Singing Evangelist, Georgia-Cumberland Conference
RECENTLY I received a long-distance telephone call from an evangelist asking if I would be interested in coming to work with him as the singing evangelist. I told him it would not be possible at the present time, for many good reasons. He then asked whether I knew of anyone who might be willing to come. I asked about several I knew in his union who were singing evangelists. In each case he said they had taken up other work. He concluded by saying, "I'm having a difficult time finding a singer. If you think of anyone, please let me know."
I couldn't think of anyone and have not called him. Repeated conversations like this have caused me to do some serious thinking. We all agree that evangelism will play a major part in the preparation of the world for the coming of Jesus. This being true, there is, then, a need for many evangelists to preach the message for this last hour, which immediately calls for equally as many singing evangelists to give the message in song.
When we study the methods used by Jesus we find that He sent out His disciples, and later the seventy, two by two (The Desire of Ages, p. 350). We are not told that one of them was a singing evangelist, but we can scarcely conclude that singing played no part in their work.
Why is it on the testimony of administrators and leading evangelists that the number of singing evangelists is constantly dwindling? Is there a reason why each year those who are talented in this line are seeking and accepting other work within the ranks of the organization? It would be folly for me to think that I have the answer, but I would like to share some of my convictions.
What Is a Singing Evangelist?
First of all, it might be well to re-establish in our thinking the definition of a singing evangelist. A singing evangelist is one who, because he has felt the call of God, has prepared himself as a minister of the Word and also as a minister of song. His work includes the exercise of his talents in both fields—singing and evangelism. He is one who feels that his contribution to the finishing of the work can best be made through the medium of song.
We used to speak of "song leaders." A song leader is one who feels his calling only in respect to the leading of singing in an evangelistic campaign. Occasionally we find a layman who volunteers his help when a singing evangelist is not available; and how grateful we are for his help. But within the ranks of the ministry the call is for singing evangelists—men who unite a burning desire to see souls surrendered to God's will through the power of song. We are told that "there is power in the ministry of song" (Counsels to Parents and Teachers, p. 547). This power can be and should be felt in each service; it enhances the preaching of the message. The people have been prepared and the preacher is inspired!
Singing should not be the only activity in which the singing evangelist will engage. He works with the talent of the church to form choirs and other singing groups. He is a spiritual visitor. His influence can be as great as that of the evangelist, for he moves the hearts of the people in song as the evangelist does in word. He should be able to conduct Bible classes and see people through the critical decisions to the baptismal font. When time permits he can keep the campaign books, write newspaper articles, et cetera. He is an associate with the evangelist, working hand in hand to make the campaign a success. A good musical program by which the people are inspired may be responsible for half the success of the effort.
Supply vs. Demand
Why is it that there are so few of these workers? There are men who can sing, and in some cases they would like to join the ranks of the workers, but they have not prepared themselves for the ministry. It is the exception rather than the rule for this type of person to be hired. There are others who have taken the ministerial training and would like to enter this field, but they feel inadequate to assume the responsibility. Then there are the men who have completed the ministerial training, who possess the natural talent to do the work, but who feel that they would rather do the preaching. This then only increases the problem, for they are looking for a singing evangelist as well, and the supply is even farther from meeting the demand.
The solution to this shortage may be answered by the following:
1. Begin the emphasis in our schools. The field of singing evangelism could be given special emphasis in our schools while the men are studying for the ministry. It might mean that the instructors in voice will have to realize the challenge of true evangelism in song; but that can be done relatively easily as will be suggested later.
