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

    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.

    Related stories
    Times ‘tough’ for vocational evangelists
    Only 11% of SBC churches ‘healthy, growing’
    Evangelistic events still work toward harvest
    1/26/2010 5:48:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 3 comments

Brent Hobbs
Thanks for the link to ncevangelists.org, I didn't know a resource like that was available. It's hard to call people when you don't know who they are or have contact information for them. I really like the potential ability to visit the websites of the different ministries and hear a few sermons before inviting someone I don't know well to come speak.
2/4/2010 2:43:21 PM

Gene Scarborough
I applaude your spotlight on what many churches are NOT doing these days with Outreach. We seem to focus more on internal programs than reaching out. Now, instead of establishing mission churches by mother churches, there is great fear "we will loose some important workers and money needed to support my ministry (said by the typical pastor)."

The above was the response of pastors in Rocky Mount and Roanoke Rapids when the N. Roanoke Baptist Association had done a PROBE study and had some $80,000 in the bank to support new mission churches in the 2 towns. It was clearly shown they were needed!

The Hilda Mayo Mission Fund still sits drawing interest in the bank where there is little to none among the local churches. Now there are constant "assaults" to use the money elsewhere which was clearly designated for "new church starts."
1/27/2010 10:23:18 AM

Frank Shelton
Great job with the article. I trust our best days are ahead but even if they are not I still wouldnt want to be anywhere or anyone else. www.FrankShelton.com
1/26/2010 6:51:12 PM

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