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Times ‘tough’ for vocational evangelists
Norman Jameson, BR Editor
January 26, 2010

Times ‘tough’ for vocational evangelists

Times ‘tough’ for vocational evangelists
Norman Jameson, BR Editor
January 26, 2010

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.

BR photo by Norman Jameson

Evangelist Royce Williams, a Baptist State Convention of North Carolina board of directors member, left, watches Dale Elwell, right, explain something on his computer. Between them is Jamie Cooper from Wilmington.

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

too costly.”

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

effective.”

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.

Contributed photo

Darrel Davis, left, shares Christ on the street.

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.

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

Virginia.

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.

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