Pastor and evangelist: closing the gap

In North America evangelists and pastors have increasingly been going separate ways. Evangelism is now something the church does one or two months a year, while its major emphasis is nurture of members. Such an attitude needs to change if the church is to grow.

John Fowler is president of the Ohio Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

North America is increasingly becoming the intense focus of serious study in the area of church growth. North America has very highly trained, competent pastoral ministry, sophisticated, willing laity, and the very finest facilities. It probably enjoys the most favorable exposure to the public of any division of the church, and provides three-fourths of all the financial resources of the world Adventist Church. Yet the North American Division's growth rate, 3.07 percent, is one of the lowest in the world field. Its apostasy rate, 41 percent, is one of the highest in nonattending members—on any given Sabbath only 50 percent of the membership is in church.

Why is the division that is the richest in most aspects the poorest in member involvement and evangelistic outreach? Could a distorted definition of evangelism be causing a dysfunction of church growth in North America?

Even a casual study of church growth uncovers a very narrow concept of evangelism and an obvious dichotomy between pastoral and evangelistic ministries. In one conference I am acquainted with, there were 737 baptisms in 1973. Of those, 425 are easily identified as taking place at the time of a public evangelistic meeting. Studies of church growth in the Missouri Conference, done by James Stevens, revealed that during the ten-year period studied, only those churches conducting public meetings experienced growth. Where no public meetings were conducted, churches did not grow. When we consider that 30 percent of all baptisms are children and that many of these are baptized in settings other than public evangelistic meetings, we begin to realize that very little conversion growth of nonmembers takes place apart from public evangelistic meetings. I don't want to discount the vital part that pastors and their churches play in the success of a public evangelistic meeting. However, the evidence seems to indicate that without public meetings very little church growth takes place.

This brief analysis graphically portrays the dichotomy between pastoral and evangelistic work. Seventh-day Adventists have generally defined evangelism as public meetings conducted by a public evangelist, usually in a public auditorium. Roy Allan Anderson defines evangelism as an "evangelistic campaign" conducted in "tents and tabernacles, halls and theaters, churches and open air parks" (The Shepherd Evangelist, p. 112).

The materials produced for mission '72, '73. '74, et cetera saw evangelism in the same light. Mission '74 defined it as the "holding of public evangelistic meetings either in the local church or at some central spot in every district in the North American Division during 1974." Raymond Woolsey's Evangelism Hand book (Review and Herald, 1972) defined it as an "evangelistic effort" (page 7). The whole concept is seen in the usual ritual of public efforts: Preparing the church and the territory, advertising the meetings, conducting the meetings, getting decisions, and follow-up.

This concept can be seen throughout the history of our church. In our early history pastors served primarily in the role of a public evangelist conducting public meetings. This is graphically illustrated by I. H. Evans in a statement made in 1936 when he was general vice-president of the General Conference: "When I began preaching in 1883, there were no preachers among us acting as pastors. We used to boast that all our preachers were evangelists; that we did not have to have pastors, because our lay members were sufficiently informed to maintain themselves from the word of God. They could stand alone, year in and year out, without a sermon each Sabbath."—The Preacher and His Preaching (Review and Herald), p. 267.

We see this dichotomy as well in the distance between pastoral and evangelistic ministries and between pastoral and evangelistic preaching. Evangelistic preaching is usually viewed as preaching the doctrines of the church in such a way that people are persuaded to join the church. Evangelistic preaching, then, carries a heavy emphasis upon doctrinal argumentation with extended and direct calls to unite with the church. Pastoral ministry and preaching, on the other hand, emphasize helping the members understand and cope with ethical and personal problems they face in every day life. When emphasizing in one Sabbath sermon the importance of pastor's being not only a pastor but also an evangelist, I received quite a reaction. After the service, the pastor made it clear to me that he was a pastor; I was an evangelist. He would do pastoral work, and I would do evangelistic work. This concept has resulted in pastoral ministry going on in the church for nine or ten months of the year and evangelistic work going on one or two months of the year. The church once a year, or less, interrupts its pastoral ministry to gear up for a public meeting, conducts the meeting, gears down, and then returns to its normal pastoral ministry the rest of the year. But no such dichotomy was seen in the church until the turn of the nineteenth century.

When planning for an M.Div. thesis, I had thought to focus on public evangelism. However, a brief study of church history clearly indicated that very little public evangelistic work was done until the nineteenth century. Before that time, most evangelistic work was done by the pastor and his own congregation during the regular worship services of the church. The great revivals and evangelistic thrusts of church history were achieved largely by pastoral evangelism.

