4: McGrady: The Teacher

Paul McGrady, Mr. Evangelism

This ebook by Howard Culbertson is a biography of Rev. Paul McGrady, pastor, evangelist, and professor of evangelism. These 7 chapters (including the Foreword/Preface) contain the story of his life as well as one of his sermons. Mr. Evangelism was originally published by Pedestal Press of Kansas City

After 18 years as a Nazarene pastor and evangelist, Paul McGrady signed a teaching contract at what is now Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, OK, In the fall of 1962 he moved from Kansas City to the suburbs of Oklahoma City to teach evangelism and practics at SNU. President Roy Cantrell said, "Never did a faculty member come on the Bethany campus who won the hearts of so many so quickly as Paul McGrady."

As he began his first semester behind a classroom lectern, he found his weekends filled with preaching dates. Dr. G. B. Williamson wrote to him: "I certainly rejoiced in the good revivals that you have witnessed under your ministry since you left Kansas City, and I am praying and believing that you will have a wonderful ministry in the college at Bethany."

McGrady thoroughly enjoyed his new position -- that of training young people for Christian service. His passion was evangelism, and his mother knew that. In January of that first college year, McGrady's mother wrote him: "May God use you in a very special way to lead men to the foot of the Cross."

The path was clearing for the Lord to use Paul McGrady in that very special way. He began teaching his enthusiastic, passionate methods of evangelism. McGrady believed in the "law of averages." He felt that if you have enough people to work on, you're going to win some of them. But as he taught personal evangelism and visitation in the classroom he saw that just teaching was not enough -- he needed to demonstrate how to do it as well. As he would go out preaching in local churches on weekends, he became concerned that there rarely were sinners in the revival services. So he offered the pastors help in getting new prospects and in training their people in personal soul-winning. The terrific evangelistic spirit that had existed before in the churches he pastored now had an opportunity to spread over the educational region served by the college. So, in addition to his personal ministry as an evangelist, McGrady began training and sending out young ministerial students on weekends to churches in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Although he insisted that the carloads of students be known as "evangelism teams," the ministerial students traveling under his training came to be called "McGrady calling teams."

The program, which was in full swing by his second year on the faculty, was simply a method of helping pastors find new prospects while also showing local church members the need and potential of their own community. Whole towns were invited to come to a Church of the Nazarene for just one Sunday. The students would spend one weekend in town, inviting people to church for the following Sunday. At first, McGrady traveled with the teams, but soon the demand for teams became too great and he began scheduling several churches each weekend for the teams.

The teams spent two weekends at a church -- the first weekend, contacting every house in town or at least in neighborhoods surrounding the church property. The next weekend would be follow-up time as they returned to every home that had indicated an interest in attending the rally on Sunday.

Pastors and congregations stood wide-eyed on Sunday mornings as townspeople poured in, responding to the smiles, enthusiasm, and ready handshakes of the McGrady-trained young people. Attendance on the rally Sunday would double, triple, and even quadruple the church's normal numbers.

The plan was simple: McGrady would send the pastor information well ahead of time, asking him to map out the town or neighborhood surrounding the church into four-block areas. Gift packets for all the visitors were to be ordered. Advertising flyers were to be made for both weekends. The first weekend, a flyer was given to every person answering a door. The second weekend, reminders were given on Friday or Saturday for the Sunday morning service. Both flyers were designed to be used by children as a coloring sheet. The kids were instructed to bring the sheet to Sunday school as a "coupon" to receive a free gift.

For the local church members who would be helping the students, McGrady made copies of a page of instructions suggesting the approach to be used at the doors. It began:

"Good morning. I'm sorry to bother you, but I'd like to tell you about our big open-house program over at our beautiful building at Ninth and Oak on October 11. We have a lovely gift package for everyone -- colorful Hawaiian leis ... and a very special program. We wonder if you would consider being our guest for one visit, one time."

If the response came that the people attended church somewhere regularly, McGrady's callers would say, "Fine, I'm glad you're in church. Thanks a lot. Good-bye."

If, on the other hand, some positive response was given, he counseled callers to say, "Fine, I'm [name]." Then the caller was instructed to wait a moment for the person at the door to give his name. If he did not, then the caller was to continue: "And your name is . . .?"

"Good, we will look for you on October 11."

While one worker talked, the other one wrote down the name and address for call-back purposes the next weekend.

