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30-year evangelist assesses vocation’s realities & trends

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Jerry Drace had a problem as he considered moving from a church position into fulltime evangelism – he didn’t like the image evangelists had.

“To be very honest, I didn’t have a good taste in my mouth about evangelists -– their image,” Drace said. “Thirty years later I still don’t in many cases.”

Drace’s 30 years in fulltime evangelism were celebrated during a late-February pastors’ breakfast at his home in Humboldt, Tenn., and a banquet featuring Focus on the Family Vice President H.B. London at Englewood Baptist Church in nearby Jackson.

Looking back over his experiences, and examining the present state of evangelism in the Southern Baptist Convention, Drace sees both negatives and positives.

One of the biggest problems is evangelists themselves, Drace said. Like they did with him, many evangelists turn people off by their image.

“The flash, the loudness, the brashness, the manipulation during the invitation,” he said. “Many times they’re very ego-driven.”

Though there are exceptions, Drace thinks too many evangelists aren’t as accountable to others as they should be for their personal behavior and their finances.

“There is no room in evangelism for the lone rangers that are out there,” he said.

These concerns prompted Drace in 1999 to lead the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists, which he served as president, to adopt a 10-point code of ethics for Southern Baptist evangelists.

At the time, Drace said the code of ethics would “affirm before the Lord and each other our accountability as evangelists.”

Drace also is concerned about a declining trend of churches using fulltime evangelists. When he started 30 years ago, the SBC had about 600 fulltime evangelists, both preachers and singers. Now Drace said there are no more than 200.

Why the decline?

“I see the traditional revival –- the Sunday through Wednesday revivals –- getting smaller and smaller and smaller,” he said. “Why are more and more pastors having fewer and fewer traditional revivals? The answer they tell me is because people will not come anymore. We’re so time-conscious.”

Drace said most of the churches that do have revivals don’t spend as much time in prayer about the meetings as they should. Of the 1,000 churches where he’s preached over the past 30 years, he said only about 50 had prayed sufficiently.

“When a church has paid the price to prepare for revival, anybody can show up and preach,” he said. “If a church has paid the price in prayer and preparation, God’s going to be there.”

But while revivals may be on the decline, Drace is encouraged by other developments, namely the growth of “event evangelism” such as women’s conferences, family conferences and men’s outreach by wild game dinners and special events to reach doctors, lawyers, law enforcement officers and other professionals.

He’s also pleased that even though traditional evangelists are declining in number, new types of evangelism are springing up.

“What’s happened in the last five or six years –- and I’m glad to see it -– is that no longer do you have to be just a preacher or a musician to be an evangelist,” Drace said. “We’ve got people who do drama. We’ve got people doing skateboard evangelism. They’re doing biking evangelism.”

Most importantly, Drace is excited by what he sees taking place evangelistically all over the world, and not just in Southern Baptist circles.

“I have so appreciated meeting men and women around the world who are not Baptists, but they are dedicated, on-fire Christians,” said Drace, who has participated in various worldwide initiatives for evangelists sponsored by the Billy Graham organization.

“The Great Commission is being fulfilled without the knowledge of Southern Baptists. Somewhere along the line we as Southern Baptists believe if we don’t do it, it won’t get done. I have learned that God is going to get His Kingdom work done whether we do it or not, and we’d better get in on it.”
Information about Drace’s ministry is on the Web at www.HopefortheHome.org.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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