You have seen the signs, “Emergency Liquidation,” “Temporarily/Permanently Closed,” “Going out of Business,” “Fire Sale,” hung on the doors of many businesses who are on life support and are either closing up shop or making Custer’s last stand to keep their doors open. The Coronavirus, racial unrest, bad locations, wrong timing, being pushed around by the big box stores or offering the wrong products or services are some of the reasons for the casualties. However, it’s not just businesses who are barely afloat and gasping for air but also one of the most important and strategic offices in all of the world. The office of the evangelist.
The last few months have had crippling effects for those called to full-time evangelism. Evangelists work with and through the local church and when these houses of worship either shut down or operate at a fraction of their normal capacity, the effects trickle down to the work of evangelism. With churches facing an uncertain future regarding the ability to assemble and because many are struggling financially, a large number of pastors are having to cut back on ministry and specialized outreaches. Like me, many of my fellow evangelists are facing both cancellations and less than normal calls to help reach the unsaved.
I met Christ under the preaching of an evangelist although I previously sat under countless sermons delivered by a pastor-teacher. Some of the greatest leaders in history including past presidents, mobsters, entertainers, business moguls, movers, shakers and even the man who has given me the greatest inspiration-the late Billy Graham, would echo the same story of conversion. Millions have been brought to Christ through an evangelist not because they were more articulate, dynamic, or educated but rather because of their tailored gifting.
Ephesians 4:11-12 makes it diamond clear that the office of the evangelist was a gift given to the church to equip believers for the work of ministry in order to build up the body of Christ. An evangelist is a person with a unique ability and commission to share the Gospel with those who do not have a relationship with Christ and to inspire and train others to do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5).
According to Barna statistics and research, the church is steadily declining and quickly losing ground. As an example, the Southern Baptist Convention, known as one of the most evangelistic denominations in the world, recently reported that both baptisms and church membership have been continually dropping for several years. How can the church be in decline when the ills of society continue to escalate? The world is trapped in the razor-sharp claws of fear, division, anger and strife. Mental health issues such as depression are ravaging millions and the opportunity has never been greater to reach a generation who is on a quest to find hope, peace and truth! Proverbs 10:5 speaks directly to today’s church and the accountability they will one day face, “He who gathers in summer is a wise son: He who sleeps in the harvest is a son who causes shame.” The harvest is now and many churches are snoozing.
Equally tragic, the Barna report sadly indicates only a small percentage of professing Christians actively look for opportunities to tell unbelievers about Christ and a large percentage of Christian millennials now believe it is wrong to share their faith. How can anyone who claims to have a relationship with Jesus be so indifferent to their biblical mandate to be a witness for Christ and to be heartbroken for the unsaved? In many cases the answer lies in the cold facts of never being taught, challenged, or inspired to do so from the pulpit.
Using the office of the evangelist is not the only answer to church decline, spiritual decline, and challenging/equipping believers to share their faith, but according to God’s word, it is certainly one of the answers. Anytime the Lord gives a gift to the church and the leadership doesn’t utilize it they are only selling themselves and their congregations short. Gifts are meant to be used.
Some of the most impactful events in Christian history were launched through evangelistic outreaches led by God-called evangelists. Have we forgotten the combustive impact of Whitefield, Moody, Finney, Sunday, Wesley, Edwards and most significantly, the master evangelist Jesus Christ? Was it not Phillip the evangelist who God sent to the unsaved Ethiopian who was searching for truth in Acts chapter eight?
I called a season evangelist named Freddie Gage 20 years ago to inquire how I should pursue my calling as a full-time evangelist. I have never forgotten his response, “Whatever you do, do not go into evangelism. You will never make it because churches no longer use evangelists. They talk about evangelism without ever doing it. Your wife and three kids will starve to death!” I was crushed but knew my mission and with the support of my wife, we decided we would rather starve than vacate our purpose. [Years later he told me he was only trying to weed me out, knowing if I wasn’t truly committed and called, I would bail out.]
For almost two decades I have been privileged to travel the world doing nothing but preaching the greatest news known to mankind. The Gospel. We have seven full time staff and two others who work with our team on a contractual basis. In the last two months, I have preached in mega churches running in the thousands and also to small congregations of less than 200. We have seen countless lives transformed from Michigan to Missouri, from Canada to Alaska. However, every year it is a major battle to pursue the call.
There are few of us left and just as Freddie Gage told me, the majority have been starved out. Regardless, a determined minority will never quit. They would rather die than forsake God’s purpose and their greatest passion. For them, the office of the evangelist will never die.
While we must adapt our methods and look for new and creative ways to broadcast the Gospel, I am confident God will show us His plan. And nothing, not the coronavirus, financial hardship the inability to gather, or racial unrest will stop those of us set afire with the message of Christ. We can and will, by God’s mighty power, reach the unsaved with the greatest and only message that will change the world. We will recognize the challenges of the day as opportunities for us be more effective in the future than we ever have been in the past!
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