Tennessee Baptist evangelists optimistic despite COVID-19 challenges
By Lonnie Wilkey
For most vocational evangelists, spring through fall is the busiest times for conducting revivals and other evangelistic events. “Certainly this virus has put a stop to all revivals and other events (special Sundays, conferences, etc.) that involve evangelists,” observed Phil Glisson of Phil Glisson Ministries in Memphis.
“The uncertainty surrounding all of this is making us take it one week at a time. We, like so many, are praying that our church services can soon resume and that pastors will schedule or reschedule us. I am getting calls now for future months,” he said.
Glisson acknowledged that evangelists “are taking a financial hit but we are not alone. Some evangelists may have to change vocations or ministries. Only the Lord knows what the future holds.
“We need pastors who believe in us to use us. I thank God for those who have entrusted their pulpits to me over the years. God has always been faithful to open the doors and take care of us and we are trusting in Him to do so now and in the future,” Glisson affirmed.
Richard Hamlet, president and CEO of Global Ministries Foundation in Cordova, noted the pandemic has provided both obstacles and opportunities.
“The obstacle lies in evangelistic meetings here in the United States and overseas being canceled in a moment’s notice, some of which were planned and prayed over for multiple years.”
COVID-19 also has provided an opportunity in “the sobering sense of mortality” the public is faced with now, Hamlet said.
“We have the gospel, the Good News, for them. It’s just a matter of using digital/internet technology now for “connectivity” with gospel proclamation,” he said.
“We are able to bring the gospel to their living rooms, patios and vehicles with clear and passionate content and the urgency of their calling on Jesus Christ alone for their salvation, through their personal repentance and faith.”
Jerry Drace, president of the Jerry Drace Evangelistic Association and bivocational pastor of Friendship Baptist Church, Friendship, said technology may play a major role in the future of the vocational evangelist.
“During the Evangelism Summit of 2019 hosted in Jackson by the JDEA, we evangelists, discussed the willingness of pastors to use media such as Facebook and others to reach the lost in their community and strengthen the body of believers through discipleship conferences.
“We are now in a creative time of envisioning the future pattern and structure of the public evangelistic gathering. A number of our evangelists already are using online resources in various ways to reach both Christian gatherings and unreached people groups in numerous international countries,” Drace continued.
Springfield evangelist Keith Cook of On the Go Ministries noted his ministry has been impacted by the cancelation of numerous events in seven countries and six states. The cancelations have caused him “to consider every conceivable option, except stopping, to get the gospel out in any situation we find ourselves in.”
He agrees that ministries, including churches, are finding value in technology more than ever before. “I think the church is being amazed by how many people are listening from their homes, watching via Facebook Live or livestreams.”
What’s more, he believes this will continue to be in demand even after churches resume live services.
“I believe the church had better be ready to provide livestreaming of Sunday School classes, Vacation Bible Schools, revivals, and more.
“Many people are seeing how easy it is to be connected to the church from home and it is only natural to not disconnect in the future and stay connected when they are out sick, on vacation, or are away on business. It is very exciting,” Cook observed.
All four evangelists expressed optimism for the future.
Hamlet, a former Wall Street financier, said he is “bullish” and “optimistic” about the future of vocational evangelism. “Ephesians 4 is clear that evangelists are God’s gifts to Christ’s church from the Head of the church, Himself. The ‘vocation’ of evangelism is a true calling from God and God continues to raise up in every generation evangelists whose hearts burn with passion to declare the gospel of Jesus to a dying world.”
Cook also is optimistic. Noting he didn’t know a single evangelist when he began at the age of 15, he now knows thousands of evangelists all over the world.
“They come in all temperaments and personalities,” he observed. “But almost to the person, they all believe in their call, the urgency of their message and they are not going to give up until death.”
Glisson said he is praying for God “to use this pandemic to wake us up spiritually. If we were to see revival and awakening break out, this would encourage even more pastors to use evangelists to help them win the lost and edify the saved.”
Drace agreed. “Since the Southern Baptist Convention has been in a consistent state of decline in the area of evangelism for several years, I can only hope and pray that the office of the vocational evangelist will be given its proper place among our leaders as it was in the early church. Encouragement from the top filters down,” Drace said. B&R