Freddie Gage, a Southern Baptist evangelist for more than 60 years whose fervency for souls extended to the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Conservative Resurgence, died Friday (Sept. 12) in a Houston hospital after an extended illness. He was 81.
Gage – a teen gang leader who came to Christ after hearing the gospel preached in 1951 in Houston – was among the initial inductees to the Evangelists Hall of Faith, created in 2008 by the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists.
“Our beloved fellow evangelist Freddie Gage has now embraced Christ Jesus in heaven,” said Richard Hamlet, president of the evangelists’ organization.
“Heaven only knows the number of souls who were brought to Christ through the proclamation of the gospel by this champion for Jesus,” said Hamlet, president of Global Ministries Fellowship in Memphis, Tenn. “His legacy as an evangelist continues on earth as his example and mentorship multiplies through those of us who remain as God-called evangelists in this hostile world.”
Gage preached in more than 1,300 churches and area-wide crusades and in more than 3,000 high school assemblies and youth rallies. “It is estimated that more than 1 million people professed faith in Christ as a result of Gage’s evangelistic efforts,” the Southern Baptist TEXAN wrote Sept. 12.
Jerry Sutton, author of The Baptist Reformation history of the Conservative Resurgence, said Gage “preached in churches, high schools, bars, funeral homes, football stadiums and anywhere else he could get an audience.”
“His passion for souls bridged to a passion for the Word of God. That is why he was extremely active organizing pastors and churches in what became known as the Conservative Resurgence,” Sutton said in a statement to Baptist Press. “He was relentless, untiring and courageous. His efforts were one reason that Southern Baptists experienced the turn-around that many said would never happen.”
Adrian Rogers, whose election as SBC president in 1979 marked the unfolding of the Conservative Resurgence, listed Gage among those who pushed him to the forefront of the fledgling movement.
“Adrian, you are our man,” Gage told Rogers, as the late pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church recounted for Sutton’s book.
“I said, ‘Freddie, God will have to write it in the sky.’
“Freddie said, ‘All right then, I will rent an airplane and I will get a sky writer and we will write it in the sky, if that is what it takes.’”
Over the years, Gage voiced concern over “a lack of passion for souls in our pulpits. … The battle for the Bible has been won. The battle for souls has not begun,” he wrote in a 2005 column in Baptist Press.
He remained passionate for “the glory days”: “Baptist churches had altar calls, tent revivals, all-night prayer services, testimonial meetings and open-air crusades. … We were taught that real discipleship was teaching and training new converts to go reach another lost soul. … Back then if you were not a soul-winner, you were out of place. Today, if you are a soul-winner, you are out of place. Souls being saved was not only on the agenda, it was the agenda.”
Gage also became concerned over a lack of preaching on hell.
“The subject of hell should motivate us to be soul-winners!” he declared. “The ‘seeker friendly’ movement says that if you preach on hellfire, you alienate people and run them off. But my question is: ‘Where are you going to run them off to?’ I know of four options: 1. Hell; 2. Hell; 3. Hell; or 4. Hell.”
He adopted “Go Tell” as the core theme of his ministry, reflecting his first moments as a Christian.
“The night I was born again God put a burning desire in my heart to see my friends and family won to the Lord,” he recounted in his autobiography “All My Friends Are Dead.” “I took a Bible, and I wrote in the front of it 300 names of my friends, acquaintances, family members and some police officers I knew. I have preached the gospel to all 300 without exception. I have either shared one-to-one in prisons, or the streets, in psychiatric wards, at funerals, or in crusade meetings. I can truthfully say there is no blood on my hands for any person I knew on the streets of Houston, Texas. I tried to lead every one of my friends and family members to Christ.”
Gage is survived by his wife Barbara; four sons, Daniel, Paul, Rick and Rodney, each of whom has been involved in various ministries; 10 grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and one great-great grandchild.
Rick Gage, whose GO TELL Ministries conducts evangelistic crusades and youth camps, recounted to Baptist Press, “Shortly after I got saved I started traveling with my dad in February 1984. One of the first local church crusades I worked with him was in Austell, Ga., Mount Pisgah Baptist Church. Over 800 total decisions were recorded and 475 of those decisions were for salvation. The auditorium seated only 1,100 but on Wednesday night 2,400 were in attendance. Over 150 counselors had been trained for this local church crusade. Every night for four weeks there was continual prayer in the chapel. Over 7,000 homes were visited and 23,000 homes were mailed fliers inviting people to attend the meeting. They baptized 218 converts the week of the meeting….”
“There are not many places I go in my ministry where I don’t come across someone who was touched my dad’s ministry,” Rick Gage said. “Dad was a soul-winner, he was a fighter for souls, he had a huge impact on my life for the cause of evangelism.”
Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said he first met Freddie Gage in the mid-1980s when the church where he (Page) was pastor led in providing counseling training for a crusade in Fayetteville, N.C. “It was a delightful experience as many people came to know the Lord, churches were strengthened and believers were encouraged,” Page said. “Since that time, I have appreciated the ministry of this great man of God. Heaven is richer today!”
“There will never be another like Freddie Gage,” Morris H. Chapman, Page’s predecessor, told Baptist Press. “He lived to see souls saved.”
Chapman credited Gage for bolstering the “Crossover” evangelistic outreach for the 1991 annual meeting in Atlanta when Chapman was SBC president. After mentioning it to Gage, “he immediately launched a one-man campaign,” Chapman told Baptist Press. “He began urging Southern Baptists to participate in Crossover, staying on the phone for hours and enlisting Southern Baptists wherever he went. … No one will ever know how many people came to Christ because of his persistent and earnest plea for the sake of souls.”
Noting another facet of Gage’s passion, Sutton said the evangelist “had a special place in his heart for hurting people.” For a number of years, he hosted a Christian counseling ministry’s luncheon at the SBC annual meeting and later became the driving force for a Wounded Heroes outreach to ministers which eventually was absorbed by LifeWay Christian Resources.
“All his life he had a heart for pastors who were mistreated in the local church,” Sutton said. “With Wounded Heroes he did something about it. Later in life, Freddie had struggled with depression. Because of that, he was extra sensitive to people who were hurting. More than once he told me, ‘minister to hurting people and you will never have trouble filling your church.’”
A celebration of life service for Freddie Gage will be held on Friday, Sept. 26, at 1 p.m. at Sagemont Church in Houston, to be streamed online at www.sagemontchurch.org. For information about memorial gifts in lieu of flowers, go to www.rethinklife.com/freddiegagefund. The family has set up a Facebook page for those who would like to share how Gage impacted their lives: www.facebook.com/FreddieGageGoTell.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)