One of the great pleasures of being a human is the ability to change your mind. That’s a tremendous blessing, especially when a wrong needs to be righted.
I have striven to be a man of the Word. I want to live my life and do church as closely to the revelation that God has given us in the Bible. However, the Holy Spirit recently began to convict me that I was ignoring one important aspect of Scripture—the role of the evangelist.
The Holy Spirit through Paul clearly says that God has given some men to be evangelists for the good of the church. It’s right there in Ephesians 4:11-12, And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ. There’s the evangelist right along with apostles, prophets, and pastors/teachers. While the role of apostle and prophet has ceased with the closing of the canon of Scripture, the role of evangelist is as ever relevant as the role of pastor/teacher. Yet, I have largely ignored it.
Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I’m not saying that I’ve ignored evangelism. I share the gospel far and wide. However, I have ignored the role of what we might call the vocational evangelist, that man who has been set aside by God and gifted by the Spirit for the express purpose of preaching the gospel. In fact, in my five years at West Main Baptist Church, I have used an actual evangelist for only one preaching service out of probably fifty services dedicated explicitly to revival/evangelism.
The Lord began to prick my heart toward this shortcoming over year ago, and the moment that really drove it all home for me was when I listened to a 9 Marks leadership interview in the fall of 2012. Mark Dever, who is the pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. and the founder/president of 9 Marks, was interviewing Iain Murray, who was Martin Lloyd Jones’ assistant and co-founder of Banner of Truth Trust publishing house. Dever, in his usual interviewing style, was asking a wide range of questions on various topics, and due to Murray’s background having served in Britain and Australia and interacting with churches all over the world, he began to wonder if Murray would have anything specific to say to American churches. The interaction went as follows:
Dever: “Any word you would give to American Evangelicals in particular?”
Murray: “I have the privilege and great encouragement of seeing bright spots in the States and to me they are bright, encouraging. The lack of evangelists comes home to me more and more. Palmer Robertson, he said to me that evangelistic preaching has almost died out in the States. I didn’t quiz him on that, but it’s true in Britain. Suppose you are pastoring a church. Now God has helped blessing the preaching, and there are people who are concerned and awakened. It would be a good time to call in a friend for a week’s preaching for the gospel. Who would you call? How many men could you call for that role? Not many in Britain. Do you want a teacher and an expositor? Yes, we can provide them. Now what’s the reason for that? Lloyd Jones believed and more and more I think he’s right that evangelistic preaching is the hardest preaching, in part because it drains you emotionally more. We had a very good address at this conference this weekend. It was the point that you have got to find the emotion of the text and that emotion needs to be in the preacher. Now when it comes to evangelistic preaching then, it has to be real compassion and sensitivity and sympathy with lost men and women. You can’t just prepare a message and expound it. It’s something more than that and that’s really draining. So when you think about the evangelists of the past in the States and going back, we are lacking in such men.”
As I heard that, something just clicked in my spirit. I need to utilize the role of the evangelist in my local context. God has given them as a good gift to the church, and to ignore them is to handicap the spread of the Kingdom.
So, I happily declare to you that I’m no longer ignoring the evangelist. In fact, I repented back in the fall of 2012 and booked one for this past spring and then another one for this fall!
But, I’m not alone in my ignoring the office of the evangelist. In fact, many churches no longer use them, which leads us to the pressing question: why are evangelists not being used? I not only want to explore why I believe this is so these days, but also will try to put forth a way of going forward so that we can be closer to the scriptural norm and utilizing all the resources given by God to advance the Kingdom.
However, before I put forth the primary reasons I see that churches are not using evangelists, let me list a couple of false reasons. The first FALSE REASON that has gotten thrown out there is that churches just don’t want to hear unmitigated truth preached anymore. That reason usually comes from the mouths of evangelists that are seeing their calendar not filling up as it once did. So, they conclude that it must be the churches who are the problem—”The churches must have an aversion to truth, or they would be begging me to come share it with them.” Unfortunately, this proposed reason comes more out of a bruised ego than reality.
