"Daddy, watch! I can dunk!" yelled Dr. Tony Evans' son, Jonathan, years ago. "I can do it Daddy! Come look!"
Tony lumbered from his office toward the church gym. "You can't dunk," he chided following his fervent son. "You're only five-foot, three-inches tall. No way are you going to show me you can dunk!"
Once Tony got there, Jonathan grabbed the ball, dribbled, and dunked. Tony offered only abbreviated congratulations. Then he turned to the athletic director and pointedly told him to raise the basket back up to where it belonged. Impatient to grow taller, Jonathan had lowered the goal. "Until you can dunk like the big boys," Tony told him, "you have not arrived. Raise the basket, and keep trying."
Dr. Anthony T. Evans (Th.M. 76, Th.D. 82) similarly aims for nothing less than God's highest goal. And his messages encourage the same in the lives of those who listen.
A master at illustrations, Tony's hallmark lies in his ability to simplify difficult theological principles through common, everyday examples. With a no-apologies, straight- forward preaching style, Tony continues to raise baskets across the nation to that of a biblical standard.
This year Tony celebrated 30 years in the ministry and 23 years as senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship. His sermons affect hundreds of thousands of people daily as "The Alternative with Dr. Tony Evans" airs on more than 450 stations throughout the U.S. and in over 40 countries worldwide.
As a platform speaker for Promise Keepers, Tony has challenged more than a million men during the last few years with messages on family, racial unity, and the gospel. His 15 books and numerous booklets and cassette series equip individuals and church leaders with a biblical standard for living. Thousands of leaders receive additional training through The Urban Alternative's annual Church Development Conference.
However, it all began with one decision.
Having earned his master of theology degree with honors in 1976, Tony's path appeared planned. The culmination of eight years of consistent study at Carver Bible College and DTS had carved an opportunity. The Seminary offered him a full-time teaching position.
Twenty-seven-year-old Tony relished the chance to use his God-given talents in teaching biblical truth. He desired the convenience the position would provide for him to pursue a Th.D. The assurance of a secure income for his family contented him. Everything looked excellent.
Except God had another plan.
With the offer still ringing in his ears, two men—a pastor and a seminary faculty member—confronted Tony about the vision of his soul. "Gene Getz challenged me about all these ideas I had," recalls Dr. Evans. "He challenged me to take them out of theory and put them into practice." In essence, the two men challenged Tony to turn down the teaching position and plant a Bible church in Oak Cliff, a suburb of Dallas, Texas.
This option included limited pay, fewer immediate opportunities, and no prestige.
And Tony accepted the challenge.
On June 6, 1976, he and his friend, Rev. Crawford Loritts, chartered Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship. The church began with 10 members meeting in Pastor Evans' living room.
"I had battled back and forth, back and forth about this decision," Tony recalls with an undercurrent of genuine enthusiasm. "The turning point came when my wife and I were eating dinner at Dr. Charles Ryrie's home. As I shared with him my struggles, he said something that the Holy Spirit used to turn on a light in our heads. At that moment, my wife and I knew that the church-plant was what God would have us do. In essence, he told me that the world did not need another ideologist. What the world needed was someone who could demonstrate the power of theology as it worked out in the practice of the local church."
Any member of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship can testify to the presence of that power within their church. Yet that power reaches beyond Oak Cliff. Members of churches worldwide benefit from the modeling of OCBF and the teaching ministry of Tony Evans.
"The greatest reward in planting a church with 10 people in your living room and having it grow to what it is today," says Tony, "is seeing your fingerprints everywhere. You are proud of the good ones. The bad ones tell you where you need to improve."
Fingerprints mark the more than 130 different ministries OCBF offers. Many of these ministries directly resulted from a sermon or series Tony preached. Tony's passion for biblical authenticity imprints the church's approach to discipline and accountability through ministries of reconciliation, rescue, and mediation.
"His Kingdom agenda is a real-live, practical thing," long-time friend and associate pastor Martin Hawkins says in describing Tony. "His drive has always been to see the church serve as many an outgrowth of biblical principles."
This desire has prompted Tony's most recent challenge, that of Project Turn•Around. "You can save a person's soul," says his wife, Dr. Lois Evans. "But Tony believes God would have us go further than that. He believes God would have us bring a little of heaven down here."
Project Turn•Around exists under the umbrella of The Urban Alternative, an organization Tony founded to evangelize and disciple urban America through the church. Project Turn•Around seeks to transform urban youth and their families through church-based outreach strategies. Existing programs include a mentoring ministry for fatherless children, an outreach to 3,000 public school students, and a rehabilitation curriculum for 700 incarcerated youth. As a result of past successes, the Juvenile Justice System now turns many first-time offenders over to Project Turn•Around rather than sending them to jail.
Also offered is a private school, after-school recreation, and tutoring for urban youth. Community-based ministries include GED instruction, literacy, job training and placement, legal aid, financial planning, parenting classes, and affordable housing.
Yet despite the abundance of outreach and ministry-related services already offered through his church, Tony continues to aim higher. His vision involves expansion of the existing elementary school through 12th grade, and eventually a college extension program. Plans are underway for more outreach facilities in Oak Cliff. These would provide room for comprehensive social services for the homeless, unemployed, and pregnant teenagers. Also on the drawing board are facilities for a national Christian training center. There, up to 500 churches would receive training annually on how they can take the Project Turn•Around model and implement it in their communities.
"It's funny," Tony muses, "but after I turned down the teaching position at the Seminary and accepted the church-plant, the Seminary called me back. They called me and offered me a part-time teaching position. So by choosing what God directed, I got both."
Today, Tony continues to seek God's will above human reason. "I'm asking God for $15 million to do the things for Project Turn•Around," Tony said recently addressing OCBF. "But rather than spend most of my time out looking for the money, I'm going to seek Him and do His work." That work might involve flying to Houston to meet with 20 people beginning a church-plant. Or it may include driving three hours to meet with four people who have a vision for starting a church in their community. "I am doing this not because I think these individuals can help me reach my goal," Tony insists. "Rather, because I know if I am faithful to God, He'll take care of the rest."
Tony's close friends call him a man of transparency, intimacy, and encouragement. And to many who benefit from his ministry, he is God's athletic director. On days when they are tempted to think they have already achieved God's goals for His kingdom, God uses Tony to crank the basket back up to where it belongs. And as Tony drives it up to a biblical standard, his fingers leave their prints by molding hearts into models of diligence, honesty, and faith.