The great awakening of the nineteenth century in America had its roots in the works of Jonathan Edwards, pastor, theologian, philosopher, and man of letters. He held both B.A. and M.A. degrees from Yale Divinity School. His great evangelistic work was accomplished largely during a twenty-four year pastorate at the Congregational church in Northampton, Massachusetts. Other pastors contributing to the great awakening were Timothy Dwight (1752-1817), Charles G. Finney (1792- 1875), and Henry Ward Beecher (1813- 1887). These men were pastor-evangelists who brought about revival, reformation, and extensive church growth through pastoral-evangelistic ministries in the confines of their churches and during their regular worship services.

Not until Moody and Sunday did itinerant evangelism become a dominant soul-winning force in North America. Says Samuel Southard: "Dwight L. Moody, Reuben Torrey, and Billy Sunday developed revivalism as a professional organization."—Pastoral Evangelism, p. 133. These men served primarily as itinerant evangelists rather than pastor-evangelists. The revival that resulted from their work was of a different nature than that of previous revivals growing out of pastoral evangelistic work. Their work also developed a pattern that became the standard approach to evangelistic work for many denominations, but particularly for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. According to Howard Weeks, an Adventist author, "In 1911 . . . there were 650 active, full-time professional evangelists itinerating in the United States, in addition to 1,300 part-time evangelists, many of whom sought to emulate and imitate Billy Sunday. . . . Thus, as Seventh-day Adventists mobilized their resources for evangelism, they were, in part at least, paralleling a nationwide rebirth of conservative revivalism."—Adventist Evangelism, pp. 59, 60.

Billy Sunday and D. L. Moody developed the idea of evangelism as an organizational entity apart from the local church whose services could be sold to the churches. This was picked up by a number of different religious groups and, says Weeks, by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This was the beginning of the dichotomy between pastoral and evangelistic work. After this concept took root, evangelism quickly became primarily the work of the "public evangelist." Soul winning was done at the time of the public evangelistic meetings, usually in a public hall. The early history of Seventh-day Adventist evangelism clearly reveals this pattern and the resulting dichotomy between pastoral and evangelistic work. The detrimental results of this dichotomy in both non-Adventist and Adventist churches also became visible.

First of all, competition grew up between the pastor and the evangelist, resulting in tension and friction. The evangelist accused the pastor of not preparing for the meetings; the pastor accused the evangelist of playing the numbers game by baptizing people who were not adequately prepared for church membership. The churches, because of the attitude of their pastors and their distance from the evangelist, developed suspicions toward the evangelist and his converts and consequently failed to care properly for the members gained through public evangelism.

Harold Calkins points out another negative result of the dichotomy between pastoral and evangelistic work. He contrasts the apostasy rate of the converts of Charles Finney, a pastorevangelist, with that of D. L. Moody, the itinerant evangelist. He points out that in Finney's revivals 85 percent of the converts remained faithful, whereas in Moody's work 75 percent later were backsliders. This apostasy rate does not necessarily fault the work of the public evangelist or the converts brought in by the evangelist, but grows out of the overall negative atmosphere resulting from the separation between pastoral and evangelistic work.

Another undesirable result was that the negative reaction toward the itinerant evangelist and public evangelism developed into a critical attitude toward all evangelism, which in turn encouraged an even greater split between pastoral and evangelistic work. This exaggerated reaction resulted in much loss of interest in evangelism and soul winning. The focus of both the pastor and the church was nurture of members, while evangelist and soul-winning work were largely neglected. Church services, and the preaching done there, were designed for members only. Even the Sabbath school, which originally was planned primarily as an evangelistic agency, became the "church at study." This developing dichotomy between pastoral and evangelistic work is paralleled by the declining rate of church growth in North America and, interestingly enough, by the rising apostasy rate which, in my opinion, grows out of the lack of involvement in direct soul winning.

Today there is a new emphasis upon evangelistic work. However, the danger is that we will simply attempt to revitalize the one method used almost exclusively throughout the history of the Adventist Church: public evangelism. To do that will bring in a revival of the same dynamics that have resulted in the negative church growth position that we presently see. We must make room for public evangelism, but our primary emphasis must be pastoral evangelism. The dichotomy we have experienced in the past must be erased. "Pastoral evangelism is the greatest need of this hour. Without pastoral evangelism there will not be much of any other kind."— C. E. Autrey, Pastoral Evangelism, p. 7. Let's look at some of the characteristics of pastoral evangelism:

1. The pastor must give attention to both nurture and outreach. He must serve as pastor-evangelist. "It is not permitted for a minister to say, 'I am not an evangelist.' . . . The minister is ordained for the purpose of bringing men and women to Christ; if he is not doing it, it is questionable whether he ought to be in the ministry at all."—Steven Neal, quoted in Charles Templeton, Evangelism for Tomorrow, p. 48.

