I’m often asked, “Why did you leave a great church and ministry to go into evangelism?” What I hear is, “Are you crazy?” And I get it. Many perceive full-time evangelism as a dying profession. For instance, Southern Baptists currently have fewer than 100 vocational evangelists, whereas 25 years ago we had over 600. So, is God no longer calling evangelists? I don’t think this is true because the answer to why I do what I do is simple – God called me.
My primary purpose as a vocational evangelist is really no different than when I was a pastor. Both jobs entail, “the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12.) I work hand-in-hand with pastors to equip and encourage their congregations, to call believers to repentance, and to challenge sinners to be saved.
I do what I do because the local church is still the front line for a spiritual awakening. It’s certainly time for the Church to awaken. Consider this, approximately 350 Americans die every day due to drugs, alcohol, or suicide. Yet, many churches seem powerless to help the lost and dying in their communities.
There’s no doubt that the American church is weakening and it’s not hard to see why. The beliefs and behaviors of many professing Christians reflect worldliness more than godliness. Recent research paints a sobering reality. Sixty-four percent of Christian men and 15% of Christian women say they watch pornography at least once a month. And more than 50,000 church leaders admit to using porn on a regular basis. Furthermore, 67% of mainline protestants support same-sex marriage, even though Scripture clearly teaches otherwise.
The American church is also shrinking in size. Despite the recent emphasis on church planting, somewhere between 8,000-10,000 churches close every year. I believe there’s a connection between church closings and the vast majority of unreached people in their 20’s and 30’s. A revived church, however, is a reaching church.
Over the last two years, I’ve watched several churches experience genuine revival. It never just happens by accident. Pastors and church leaders, burdened for their communities, prepare for a work of the Holy Spirit through months of prayer. They invite friends and family to attend revival services. Then during the week, believers come to repentance and the lost come to salvation. And every time, God confirms why I do what I do.
Why then are there so few vocational evangelists to partner with local churches? Well, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association recently talked with evangelists from 23 denominations and what they discovered offers insight. One of the biggest challenges they reported is a loss of passion in churches. Many congregations no longer view reaching the lost as their primary mission. When evangelism is no longer a priority, then neither are evangelists.
Billy Graham once said, “I think the church through the years has been wrong in not recognizing the gift of the evangelist as much as the gift of the pastor or the gift of the teacher…the gift of the evangelist has often been neglected.”
As a matter of fact, only eight percent of those surveyed work as a staff evangelist for a local church, something that used to be common practice. Without that provision, only four in ten evangelists can afford to do evangelism full time. Most have to find ways to supplement their income in order to support their families. Finances were stated as the greatest obstacle to continuing in ministry.
Now, I didn’t research statistics before going into vocational evangelism. And I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have made a difference in my decision. Stacey and I had felt God stirring our hearts for months and prayed daily for clear direction. During this time, I remember informing the Lord that many churches no longer use evangelists. I clearly heard the Holy Spirit respond, “But I do.”
God provided another confirmation, interestingly enough, through an evangelist during a revival service. Since that February night, my driving motivation has been obedience to the call of God; to preach His Word in any capacity He chooses. He continually and graciously confirms why I do what I do.
I can’t help but believe that God is calling more Southern Baptists to vocational evangelism. In order for our country to experience spiritual awakening, we desperately need revival. We need evangelists to obey the call of God. And we need churches to utilize their gifting. Let’s work together to equip the body of Christ and evangelize the lost.