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FIRST-PERSON: Intentional calling & training of evangelists

EDITORS’ NOTE: This is the third column in a three-part series on the role of evangelists within the Southern Baptist Convention.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ga. (BP)–Freddie Gage once told a group of pastors that if they truly believed the Bible they would be using God-called evangelists in their churches. He was absolutely right.

Ephesians 4:11-13 makes that very clear. Your church will not mature properly and will have warped growth if you do not use evangelists.

In Luke we are told at least four times that Jesus evangelized (4:18; 7:22; 9:6; 20:1). In Romans 1:15 we are told that Paul was eager to evangelize those in Rome. Paul said, “Woe is me if I evangelize not” (1 Corinthians 9:16). The Greek word for “evangelize” in verb form is a most-worthy study. No wonder our convention President, Bobby Welch, is putting such an emphasis on evangelism. In the noun form of the Greek word for “evangelize” we find Phillip, the evangelist and the office of the evangelist.

If our churches used every Southern Baptist evangelist that is available, vocational evangelists could be in only 15,000 churches a year. There would not be enough evangelists for the other 28,000 churches. Southern Baptist evangelists need to triple in number.

Many of our singing evangelists now preach and give an invitation. Some evangelists like David Akin (Ga.), Larry McFadden (Fla.), and Terry Veazy(Ala.), do both the preaching and singing. But even with music evangelists pulling double duty, we still do not have enough evangelists.

Billy Graham (N.C.), Junior Hill (Ala.), Benny Jackson (Tenn.), Sam Cathey (Okla.), Tom Cox (Ark.), Bailey Smith (Ga.), Clyde Chiles (Mo.) and a host of other warhorses are in the golden years of their calling. Jerry Chaddick (La.), Brian Fossett (Ga.) and a number of others are entering the work, but many more are needed for the harvest.

With the recent death of Texas’ Rudy Hernandez, I am feeling my humanity. In the year 2000, I collapsed from complete exhaustion. Another evangelist, Randal Helms, has preached between 46 and 48 revivals a year. For health reasons, both of us are trying to cut back on the number of meetings from more than 40 a year to around 30.

In addition to the revivals we hold, there are the 100-plus days a year for travel, youth camps, Vacation Bible School evangelistic services, deacon retreats, evangelism conferences, banquets, witnessing clinics, soul-winning visits, mission trips, radio programs, television interviews, public school programs and our annual evangelists’ retreat the Friday and Saturday before the SBC annual meeting, which includes Crossover. It becomes easy to understand why 98 percent of those entering evangelism eventually drop out. The physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion takes a tremendous toll.

Evangelists get homesick when their families do not travel with them. And when the families do travel, everyone grows exhausted. It is clear that we need more evangelists.

The cure for this problem must begin in the local church. Student revivals — with services on Friday and Saturday nights — should be held to spawn the young evangelists of tomorrow. The services, coupled with Saturday morning witness training and Saturday afternoon witnessing, will set the stage for more public professions of faith on Sunday.

One of the students I trained visited with me one Saturday. We went to the home of a man who turned out to be a retired army drill instructor. The man told the student, “If you go get that [expletive] long hair cut, I will listen to you.” He then handed the boy $5. That young man went and got a GI haircut, came back and led that old sergeant to Christ.

Training for mission trips should include a required number of visits to lost people in the neighborhood before going to the mission field. This encourages the commitment of those God is calling into the ministry. In the late 1970s Ash Street Baptist Church in Forest Park, Ga., used this policy. The youth witnessed at home, and then went to Sells, Ariz., to witness and do backyard Bible clubs. Prospects were brought in for revival services.

Ash Street Baptist allowed me to preach that revival nearly every time. Usually, about 30 were saved each year. But the impact on the young people in the church was immense. Among those God called into the ministry was a young Daniel Akin, currently president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. God uses evangelists as a catalyst. People are saved, get right with God, and answer the call to ministry. Your youth need to be exposed both to evangelism and to the evangelists.

Young men and women are still answering the call into ministry in droves. Soul-winning can be instilled into their hearts through practice. Recently a seminary student told me he never has personally won a person to Christ. His home church pastor should have taken him on visitations before he went off to seminary.

I was 15 when I led a person to Christ for the first time. It was in conjunction with a revival meeting. Then during my senior year of high school, I answered the call to preach. My pastor took me out and let me watch him win someone to Christ. Then he stopped on the side of the road, where several young men were playing a pick-up football game. He told them, “You know Keith. You’ve watched him play football Friday nights. He has something he wants to tell you.” I told them how to be saved, and several accepted Christ. While I was in college, Bob Pittman, a youth pastor, allowed me to counsel those who came forward during a revival at his church.

Invest in the future. Make soul-winners out of your students.

Let the young men God is calling into the ministry in your church have a hand in preparation for revival. Let them see how you do it. If the Lord tarries, they will do it to reach their generation for Christ.

The solution to the lack of evangelists involves every Baptist college turning into a hotbed of evangelism, both on campus and through the respective Baptist Student Union Impact Teams off campus.

North Greenville College has set a goal of reaching their students for Christ. School officials begin each year with a fall tent revival on campus. They have seen many become Christians, and their enrollment has jumped from 300 students to nearly 1,800 in just over 10 years with this policy.

In many instances BSU impact teams have become baby-sitting teams instead of evangelistic teams. But they should impact the church field for Christ.

Pastors should call on BSU impact teams to work with their youth. They could have the BSU team teach a witnessing clinic, and then go out with the church’s students to win every young person in the community to Christ. This evangelistic fervor will be the spark God uses to call more evangelists.

Because there is such a shortage of evangelists, we should investigate how our seminaries, colleges and universities could help by placing a greater emphasis on teaching the importance of the office of evangelist. At least once a semester during convocation they could include an invitation to respond to the call to vocational evangelism. Our seminaries, colleges and universities could have as much influence on the call to vocational evangelism as for the mission field and church planting.

The North American Mission Board, in conjunction with the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists, holds an annual retreat for evangelists. Every young man who senses the call to evangelism needs to be sent to the annual evangelists retreat by his home church. The home church should be willing to provide expenses to cover the trip to the Southern Baptist Convention in conjunction with this retreat. For contact information about the evangelists’ retreat, contact Event Evangelism at NAMB.

Students need in-depth, practical training on preparing the local church and associations to use evangelists in harvest days, revivals and area crusades for Christ. The office of evangelist is just as much an office as is the pastorate. Seminaries and colleges could help by giving higher visibility to evangelists, perhaps by utilizing vocational evangelists as often as possible on their campuses.

Recently a pastor had moved from one state to another. He asked why the in-state evangelists were not preaching and singing during the state’s evangelism conference. That was a good question.

Of our 43,000 SBC churches, nearly all have a pastor. All 43,000 need to use evangelists. To help correct this, Mike Minnix, the vice president for evangelization for the Georgia Baptist Convention, has three Georgia evangelists on the program for the state evangelism conference this year. Several other states are doing the same thing. In order to reach a million for Christ every year, evangelists need to be seen and heard by pastors.

One-way to find an evangelist for your church is by visiting the Conference of Evangelists’ website — www.sbcevangelist.org. You can hear audio sermons and singing on many of the individual web links. In addition, revival planning books and other pertinent information can be downloaded. Check this site out today. Use it to train a young evangelist!
Keith Fordham is the president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists.

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  • Keith Fordham