2. Make it a work with a purpose and a future. More than one person has asked me, with a note of sympathy in his voice, "Won't you be glad when you're on your own and have your own church?" This feeling of sympathy for a singing evangelist has been created over the years because of the pattern that has been followed. More than one singing evangelist has said, "There is no future in singing evangelism." This statement is not true or at least need not be true. But why this impression? The following might be the reason: Many times in the past a young man is called to help out in an evangelistic meeting and given the responsibility of the music. Very often he is also given the responsibility of looking after the tent. He is usually an intern, and the leading of the sing-ing is part of his training. After one or two such campaigns he has his fondest wish fulfilled—he is given his own church or district and his graduation is complete! His only experience in singing evangelism was in that period of time after he left school until the brethren put him on his own. The impression is given, unintentionally of course, that a singing evangelist is either one who is just starting out in the ministry or who the brethren have felt is not ready to be given responsibility on his own. It is often used as a springboard to independence! This is tragic. Singing evangelism should be a calling and a career just as is the preaching of the word. It should not be a means to an end but an end in itself.
3. It should be recognized for its own worth. Some fine singing evangelists have reasoned: "My work is needed only as long as the evangelist I am working with wants to preach." This has proved to be the case more than once. Because the singer cannot usually show a record of long years of pastoral experience, although he may have been in the ministry for some years, he is given a small church. One or two such experiences convinces him that the risk taken in engaging in singing evangelism is too great, and he immediately sets to work building up a "reputation" and gaining "recognition" as a pastor. Might it be that if the singing evangelist was given to understand that his work and talents could go on being used regardless of the evangelists' desire, either within the field or in some other conference, that this thinking could be changed? Many conferences cannot afford an evangelistic team. With a singing evangelist in the field, he with the pastor of any church can be a team for the duration of the campaign. This then is a "conference singing evangelist," not the "evangelist singer."
4. He should be responsible to the conference president. Very often the call to a conference is extended by the evangelist (after the committee has passed it). This sometimes creates the feeling that the singing evangelist has an intermediary between himself and the president. We all know that this is not the case, but is it not possible that the impression is left? With this procedure the conference singing evangelist is often referred to as "Elder---------'s singer." This may not be the case, but sometimes it is. The singer, because he is human, finds it easy to leave this kind of situation.
5. Voice study. Only a singer can fully know the frustration that comes when he feels that he is losing the control of his voice. Constant practice and training is needed to keep the voice in proper condition. When after months of singing and work the singer finds that he is regressing vocally, he will do one of two things—either discontinue his work as a singer or accept a position in the field of music in one of our schools. In the latter case he is invariably given the privilege of further study during the summer months. It would enhance the field of singing evangelism if consideration might be given the singer to study voice at some time during the course of the year.
6. Time allotted for daily practice. A singing evangelist wants to work as hard and as long as the evangelist—and he should. But the evangelist, unless he has been a singing evangelist, will not realize that it takes more physical fitness to sing right than it does to speak right.
Often when it is possible to speak without showing, fatigue it is impossible to sing with vibrancy and exactness. To sing right takes daily practice, and during an effort proper rest is essential.
7. The instrumentalist. Most churches realize that it is in the interest of the over-all program to engage an instrumentalist. We have often reasoned that it costs too much. Careful inventory might reveal that our neglect has cost even more! When all the advertising is out and the hall contracted for, thought is given to the one who might play for the meeting. In the interest of economy the evangelist's wife is often asked to play. This puts the singer at a great disadvantage. Even to have the singer's wife as the instrumentalist has been found by some successful teams to be inadvisable. It is generally recognized that the ideal is to have a male instrumentalist as part of the team. He should be capable of contributing more than his playing. He should be a spiritual visitor. He could help in the field of public relations, business managing, et cetera. If this could be envisioned, suitable people would be available and the caliber of our campaigns greatly raised,
8. Singing evangelistic institutes. Periodic seminars could be held for singing evangelists. It would prove to be effective in broadening the singer by sharing ideas and at the same time stimulate an interest in the field of singing evangelism. To these seminars the teachers of voice from our schools could be invited, both to bring instruction and to receive inspiration in their teaching methods. These might be held in conjunction with evangelistic counsels.
The counsel of the Lord in Evangelism, pages 500 to 510, sets before us as a people challenging ideals, such as "Music can be a great power for good; yet we do not make the most of this branch of worship."—Page 505.