McGrady cautioned his workers: "Enthusiasm is essential if we are to succeed. Keep moving\ fast, because we work on the law of averages. The more homes we contact, the more prospects we find. Pray from door to door that the Holy Spirit will help you to make the next person hungry for God just because he has met a happy Christian."

He also said, "Do not say church rally, or a denominational name, or even the word come. Instead, do say, 'Lovely building at the corner of Sixth and Main. Big open-house day. Be our guest for one visit, one time."'

At the local church, McGrady tried to get everyone from older children to senior adults involved in the canvassing. He would use a college student and a local person for two or three hours until the local church member was experienced enough to teach another one. Thus he could build a large number of callers with only a few students.

The program worked -- over and over. The doubling of attendance was not permanent, naturally. However, by working consistently on the huge new prospect list, pastors would keep attendance numbers steadily rising. And of course, the calling and boost in attendance did wonders for the morale of the local congregation. After a few semesters, McGrady began to notice that the calling program worked especially well in large city suburbs where there were young families -- a confirmation of his earlier thinking about the effectiveness of outreach to young couples.

One of McGrady's most outstanding outreach campaigns came in July of 1963 at Lawton, OK., First Church of the Nazarene. During the week he was there, callers from the church talked to nearly 10,000 people. By Saturday night, the church office had cards on 300 families who showed some interest in the Church of the Nazarene. The Sunday prior to the campaign, attendance at Carl Summer's church was 118. On rally day it was 239. After preaching on the "New Birth" that Sunday morning, McGrady commented he had preached "to more sinners than saints" in that service.

With his church's average weekly attendance running 25 percent more than the previous year, Carl Summer, who was also the Southwest Oklahoma District church schools chairman, arranged for a district tour with Paul McGrady.

In that series of meetings with pastors and laypeople in various locations, W.T. Johnson, the district superintendent, said, "God used him to stir the people to new efforts."

As a result, plans were made for each church on the district to use the "McGrady calling team" method in a September drive. In three months, the churches of that district contacted 55,889 homes. District Sunday school enrollment jumped from 9,754 to 11,916. Weekly attendance jumped over 400 in the same period.

"It was all because of Paul and his emphasis on reaching new people," said Carl Summer.

The pace at which Paul McGrady worked was fantastic. "I'd rather wear out than rust out," he'd say. One could well believe it. While out with his calling teams, McGrady would take the pastor or a local member and engage in personal soul-winning. "Let's go see the person in your congregation you're most concerned about," he would say.

Paul McGrady held demonstration soul-winning clinics in churches as well as college classrooms. Weekends would find him driving or flying to Iowa or Florida or Arkansas or Georgia. Preaching 300 times a year, he still found time to supervise multiple calling campaigns each weekend and teach a full load of classes ranging from introductory Bible courses to preaching to advanced Christian education courses. In every course, he found ways of stressing evangelism. When he got wound up, the pace shifted from lecturing to preaching, and out from beside his lectern would come that "McGrady kick."

"So many of us told him he was working too hard, and that he must slow down, but he couldn't," Ray Hance, Kansas district superintendent, said. For Paul McGrady, the harvest was indeed ripe and time was very short. Yet in the midst of his heavy schedule, McGrady still found time for his horses. And if scheduling permitted, each year would find the McGrady family either in Kansas City for the American Royal horse show and parade or in Nashville for the Tennessee Walking Horse Show.

In September of 1963, Paul's mother became critically ill. Delaying his return to Bethany a bit, he flew from Miami, FL, to a South Carolina hospital to see her. Paul's father, who was not a Christian, came with Paul to the hospital on the morning that Paul left to return to the college campus.

"Pop" McGrady took his wife's hand and said, "Mom, if you'll just tell me what I can do for you, I'm willing me do anything."

Paul's mother just smiled. "Dad, if you'd really like to help me, why don't you give your heart to Jesus?"

Silently, Paul and his dad left to go home. On the way ... well, let's just let Paul tell it:

"Dad dropped his head and began to sob and cry. I said nothing. I started the car and began driving toward home. About halfway there I got up enough courage, and I said, `Dad, when are you going to do what Mother has asked you to do and has prayed for fifty-two years that you'd do?'

"He said, `Well, Son, I guess there's no hope for a fellow who's said 'no; as many times as I have to God and to a wonderful Christian wife.'

"I said, `O Dad, but God's mercy is from everlasting me everlasting. His truth reaches every generation, and God sent His Son to die for you, and when you're ready, He's ready to save you.'

