When Jerry Drace thinks about the state of evangelism across the Southern Baptist Convention, his heart is often grieved.
Revival services are no longer common. Baptisms are declining. Full-time evangelists are rarely invited to speak in Southern Baptist churches. Those concerns were the topic of conversation among a group of fifteen evangelists in Jackson, Tennessee, in early March as part of the Evangelists’ Summit ’18, sponsored by the Jerry Drace Evangelistic Association.
“Since churches aren’t using evangelists anymore, what can we do to help the pastors?” Drace, a former president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists (COSBE), said. “That was our big concern.”
Following the summit, the evangelists—including the current president, vice president, and four former presidents of COSBE—spread out across West Tennessee on March 4, speaking in Sunday services in fifteen different churches.
Drace said the responses to the Sunday services were overwhelmingly positive, with more than one church reporting professions of faith.
“We have some great pastors in this area,” Drace, who has conducted seven hundred revivals and crusades nationally and internationally and three hundred Hope for the Home conferences in the US and Great Britain, said.
“When I shared with them who could come and who was available, they snapped at it.”
Three people made professions of faith at Mercer Baptist Church in Mercer, Tennessee, where evangelist Frank Shivers spoke. Shivers has been a vocational evangelist for more than forty years.
Carl White, pastor of the church, said the professions of faith came from a grandmother, her daughter, and a young man in his 30s. The man was baptized the following week, while the two women will be baptized soon.
“We’re always a supporter of the role of the evangelist within the body of Christ,” White said. “We think that’s still a very needed part of the body, so we were very honored to be able to host Frank and would love to do it again.”
At Parkburg Baptist Church in Pinson, Tennessee, evangelist David Burton from Florida was the preacher. Pastor Danny Rachel said he wanted to participate in the event as a way of supporting evangelism and evangelists.
“I share the concern with many that our evangelists are not being utilized,” Rachel said. “They have the gift that God has given them, and it appears [many] churches aren’t utilizing them. I wanted the people here at our church to hear from an evangelist.”
Burton, former director of evangelism for the Florida Baptist Convention, spoke during Sunday school on ways Christians can share their faith and engage in Gospel conversations with people on a daily basis. During the worship service that followed, Burton shared the Gospel and the Christian’s responsibility to evangelize.
The church’s youth attended a youth evangelism conference a few days later, and Rachel said he thought Burton’s message prepared their hearts for that event.
“Our youth really, really liked him,” Rachel said.
Evangelist Jerry Drace, who is also serving as the bivocational pastor at Friendship Baptist Church in Friendship, Tennessee, reported that as a result of evangelist Marion Warren’s sermon on “The Need for Prayer,” forty-seven members responded with the pledge to pray daily for their family, their church, and their nation.
In the weeks which have followed a family of three made professions of faith and were baptized on Easter Sunday along with Drace’s grandson, Noah. Three others have made professions of faith and are awaiting baptism.
At Madison Baptist Church in Jackson, where Greg Gilbreath is pastor, evangelist Gary Bowlin extended the invitation to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
A seventy-one year old man and a sixty-four year old woman responded to the invitation and told Gilbreath they wanted to make their commitment to trust Christ.
Bob Connerley, pastor of Brownsville Baptist Church in Brownsville, Tennessee, said his church enjoyed hearing from evangelist Glenn Sheppard that day. Connerley has been emphasizing prayer with his congregation, and the week before he set up stations where his people put the initials of unbelieving friends and family members for whom they committed themselves to pray.
Sheppard spoke to Brownsville Baptist Church about the movement of God in revival.
“At the end of the service we had opportunity for people to come forward and pray,” Connerley said. “It was a really refreshing time. So many people commented about Glenn, how much they enjoyed him, and how much his message meant in their life.”
About fifteen people responded to the call to pray at the altar.
Sheppard, the first director of the office for spiritual awakening at the SBC Home Mission Board (now NAMB), leads an evangelism ministry that has planted more than 275 churches in Nepal, Thailand, Egypt, and Sierra Leone, and has built five overseas training centers for pastors and a home for girls in Nepal.
Like Drace, Sheppard is concerned with what he sees as a “de-emphasis” in the Southern Baptist Convention on the office of evangelist.
“We have put a major emphasis on church planting at the expense of evangelism, and that greatly disturbs me,” Sheppard said. “I’ve been concerned about the fact that there are very few churches that use evangelists.”
When evangelists are used, Sheppard said, they often have to speak as revivalists seeking to call God’s people to a renewed commitment, since few unbelievers are coming into churches.
“We need revival in the church,” Sheppard said. “Revival is the work of God among his people. Evangelism is the overflow that begins to take place when, culturally, society begins to be awakened by the presence of God—not by the methods of man.”
Drace and Sheppard both acknowledged that evangelists have been tainted by abuses and lack of integrity by some who use manipulative methods and, in some instances, have harmed churches more than they’ve helped them. That was one of Drace’s motivations in hosting an event like this and facilitating the fifteen evangelists to speak in area churches—so the churches would be exposed to godly evangelists who only want to help pastors and churches. Sheppard said the evangelists at Evangelists’ Summit ’18 would welcome the opportunity to rebuild relationships and “re-dig those wells of the great dimension of evangelism with integrity.”
“We’re called,” Sheppard said. “We’re evangelists. Our desire is to strengthen the church, never to take away from the ongoing primary emphasis of what the body is, and that’s a collected group of believers who walk together in love. We want to strengthen that.”
Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, and is a member of Cornerstone Community Church in Jackson. SBC LIFE contributed to this story.