Why our churches are not using vocational evangelists–and why they should reconsider

“And He gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers….” (Ephesians 4:11)

An evangelist proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ to unbelievers.  While the commission for this was given to the whole church, and every Christian is charged with spreading the Word, some are called specifically for this purpose. Presumably, those called are specially gifted for the task.

For me personally, the names that come to mind include Angel Martinez, Eddie Martin, Homer Martinez, Vance Havner, J. Harold Smith, and E. J. Daniels.  Billy Graham and his colleagues Grady Wilson, George Beverly Shea, Cliff Barrows.  Mordecai Ham, Billy Sunday, Dwight L. Moody, R. A. Torrey, George Whitefield.  Roy Fish, Jim Ponder and Joe Atkinson, Bob Harrington, Gray Allison, and John R. Rice.  Billy Smith, Richard Hogue, Wayne Bristow.

I suppose there was a “golden age of evangelism,” at least in our Southern Baptist Convention, when most churches scheduled annual revivals or evangelistic meetings and brought in a well-known evangelist.  If so, the sun has set on that day.  In our denomination, fewer and fewer churches schedule these meetings and the typical full-time evangelist has a hard time filling his calendar with meetings and then has a difficult time making a living from the offerings these meetings bring in.

“Why are pastors not scheduling vocational evangelists for meetings in their churches?”  

I tossed out that question on Facebook.  Answers flooded in.  Many pastors were only too happy to say why they were not inviting these preachers into their churches.  (Forty-eight hours later, that question has received two hundred responses.)

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What pastors worry about most

“Be anxious for nothing…” (Philippians 4:6).

“Why did you fear? Where is your faith?”  (Mark 4:40)

Worry, they say, is spending energy and resources on needless situations.  Crossing bridges we may never come to.  Paying bills that never come due.

Worry is a waste of the imagination, someone said.  And almost everyone agrees that, for a believer, worry is sin.

But that doesn’t help, does it?  Telling someone not to worry is the equivalent of instructing passengers not to be afraid when the plane is in a nosedive.   A lot of good that would do.

Now, what one person calls “worry” another may call “being concerned” or “caring deeply.”  When a husband tells his wife he does not worry about some upcoming crisis, almost always she interprets that as his not caring.  When the church treasurer said he lies awake at night worrying about our finances, I replied, “Not me.  The Lord is going to be up all night anyway; I let him worry about it.  I sleep like a baby.”  He was thereafter convinced I didn’t love the church as much as he did.

That said, my experience is that some issues do indeed occupy space front and center in the minds and hearts of God’s ministers.

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Does God allow His people “tremendous latitude” in where we serve?

Recently, in one of our on-line magazines for ministers, a preacher friend gave twenty-five questions which pastors should ask of search committees before accepting their call.  At the conclusion, he said, “I believe the Lord allows us tremendous latitude in where we serve.”

Tremendous latitude.  Interesting expression.  I assume that to mean “great flexibility.”  Which implies, to me at any rate, that the Lord lays out all these choices and says, “It’s up to you.”

It’s your call.  You can decide.

Take your pick.

I replied with a cartoon.  A preacher sits at a table with his open Bible before him.  He prays, “Lord, I’ve heard you give us extreme latitude in deciding where to serve.  But Lord–please don’t do that.  I don’t want latitude.  I can’t trust myself to do this.  You choose, Father.  You choose!”

That’s how I feel.  If the Lord were to say to me, “Choose from these three churches, all of them wanting you as pastor,” I’m afraid I would have to punt.

I can hear myself saying, “Lord, You know.  I don’t.  You know my little strengths and my glaring weaknesses.  You know who is in each of those churches and how they make decisions.  You know their secrets and I don’t.  Please don’t ask me to do this.”

As a friend once preached on something similar, I do not have mentality enough, morality enough, or maturity enough for making such a call.

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Ten things to pray for your pastor…and one big thing to do next

“Pray for me, that the message may be given to me when I open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the Gospel” (Ephesians 6:19). 

Whether requested or not, you and I would do well to pray for our pastors.

Then, continuing to pray for your pastor in good times and ill is a sign of great faith in Christ.

So much depends on whether our spiritual leaders are functioning well, close to the Lord, thinking clearly, and in good health.

Here are ten requests we should be asking of the Father for our pastors….

One.  A strong sense of God’s calling on the pastor’s life.

“It is the Lord Christ whom ye serve.”  (Colossians 3:24)

He is not his own, nor is he “ours.”  He has been bought with a price.  So, we pray that He may always have a clear sense of where his allegiance begins and ends.  This will produce a far greater intensity in his faith and drive to his work ethic than anything the deacons or finance committee can impose.

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What the unemployed pastor can pray when most churches want nothing to do with him

“Lord,” I said, “Most churches are afraid of me.  If I’m such a good candidate for their church, they wonder why I am still unemployed?”

I had survived an attempt to oust me from leadership of the church I’d pastored the last three years.  It had been the most difficult, up-hill period in my ministry.  Then, when it appeared the coup had failed and the know-it-alls knew a lot less than they had figured, I was not given time to take a breath before the ringleader said in private, “It’s not over, Joe.  It’ll never be over until you’re gone.”

He was determined to get me out of that church.

A few days later, the Father said to me, “You may leave now.”

Six months earlier, a church leader with ties to the little power group had taken me to lunch with an offer.  “If you will leave, they’ll give you $100,000. And you can walk away.”

I said, “I would love to leave.  The stress is killing me.  But the Lord will not let me.”