"My dad said, `Well, Son, if that's true, I'm ready right now.'

"I think those are the sweetest words I've ever heard in all my life. I steered the automobile to the side of the road. I slipped my arm around my dad and began to pray, and heaven came down. My dad, 78 years of age, was gloriously and wonderfully saved from sin.

"Dad left breakfast on the stove back home where he'd prepared it. We forgot all about it and hurried back to the hospital to tell Mother. If heaven is any more wonderful than the 30 minutes that Dad, Mom, and I had together that morning, I'm anxious to get there. Glory to God!"

In October, "Mom" McGrady wrote from South Carolina, where she was improving, "I prayed recently, `Make Paul a Moody!'" God has done just that, for Paul's students were reaching upward of 200 new souls a year for Christ in personal soul-winning encounters alone not counting the seekers in the evangelistic services both he and his students were holding. The "Roman Road to Salvation" became a ready 15-minute talk anywhere. He especially liked Gene Edwards' outline of the "Roman Road." Jack Hyles, another great writer on soul-winning, was also one of his major sources of ideas.

Townspeople were even coming into his office on the first floor of the new Religion Building to get converted. A constant stream of students wanting spiritual help and counsel also poured through his office.

After living on the campus in a white frame house for 18 months, McGrady got a chance to buy a two-and-one-quarter-acre tract on the southern limits of Bethany. It would give him a place to keep his horses. He bought the land, and a student contractor built a brick home for his family. Some of his neighbors owned horses too, and he would often talk horses with them.

"He always left us feeling so good and happy, and that life was worth living," one such neighbor, horse owner Edith Fowler, said. McGrady even began to get several other faculty members interested in Tennessee Walking Horses. He was almost as enthusiastic a promoter of horses as he was of evangelism. For while traveling in evangelistic work he kept his ears alert for "horse talk."

Paul loved horses so much that he would get as excited over a new colt as most people would over a new baby. Following a weekend meeting in Elk City one night, his wife called from Bethany to tell him about a new colt born to Goody's Go Boy Flicka.

About halfway home he was stopped by a highway patrolman for speeding. When McGrady began his explanation about a new baby horse, he only got as far as "new baby" when the officer bade him goodbye and congratulations.

Jean says she never thought of Paul as being very original in his ideas and programs. She feels that anyone could do what he did with the same amount of hard work and initiative. And she might be right -- for McGrady borrowed ideas from Munger, Gardner, Stucki, Aycock, Wise, Bracken, and scores of others. An avid reader of everything from newspapers to books, he felt if he got one good idea out of a book it was worth the price of the book. Books were his friends. He also enjoyed positive thinkers and writers like Norman Vincent Peale.

McGrady believed revivals were not just for church people. He thought they should stay revived all the time. The best way for old church members to be encouraged and revived was to see new people converted. Any church organization existed only to save the lost and to edify the Church of Jesus Christ. Although a great evangelist, he never stopped with conversion alone. Students in his classes could always expect the question, "What is the purpose of the church?" to appear on a test at least once during the semester. The answer: "To build great Christians."

He believed the church should be full of action. Believing that new converts should come, hear, and go spread the gospel, he took them with him and taught them to be personal soul winners. One of his students, Lorraine Estorga, said, "His wish for every class he taught was that we would wholeheartedly assume the task of building men and women into Christlike characters."

One of the basics in Paul McGrady's Christianity was love. He had a tremendous capacity to love -- he loved everybody. If you didn't love, he felt you had missed real Christianity. He loved people -- that's why they came to hear him. He had respect for human personality. Regardless of who they were, he felt they were due respect and kindness.

"Sometimes I'd be ready to scratch people off my list, but never Paul," says Jean. "He made room for them all."

"He never pushed anybody down. He was always picking them up. He was a booster for everyone," said Carl Summer, who'd moved to Bethany's Calvary Church from Lawton.

"I was amazed at the enthusiastic manner in which he met and greeted all people. He has a way of making everyone feel he or she is one of the most important people in the world. I believe he really felt that way about people," said his niece Kay.

"He was such a human person. He never lost contact with people -- not even while he was preaching," Barbara Salelfeldt said after he conducted an indoor camp meeting in the greater Chicago area.

To one couple going into the U.S. Army, Paul talked of the opportunities for witnessing they would have among the army couples and suggested various ways of winning them to themselves. A prerequisite for winning them to the Lord is to win them first to yourself, Paul said.

