There may be some who the Lord has set aside who are doing church planting or are in denominational work. It has been a prayer of mine that God would raise up men as evangelists."
McPheron tells people he has two hats and a helmet. One hat is as associational mission strategist for the Rockcastle Association and the other hat is Touch of Hope Evangelistic Ministries, which finds him preaching about 20 meetings a year. His helmet refers to his work leading Baptist Bikers of Kentucky, which connects bikers for missions and ministry.
While some churches have abandoned revival meetings, he does see a slight comeback. He says those churches that don't hold revival meetings "don't know what they're missing." Perhaps, he suggests, changing the name from revival might able helpful. His ministry has adopted names such as "Hope Rallies" and "Hope Sundays" in addition to labeling the meetings as revivals.
McPheron offers the advice that "evangelists are going to have to be creative to serve God effectively in that role."
Perhaps the way Mill Creek has structured the role of staff evangelists fits into the strategy McPheron suggests.
"The great thing is I can hang my hat and be part of the local church, be on staff, but still go preach as God opens the door," said Haynes, who serves in a part-time role.
When he left his previous church, Mill Creek Pastor Gary Chesser asked if Haynes would join his staff. Haynes said he wanted to pray about it, but pointed out that his "heart is not only evangelism, but in revivals." He noted that the church "has been so gracious for me to be able to go and conduct revivals" in his 17 months there. "Brother Gary loves Jesus and he loves people and Mill Creek is on fire for Jesus. It's exciting what's happening there. Bro. Gary is a great man and I love him. He considers me a mentor to him, but I've learned a lot from him."
Every Christian's responsibility
Haynes stresses that personal evangelism is the responsibility of every Christian.
"I think of the Apostle Paul — he didn't say 'take time out,' he said 'as you go, share the good news about Jesus.' Do it every day of your life, and God will send you somebody so you can tell them about the Lord."
Haynes said going into a restaurant offers an opportunity for personal evangelism. "I always take a gospel tract with me and I'll ask the waitress or waiter to tell me their name, and then I ask them if they have a relationship with Jesus. I always ask if there is anything I can pray about for them, what need they have, what's going on in their family. You'd be surprised the number of people who will begin to cry when you do that," Haynes noted.
In addition to his preaching opportunities, Haynes makes hospital visits for Mill Creek each week on Mondays and Tuesdays. On Wednesday nights, he and a discipleship pastor Ray Johnson rotate preaching duties each month.
From the time he was 5 years old, Haynes dreamed of playing professional baseball. It was a dream that seemed within reach. After graduating from high school, he signed a contract with the Chicago White Sox in 1967 and played in the minors until 1968. He was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 1969 expansion draft and ended up playing for the Royals' AAA team in Omaha, Neb.
Haynes played first base, and during those years had the opportunity to meet such baseball greats as Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams. He had a solid year in 1971 with a .302 batting average. While he was on a Major League Baseball spring roster, he never made it into a major league game.
After eight years playing the minors, Haynes gave up his Major League Baseball dream and entered the business world. He spent 17 years with cookie and cracker manufacturer Keebler. He worked his way up the corporate ladder, being regional sales manager for territories including Louisville, Cincinnati, Memphis, St. Louis and New Orleans.
"I was a little over 40 and had a very successful career," he said. "It was frightening because I left a large salary and we had a daughter in college. I think God used sports and business to help me along the way, but it took a big commitment to leave."
It's a commitment that has had no regrets. "The Lord sure has been good to me and He brought us a long way. We've let Jesus open the doors for us — I'm grateful that we don't have to get on the phone to call (for invitations to preach). I've never felt very good about that — we just let Jesus open the doors for us."
He is quick to applaud his wife, Jean, who "through sports, business and ministry has been with me every step of the way."
That partnership was evident as he reflected on their prayer time before he left for hospital visits recently. "We prayed that God would be honored. You never know what God might do, but it's all up to Him."
It's the conviction that "it's all up to God" that has emboldened Danny Haynes in giving up two careers to find the most rewarding job of all.