A Midwest church twice our size had shown interest in me as a possible pastor.  I’d sent them recorded sermons–this was before the internet–and we’d had extensive long distance conversations.  They were about to send their search committee across the country to visit us when I stopped it.

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Pastor: What to pray when your ministry is on the line

“Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word” (I Kings 18:36). 

I was pastoring a church that had survived–just barely–a massive split a couple of years before I arrived.  Many were still carrying guilt over how they had behaved or anger over the misbehavior of others.  Or both.

And since these people had ousted the pastor who had provided the spark for all this turmoil, it soon occurred to a strong handful that they could do the same to me.

So, for the first years of my ministry in that church–which actually lasted nearly fourteen years–I had to put up with the detractors, people who were determined to find fault with everything I did and turning it against me.

And then one day I noticed how Elijah had prayed on Mount Carmel.

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Pastor, leave sports out of the pulpit. Here’s why.

“Not everyone in the pews cares who won that game.  They could care less who Mickey Mantle or Hank Aaron, Joe Namath or Drew Brees are (is?).  Tell them a Yogi Berra story and while you stand there waiting on the laugh, they will say, ‘Who is that?’  An evening at a college football game with you is not a delight but punishment.”  –The voice of sanity

Keep that in mind as you enter the pulpit area.

Dr. Cecil Randall pastored Tuscaloosa’s First Baptist Church during the era of the famous Paul “Bear” Bryant when winning national championships became a matter of routine.  Later, as a professor in New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, he told his students not a single time did he mention football from the pulpit.

“Not everyone in your congregation is local,” Dr. Randall said.  “Some are from those other states and they cheer for those other teams.  Besides, you have bigger things to do today than talk about a football game.”

Any pastor who questions that should go back and examine his calling.

There is an exception.

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Our wish for the church’s preacher-killers

They asked Andrew Murray the greatest thought that had ever entered his mind.  “My accountability to God,” he said.

My pastor friend Albert still carries scars from his last tough assignment.  And now, he tells me, he faces a crisis in his present church.

The issue, you will not be surprised to learn, has nothing to do with the community at large, the unchurched he is trying to reach, or the surrounding culture.

The problem Albert faces is internal.

“Twice the treasurer has threatened to cut my pay if I announce plans to stay on.  He tells everyone that our church cannot afford a pastor.  A couple in the church is spreading gossip about me.  A recent survey of the congregation assessed me and my ministry–which is fine–but the board chairman plans to discuss it at the upcoming annual meeting without clueing me in on the results ahead of time.”

Nothing about this bodes well for Albert.  (I suppose I’ve seen too many of these disasters-in-the-making to be optimistic.  Some people are determined to have their way and run “their” church as they please.)

He concluded, “Pray for wisdom, shrewdness, strength and peace for my wife and me.”

Ask any pastor.  The stresses from these forces are preacher-killers.

I’ve been reading the recently published “Valley Forge,” Bob Drury and Tom Clavin’s account of General George Washington’s turning a bedraggled, dispirited, starving, half-naked army into a fighting force that defeated the best-trained militia on the planet, the British.  What strikes the reader is that while battling the British and contending with both the frigid weather and the sparse supply of food and clothing, Washington was constantly being undercut by Congress and generals who wanted his job.

The internal strife must have been worse than the external.

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Arrogance on display: Peacocks in a Mudhen Parade

(For the significance of the title, see the story at the conclusion.) 

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus….(who) made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.  Wherefore, God has highly exalted Him…. (Philippians 2:5-9)

Browsing through Books-A-Million yesterday, I saw it.  A preacher had written a book.  The cover photo was a full picture of himself.  In the right hand lower corner were these words: “Not your typical preacher.”  (Sorry, I did not stop to make a note of who the preacher was, nor did I write down the name of the book. And I’d prefer to leave it that way, lest someone think I am attacking the man himself.)

I was offended.

This morning at breakfast, I asked my wife, “Why did that offend me?”  She didn’t hesitate. “Because it was so arrogant of him.”

My thought exactly.

Either that preacher wrote that about himself and ordered that his photo be plastered across the front of the book, or he approved it.  Either way, his ego is all over the place.  The man is exalting himself.

I can just imagine his office filled with stacks of these books.  A hundred photos of his face stare back at him.  He loves it.

I am offended that the man does not want to be identified with “typical” preachers.  He is clearly “a cut above,” in his thinking at least.

However, on second thought, most of us preachers will take comfort that he is not typical.  Most pastors are humble, hard-working, and dedicated to doing the work of Christ.  They are not prideful or self-exalting.

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Crisis Management: How to keep our people during a crisis

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16).

We can’t say the Lord didn’t warn us. Although, clearly, some did not get the word.

In Matthew 10:16-42 our Lord is preparing His people for their future ministry with its pressures, persecutions, betrayals, and conflicts.  He tells us how things will be, what to expect, and what actions we should take when bad things occur.  To our shame, our people are rarely taught this, and thus are blindsided when turmoil erupts in a congregation.

And so, when the enemy attacks the church, God’s people panic and flee like chickens in the barnyard when a hostile dog arrives.

We all pay a big price for our failure to prepare the people.

It’s a familiar story, one which I heard again today.  When the pastor resigned suddenly due to his own foolish behavior, many in the congregation panicked and went into a tailspin.  The leadership wants to carry on the program, but people are leaving the church in droves.  What to do? Can anything be done at this late hour to keep members from jumping ship?

The best time to act is two years ago. (“Oh, thanks a lot, wise one.  You’re a big help!”)

Seriously.

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