Even to non-ministerial students on the campus, he was a source of inspiration. "Your constant smile has been a real source of encouragement to me," Charlotte Johnson wrote to him when he was ill one spring. When students themselves became sick, he sometimes offered to help financially. As a religion professor, he taught one or two of the introductory Bible courses that all students were required to take. He didn't let this opportunity go by without teaching personal evangelism. His classes were nearly always filled to the limit soon after registration opened.

To many, many students he became the outstanding influence of their college years. "He made you feel important when he talked to you and didn't scatter his attention to someone of more prominence -- which means a lot to those of college age," said Jane Peterson. Another student, Roxie Mull, echoed, "He always had time for everyone."

Just by looking at a list of home addresses of students, one could pretty well pinpoint the districts where Paul McGrady had been in camp meetings during the summer. Those districts he visited would suddenly skyrocket in the number of young people they sent to what is now Southern Nazarene University. He was a great public relations and recruiting man from his first week on the campus. As student Sumner Morrison put it: "We came to Bethany to try to catch some of his zeal and enthusiasm. Our whole lives are what they are because of him."

Death began to touch the McGrady family in the summer of 1965 when Jean's mother died. That December, Paul's mother died. And then in March of 1967, Jean lost her father. Paul began to develop his philosophy of death and, in fact, even began to talk about dying. He told Jean, "I don't think it would be so bad to die."

Still searching for new ways to attract men to Jesus Christ, McGrady thought evangelical Christians ought to be drastic -- to do anything toward winning souls. He was willing to change methods radically to get a chance to speak to sinners about the Gospel. "Even if we decide not to have church services in the church building, let's go to the beach or wherever the people are," he said in June of 1966, "and spread the good news. The church can go anywhere we take it!"

Admitting that there was psychology involved in his techniques of soul-winning, he told Georgia District teenagers at a soul-winning clinic, "It's not a matter of using psychology, but of using good psychology." Conquest, the Nazarene teen magazine, covered the Georgia teen clinic in an issue, as did the local Atlanta paper.

In the summer of 1966 the trustees of the new Mid-America Nazarene College in Olathe, Kans., elected Dr. Curtis Smith as the first president of the college. Dr. Smith was public relations director of what is now Southern Nazarene University, where McGrady was on the faculty.

On September 12, 1966, Geoffrey Gunter sat down in the student newspaper office and wrote on a blank sheet of paper the headline, "McGrady Succeeds Smith."

His main aim as public-relations director, McGrady told the Reveille Echo reporter, would be "to show Nazarenes that BNC (now SNU) is a holiness college with an evangelistic fervor." And as President Roy Cantrell said, "He took off like a prairie fire!" He was dubbed "Tiger" by Harry Craddock, college business manager. McGrady's calling teams now became an official part of the college public relations program.

When asked about having to give up teaching, McGrady assured everyone that he would always teach at least one class on evangelism as long as he was at the university. That last year, three girls enrolled in his "Mass Evangelism" class, thinking it might be on personal soul winning. But since they weren't interested in becoming camp meeting evangelists, they dropped the class. But it was evidence of the interest he created among the entire student body in soul-winning.

In the opening chapel of the 1966-67 school year, the new public relations director issued an eight-point challenge to the 1,800 students. It was a challenge Paul McGrady had issued many times before in conventions and camp meetings.

The challenge read:

  1. Put first things first. "Seek ye first ..."
  2. Pray earnestly for at least 15 minutes per day to become a better Christian and a better witness.
  3. Read God's Word for at least 15 minutes per day as food for your own soul.
  4. Endeavor to witness each day.
  5. Ask God to place a burden upon your heart for some unsaved friend on campus.
  6. Seek to see our community through the eyes of Christ.
  7. Endeavor to make every contact with people a redemptive contact.
  8. Ask the Holy Spirit to use you as a channel to win at least one soul to Christ this semester.

It was, in reality, a challenge to follow in Paul McGrady's footsteps. He never said so -- probably never thought of it that way. But the 1,800 students there that morning did, for it was really a testimony of Paul McGrady's daily life.

Just before his last camp meeting in Indiana, July 25 to 30, 1967 he spent some time talking with Jack Hyles, the great soul winner. Notes scribbled on the back of a letter were never used. McGrady was never one for framing letters -- he was more likely to use the back of them to write notes on.

