Times for North Carolina’s
vocational evangelists are, in a word “tough.”
At least, that’s how Bill
Rice, president of North Carolina vocational evangelist’s fellowship described
them Jan. 7, just four days before he unexpectedly died in his sleep.
Participants in the
evangelists’ annual fellowship at Caraway Conference Center echoed their
president’s sentiments. The world has changed for vocational evangelists, few
of whom survive through the traditional service of preaching evangelistic
meetings in local churches.
Without a diligently
secured, nurtured and faithful board and chorus of supporters who provide a
monthly income few could remain in the vocation.
Still, many become virtually
bivocational, during interim pastorates or pulpit supply, special projects,
teaching school or other enterprise to keep financially above water.
“It’s impossible to do
enough local church work to make a living,” said evangelist Dale Riddle.
Rice said churches are just
not holding revival meetings. Where he used to conduct meetings five and six
weeks in a row, pastors were telling him revival meetings are “not effective or
Riddle, recalling an
invitation to preach at an 8 a.m. service the church was calling its “revival
meeting,” said, “It’s no wonder a church would say a revival is not
While churches decline to
hold regular evangelistic outreaches for many reasons, churches that hold them
and prepare for them baptize significantly more converts.
Churches which decline to
use a vocational evangelist on the basis of cost don’t understand there is no
fee or charges. Most evangelists ask only that the church receive a love
offering to support their ministry.
“The average pastor doesn’t
understand we come on faith,” said evangelist Ken Carter.
Dale Riddle’s wife, Gilda,
said “revivals are almost a thing of the past.”
Several factors contribute
to that new reality. Dale Riddle counts among them the lifestyle of the current
culture which has “couples working dawn to dusk.”
He said young people don’t
want to come, sit and listen, and that relationship evangelism is more commonly
taught and promoted.
The North American Mission
Board offers an endorsement of Southern Baptist evangelists who are members of
the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists (COSBE). There is an annual fee
to be a part of COSBE, but membership testifies that the evangelist has been
vetted at some level.
Annual dues of $175 keep most
of the N.C. evangelists off the COSBE membership role, according to Carter.
During evangelist Riddle’s
early years, he would lead an international mission trip annually, working it
in among his 35-40 weeks of revival meetings each year. Now, 33 years since he
began, he focuses primarily on international work.
Evangelists find it easier
to raise money for projects than for ongoing support. Consequently, they are
involved in many events beyond the traditional revival meetings.
Darrel Davis, once and again
president of the N.C. vocational evangelist’s fellowship, said there is no
shortage of opportunities to present the gospel. He is active with Intentional
Community Evangelism (ICE) teams prior to SBC annual meetings. He witnessed on
the streets of Pasadena during the Rose Bowl parade; is going to Mardi Gras to
witness and is planning to go to the Philippines this summer.
The hard part, he admits, is
making a living. At age 40 he’s been fulfilling his calling to vocational
evangelism since 1999 after starting a career in engineering doing computer
aided drafting and design.
“We have to raise support to
do it,” said Davis, whose group is Foundation Ministries. “Without a support
base, we wouldn’t be able to make it in the field of evangelism.”
Marty Dupree, consultant
with the Baptist State Convention for personal evangelism, said vocational
evangelists learn to piece together elements to make a living.
How busy a vocational
evangelist is depends in large part on “who they are, how God uses them and in
their ability to work and to network,” Dupree said.
About 85 vocational
evangelists are members of the North Carolina fellowship group.
Fewer churches conduct
traditional evangelistic outreach events. In the churched culture of days past
a congregation would prepare extensively for annual or semi-annual evangelistic
outreaches to which members invited unsaved friends and neighbors.
Eventually, Dupree said,
churches neglected the preparation required for successful events, they became
less effective and churches lost interest.
Now church revival events
are geared more toward “reviving” the evangelistic spirit of the members,
rather than reaching out to unsaved, Dupree said. Those revivals involve many
methods such as church renewal and special events, seminars and conferences.
Yet, he said, more than 90
percent of churches that are evangelistic and growing make great preparation
for evangelistic outreaches and hold them regularly.
Dupree admits that some
evangelists, primarily high profile television evangelists, have given all
evangelists a bad name and prompted reluctance by churches to use any
Evangelist Dale Elwell,
whose ministry Cross Culture is about “igniting the next generation for Christ”
said income the second half of 2009 “took a dive.”
He is “regrouping” Cross
Culture, leaving behind trained staff and volunteers, while he begins a stint
as a chaplain at a facility for troubled teens in his home state of West
Ron Herrod, current
president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists, exhorts pastors to
“use those with the gift of evangelism.”
“Without a doubt, the called
and gifted evangelist is God’s gift to the church,” said Herrod, himself a
pastor for 36 years.
SBC President Johnny Hunt
says the Bible is “extremely clear in Ephesians 4” that one of God’s gifts to
the church is the evangelist.
Evangelists are harvesters.
For a church whose members have actively sown the seed, using an evangelist for
a special event is “kind of like calling a specialist in,” Davis said.
“If you want someone God has
called specifically to draw the net and see people come to Christ an evangelist
is definitely the choice a church should consider.”
See a list of North Carolina
vocational evangelists at www.ncevangelists.org.