I have to confess, it’s taken me a while to write this one. Having lost some significant people this year, the writer in me hit the brick wall of grief and gave way to the frail human in me. Today, I want to give tribute to, and remember a man who was truly one of a kind. Speak the name Don Overstreet in groups of planters, catalysts, and old school Southern Baptist Church (SBC) circles and you’ll get a mixed reaction, but you’ll also hear words like “legend” and “rockstar”. I’ve heard this on my travels as far as Miami.
Don Overstreet was a rare breed. He had been involved in church planting and missions for over 50 years and had mentored over 500 church planters. He was a legend. He was also a friend, mentor, and champion of my own ministry. I hosted him on the podcast three times, once with his son Kirk, who has been walking in the footsteps of his Father and blazing his own trail. In my church planting circle at the time, because we were knew to the SBC, we referred to him as “Don The Baptist”. Once we got to know him, he became “The Don of Church Planting” the Godfather of church planting, intent on spreading the Kingdom of God, rather than expanding an empire of organized crime. Luckily, he never called any favors in, because we owed him a lot. For one, he recruited me to the SBC, and introduced me to Namb, where I now train church planting trainers. Without Don, I wouldn’t be here. I know that there are hundreds of planters out there today, who would say the same.
My association with Don started back when one of my co-planters was launching out from Refuge Long Beach and had been exploring funding. He found the SBC and had met with Don. He called me up and said, “Namb has guys who do what you do. It’s like they pay apostles to recruit church planters. They’re called catalists.” He told me that Don wanted to meet me, so we booked a lunch date. What came through the door wasn’t what I expected. He looked like Bill Gates, but appearances were quickly exposed as deceiving when he started talking, because he talked like a radical. When you meet somebody who thinks like you, talking becomes like meeting a fellow immigrant from your old country, and the conversation feels like a first language experience. He offered me his job after our first meeting, and told me that he could tell if somebody was a planter by one conversation with them. I’ve since come to believe in that ability. Unable to relocate to Los Angeles I told him that I was honored, but probably couldn’t light a candle to what he did.
Don didn’t just sit back in an office and dream about reaching people. Don walked the streets. He knew the neighborhoods better than his planters did. “You got some time? I want to show you something.” When Don said that, he was going to take you to some park in inner city L.A., or take you down skid row. He wanted you to see what he’d seen as he’d either walked or driven through the city praying over it. And Don prayed. He prayed for the planters. He prayed for the lost. He knew the potential of what could happen. He wasn’t afraid of the city. He had felt the cracks in her sidewalks, he had breathed its pain. He had held his ear to its chest by pounding the pavement and knew the rhythm of its heartbeat. Being apostolic, he was drawn to the outcasts and marginalized.
Over the years, I’d notice Don appearing all over Los Angeles whenever and wherever there was something significant going on in church planting. He had no time for big conferences, big shows, celebrities, or trends. He spoke with the demeanor of a man who was on a mission, with an undertone of “let’s skip the charade”. He brought a sense of realism and “cut the crap” to any church planting conversation. As my first book started to take off, he’d constantly remind me to get my hands dirty and keep my feet on the ground. I think Don didn’t want to lose me as a partner in the fight, and he’d had many fights. I learned after a time that Don spoke his mind plainly, and because he wasn’t a political animal, had made many enemies. But in doing so, he’d also made many friends. What I noticed was that everyone who liked Don were my friends too, and I soon learned to divine whether I’d respect somebody based on what they thought of Don Overstreet. He became my missional litmus test when I started getting to know other people in ministry in the USA.
Don was a man of substance. He constantly talked about New Testament principles that were timeless, and that if the next generation of leaders would fall back on prayer and evangelisms “the two sides of the same coin” we’d see a revival of the church and a mass harvest of souls. The talk would always go to taking action. He always wanted to know “what are you going to do”. Many of these talks were over a greasy spoon somewhere, or a hipster bookshop in downtown Long Beach. Don knew where to go. He also knew where the good pie was. No joke. He had an internal google map that showed all of the good pie in Southern California.
When you met with Don, he didn’t talk much about himself. He wanted to know how you were doing. He cared. He didn’t intrude, but let you know that he was praying for you and would be there for him when you needed him. He had a fatherly aspect, and shared his wisdom with humility and reserve. I can remember a time when Don opened up about something very personal in his life because he thought that it’d help me where I was. I’ll never forget that. I knew that he was trusting me, and I don’t think there was anything he’d hold back if he felt it could help me. This was evidenced by the amount of books he’d slide across the table when we got together. I still smile when I remember the book he gave me once called “Orbiting the Giant Hairball” – a book about not losing your artistic renegade soul when working for corporate America. Don never lost his.
When he went to be with the Lord, he had a copy of my book Reaching the Unreached: Becoming Raiders Of The Lost Art setting on the armrest of his armchair. Kirk told me that he gave copies to everybody. He may be largely responsible for how well the book has done. I believe that Reaching The Unreached was in book form what Don had always believed. Furthermore, it was what he’d been saying all along. Like John the Baptist, Don the Baptist had been championing an unpopular message. It resonated with some, and alienated others. Just like his Lord. Don Overstreet is one of my heroes. He was a living breathing embodiment of a man like the apostle Paul who had one mission and stuck to it tenaciously until he died. And Don was hard to kill. We used to think he was radioactive due to the number of times he’d survived cancer, but that perhaps that radiation was the secret to his longevity. He was nuclear in more ways than one, and I believe explosive power came out of this small man’s life. I believe, and I heard him say, that God gave him more time to encourage more church planters.
I believe that God takes his servants, but leaves him long enough to inspire others. I pray that God will have inspired enough of us out there that we will give ourselves to serve others; God’s front-line commandos taking the risks that others won’t. If we can be there for them, encourage them, challenge them, and support them, then like Don, we will have left a legacy of impact that will ripple in eternity.
I attended his funeral and wept like a baby. It was in a Set Free out in Yucaipa. It was beautiful and it represented him. Don hung out with bikers. Despite his slacks, members only type jacket, and glasses, he fit in. I remember the first time I met Don he told me with a shrug “I’m a nerd. I know it”. Don may have felt like a nerd down here, but I can guarantee you, he’s a rockstar in heaven.
Buy Peyton’s newest book “Reaching The Unreached: Becoming Raiders of the Lost Art” over on Amazon.com. You can also download a free chapter and watch a cool trailer for the book HERE or click the image below.