He knew people and when not to try to win them. While eating in the Pancake House one night with a visiting preacher, McGrady showed his grasp of the importance of winning people to yourself first before winning them to Christ.

The visiting minister complained to the waitress about his food and even made her take it back once. All the while he muttered about the restaurant's poor service. When time neared for her to bring the food check, the preacher said, "Paul, I've heard about your great ability as a soul winner; let's see you try it on this waitress."

McGrady smiled back. "You've set the scene; you do the witnessing!"

During the last year of his life, he held a weekend meeting in Arkansas at which there wasn't a single person at the altar in any of the services. It was the first time in his preaching career that he'd held a series of services without a seeker. But far from being discouraged, McGrady told his evangelism class on Monday morning, "It taught me something: a revival doesn't always have to have seekers to be successful."

McGrady told the class that when he arrived, he found people discouraged and a church stagnant. When he left Sunday night, there seemed to be mew enthusiasm gripping the people, and the leaders of the church seemed to have accepted new challenges. The church seemed ready to move on the community in an evangelistic effort.

With McGrady now in the public relations office, his calling teams caught fire. He was sending out nearly seven teams a weekend during that final year. After school was out, he began his camp meeting and convention schedule.

His last service was a Sunday school convention in Akron, Ohio, on August 1. The last message Paul McGrady ever gave was one entitled "The Challenge of a Personal Soul Winner."

"Your greatest investment in life is the investment you make in people's lives," he told the Akron Sunday school workers.

During the day he called his wife in Bethany to tell her he could change his schedule and come home earlier than originally planned. "I want us all to get together again," he said to Jean. It wasn't really too unusual for him to change to an earlier flight -- he often did that to spend more time with his family. As he flew toward home early Wednesday morning, he thought of the next few weeks' schedule. He planned to take his family to Denver for a week, August 9-16, while he attended a summer institute there on public relations and fund-raising. Back in Bethany on Wednesday, he made final plans with Oklahoma City First Church pastor Marselle Knight for a trip to Nashville in the last part of August. They planned to attend the annual Tennessee Walking Horse show and bring back some horses.

Then came August 3 and it was all over.

The El Camino skidded across the median at 2:25 p.m. Thursday, August 3, on what was then called the Skelly Bypass (now I-44 East) in Tulsa, OK. Five were killed: McGrady and two members of the college quartet, Gene Coburn and Paul King plus Luther Clayborn from Urbana, IL, and his 10-year-old daughter, Cissna.

The word flashed to SNU students across the nation. Blind student Lawrence Williams noted, "The Lord must have been surprised to look up and see His best soul winner walking in through the pearly gates."

At Paul McGrady's funeral on August 5 in Bethany First Church, Dr. Roy H. Cantrell, then president of what is now SNU, told the capacity crowd, "He moved men to action. Whether in a large audience or speaking to one individual, he beamed his message for a decision to Christ. For one normal year of living, Paul seemed to be able to successfully get two or three years' results."

General Superintendent G. B. Williamson, preaching the funeral message, declared that "God's wisdom is not to be questioned, His cross is not to be avoided, and this is our Christian faith, that life shall triumph over death. I think my dear friend and yours accepted the way of the cross. I believe that he earned his reward and entered into his blessed peace and rest that shall abide forever. The purpose of God, for some inexplicable reason, has now been fulfilled.

"How I pray," Dr. Williamson pleaded, "that even in his death he may lead more to the Lord than he did in his life! He lived smiling, and he lived to help others, offering his helping hand."

In the fall when the Alumni Association of what is now Southern Nazarene University honored Paul posthumously with the 1967 Heritage Award, the alumni president and successor to McGrady in the public-relations post said, "Not often do we meet a man who is both steel and velvet, hard as rock yet soft as drifting fog. It is rare when one can be an inspirational charger as well as an understanding and sympathetic counselor. Few men reflect a positive philosophy of life in every phase of their daily living: witnessing through winsome smiles, friendly handshakes, neighborly chats, and ever-ready testimony, or even a horse trade.

"In all these areas he was enthusiasm personified and seemed to radiate the meaning of the Greek roots of the word, `having God within.' No one better deserves the title of Mr. Enthusiasm.

"Although his life is past, his work is permanent. His deeds live on!" . . . [ more ]

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What did students think of Paul McGrady?

Next chapter What did those whom Paul McGrady mentored think of him? [ more ]

    -- Howard Culbertson,

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