The second FALSE REASON thrown out is the resurgence of doctrine commonly known as Calvinism. The myth is that those who are more Calvinistic are less evangelistic, and therefore, evangelists are used less. I use the word “myth” because the notion that our Calvinistic brothers are less evangelistic has been proven to be false in both a 2006 LifeWay Research study and a 2007 North American Mission Board study 1. Furthermore, according to a 2012 LifeWay Research study, it’s clear that the great majority of churches in the SBC are not Calvinistic—66% to be exact 2. That stat means that regardless of a resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC, there should still be plenty of churches for evangelists to fill their calendars with if Calvinism was really the problem, yet evangelists are still being underutilized. So, the resurgence of Calvinism is a false reason that churches are not using evangelists.
Now that we’ve gotten those false reasons out of the way, let’s turn to the real reasons in no particular order and try to find a way to go forward.
I believe the first reason churches are not utilizing evangelists is that they simply do not trust them. They’ve seen too many over the years utilize methods that evoke “decisions” through man-centered, Finney-like measures and not conversions. The evangelist can travel on boasting of ever how many “decisions” while the pastor is left to sort through what actually happened and many times it’s not so good. Pastors are just afraid that confusion over salvation will be brought into their churches. Furthermore, some pastors I’ve talked with don’t trust evangelists because they are afraid that evangelists are more concerned with numbers than gospel fidelity, knowing that more “decisions” will likely land them more revivals. I pray that this isn’t true of evangelists and want to believe the best about brothers in Christ, but in our contemporary results-driven culture, I don’t doubt this is a temptation for evangelists. The driving question I want to ask is: what are evangelists doing to build trust with the pastors and churches? “Just trust us” isn’t good enough.
Second, I say that churches are not using evangelists because they simply don’t know the evangelists. Just calling oneself an evangelist and being affiliated with COSBE or the state evangelism association isn’t enough. Pastors don’t feel comfortable putting a man in their pulpit that they do not know. Pastors want to use men that they know. This desire isn’t some sort of “scratching your buddy’s back” syndrome. Rather, it goes back to the trust issue. It’s hard to trust somebody you don’t know.
I know this remedy is hard work, but both pastors and evangelists must work to get to know each other. Personally would be best, but even providing sermon audio on evangelists’ websites would be a good start. Many evangelists, as far as I can tell, have no samples of their preaching for pastors to listen to on the web. If both pastors and evangelists would work to make personal connections with each other, I believe pastors would be more likely to utilize evangelists. So, what can we do to build these personal relationships?
Third, churches are not using evangelists because evangelists are not serving the needs of churches who are changing their approach to evangelism. Evangelists seem to be only geared up for the “come and hear” evangelism. The fact is that churches are not holding revivals or evangelistic rallies as often as they used to. Now some of this might be because churches are just losing their evangelistic fervor, but I believe that’s the great minority. By and large, I believe churches want to see people come to Christ, but after attempt after attempt of trying to get lost people to come to us to hear an evangelist preacher with no turnout, churches are moving to other approaches of evangelism that are geared toward “go and tell.”
The evangelistic revival/rally has been very fruitful in the past, but it’s still is just one approach to getting the gospel out. I’m not saying the days of the revival meetings are over. The church will always need revival, and there will always be a few lost in every church crowd, but the approach of inviting lost people to come hear an evangelist at your church preach the gospel is yielding very little fruit because lost people are for the most part not coming. I wish this situation was not so, but that’s reality, at least where I’m from. Therefore, churches are fishing with a different lure, so to speak. So, what are evangelists doing to serve the churches who are changing their methods of evangelism?
I pray that we can turn this trend around. I want to be as faithful to the Scripture as I can be and want to utilize every resource God has given for the advance of the gospel. May evangelists and churches be reunited for the sake of the lost and the Kingdom!