New leadership in the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists advanced initiatives in ethics and accountability, and announced the creation of an emergency financial aid fund during their February national congress at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
The evangelism offices of the North American Mission Board and New Orleans Seminary cosponsored this year's congress.
Issuing calls for both a code of ethics and a means of accountability during the business session, COSBE President Jerry Drace of Humboldt, Tenn., presented rough drafts for ten "Affirmations of Accountability," for the establishment of a council on accountability, and for a set of guidelines for denominational endorsement.
Calling the ten affirmations "our code of ethics," Drace said the proposed affirmations would affirm "before the Lord and each other" their accountability as vocational evangelists. Seeking integrity in all areas of an evangelist's life, Drace said he hopes the document can be finalized in June when COSBE meets in Atlanta during the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting.
Currently, evangelists need just a letter of recommendation from their pastor to become a member of COSBE. Under the new guidelines, evangelists who want to be members of COSBE will need to sign their names to the Affirmations of Accountability document.
The proposed council on accountability, meanwhile, would assist in conflict resolution in situations involving evangelists and churches. Exactly who will sit on the council and for how long is yet to be determined, but its members would include denominational liaison Don Smith, who is also an associate in NAMB's evangelism department and the president of COSBE.
COSBE members also reviewed a rough draft proposal on denominational endorsement for evangelists, something similar to the endorsement process of Southern Baptist chaplains. Written by Smith, a former full-time evangelist, the document is "open to alterations," he said, and will be discussed further in June.
Drace also announced the creation of the Samaritan's Fund, an endowment to assist vocational evangelists in times of financial crisis, such as a house fire, natural disaster, or medical emergency. "Our evangelists don't have the support system that pastors have when crisis hits them," Drace said. NAMB will oversee the fund. Those wishing to contribute to the fund would send money directly to NAMB, designated for "Samaritan's Fund/NAMB." Since it is an endowment fund, the money will be invested and only the interest will be used to assist evangelists in times of emergency.
Along with the announcement of the Samaritan's Fund came a discussion on the necessity of defining certain terms within COSBE, because the fund will help only those evangelists who are full-time vocational evangelists.
In the first attempt to define who qualifies to call himself or herself a full-time evangelist, about fifty COSBE members met in a February business session, discussing terminology and such questions as time allotment needed to qualify for full-time status.
"We need to distinguish those men and women who have stepped out on faith to do the ministry of evangelism" from those who have full-time or part-time jobs and do evangelistic endeavors sporadically, Drace said. A definition is expected to be finalized in June at the SBC. Currently, a draft definition reads, "A full-time evangelist is one who is available fifty-two weeks of the year to fulfill his or her ministry."
Drace estimates 600 men and women are listed in the evangelists' directory, published each year by NAMB. Nothing currently distinguishes one evangelist from the another - except for specialties such as music - although significant differences do exist. For instance, one person may call himself an evangelist while he has a full- or part-time pastorate, making him available only occasionally for evangelistic services. This person is listed in the current directory among the names of evangelists who have "stepped out on faith" to do full-time vocational evangelism ministry and are available fifty-two weeks every year, Drace said.
Affirmations of Accountability
The proposed "Affirmations of Accountability" document of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists states:
"We, the members of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists do hereby, before the Lord and each other, affirm the following statements concerning our accountability as vocational evangelists.
"We confess Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as Lord and Savior and declare our obedience to the Great Commission, our willingness to advance its purpose and our availability to fulfill its meaning.
"We align ourselves with the doctrinal position of the 1998 Baptist Faith and Message and reaffirm our belief that the Bible is the infallible Word of God.
"We assert the call of the vocational evangelist is an authentic New Testament call; thereby, we approach our vocation with the same degree of preparation and integrity as is demanded of other Christian vocational skills.
"We are accountable to the local church where we are members by participating in its programs and supporting it with our tithes. We will strive to conduct our ministries so as to build up the local body of believers by proclaiming the great doctrines of the Scriptures.
"We acknowledge that conviction of sin is a work of the Holy Spirit and we will extend the invitation with integrity and without coercion or manipulation.
"Our priorities are: First, to a disciplined devotional life, insuring our personal spiritual development; second, to our families, demonstrating our commitment as companions and parents; third, to those with whom we minister giving evidence of the credibility of our message.
"As servants of God we confirm our duty to live morally clean, pure, holy lives. What we proclaim in public, we are obligated to practice in private.
"We declare to be faithful and responsible under God in the reporting of all our finances and statistics.
"We need and desire to be filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit in order that we may be thoroughly prepared and thoroughly empowered.
"We seek to promote evangelism with integrity through every segment of our ministries and, in so doing, we expect the same standards from those with whom we serve."
Art Toalston contributed to this story.