2. The pastor must recognize the administrative, or managerial, role that is his rightful privilege and responsibility. In the Old Testament the three primary functions in the economy of God were categorized under the headings of priest, prophet, and king. In the New Testament all three of these roles were brought together in one person, namely Jesus Christ, who became the model for the Christian pastor. The pastor, then, must serve as prophet, priest, and king. He is not only a mediator, a preacher, but he is also an administrator, or manager, of the resources of the church. He must utilize all the resources of the church to achieve pastoral nurture and evangelistic outreach.

3. Evangelism must become the perennial work of the church, with the church serving as the evangelistic center. The services of the church must provide for both pastoral nurture and evangelistic outreach on a regular basis.

4. There must be wide lay involvement, with members joining the pastor to constitute an ongoing and efficient evangelistic team. All substantive and ongoing programs of church growth are the result of lay involvement and soul winning.

"No church can flourish unless its members are workers. The people must lift where the ministers lift. I saw that nothing lasting can be accomplished for churches in different places unless they are aroused to feel that a responsibility rests upon them. Every member of the body should feel that the salvation of his own soul depends upon his own individual efforts. Souls cannot be saved with out exertion. ... If they [the people] should begin to hunt up those who are worse off than themselves, and should try to help them, they would help themselves into the light sooner than any other way."—E. G. White, Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 121. This does not mean that there are to be no public evangelistic meetings. However, those meetings must be but a part of the ongoing evangelistic work of the local church.

5. Pastoral evangelism must be built on a warm, family-like church fellowship. The opportunity for fellowship should be seen in all of our worship services. The idea of keeping silent in church can be counterproductive. Our services should manifest an atmosphere of warmth and friendliness in which opportunity is freely given for fellowship and an exchange of thought and experience. E. G. White directs our thoughts in this important matter: "Everyone should feel that he has a part to act in making the Sabbath meetings interesting. You are not to come together simply as a matter of form, but for the interchange of thought, for the relation of your daily experience."—Ibid., vol. 6, p. 362.

6. Sabbath school should be the primary evangelistic agency in the church's evangelistic program. The lack of church growth in North America can be traced in great measure to the wrong emphasis and the lack of evangelistic direction given to our Sabbath schools. Every non-Adventist Protestant church in North America that experiences substantial growth uses the Sunday school as one of its primary evangelistic agencies.

7. There must be evangelistic preaching in the regular worship services of the church. George Swazey says: "The preaching service is at the heart of the church's life. If a revival is to flame throughout America, it is most likely to be kindled from the pulpits."—Effective Evangelism, p. 161.

Herein lies one of the greatest weaknesses of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Evangelistic preaching is seldom heard in our regular worship services. The dichotomy between evangelistic and pastoral work is most obvious at this point. The usual sermon is primarily for the edification of the saints and deals with their personal problems almost exclusive of the evangelistic note. What is the result? "If our preaching is always expository and for our edification and teaching, it will produce church members who are hard and cold, and often harsh and self-satisfied."—Martin Lloyd Jones, Preaching and Preachers, pp. 152, 153.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834- 1892), possibly the greatest pastoral evangelist ever, conceived true preaching to be "an act of faith, and is owned by the Holy Spirit as the means of working spiritual miracles." This style of pastoral-evangelist preaching resulted in the conversion of thousands in Spurgeon's famous London Metropolitan Tabernacle, where he preached for thirty-one years.

Certainly we acknowledge Ellen White's authority to speak in this matter as well: "The Christian minister should never enter the desk until he has first sought God in his closet and has come into close connection with Him. . . . With an unction of the Holy Spirit upon him, giving him a burden for souls, he will not dismiss the congregation with out presenting before them Jesus Christ, the sinner's only refuge, making earnest appeals that will reach their hearts."—Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 315.

True evangelistic preaching must be defined in the context of nurture and outreach. Simply arguing the doctrines and persuading people to join the church is not an adequate definition of evangelistic preaching. Christ must be uplifted in every sermon. The doctrines must be preached, but they must be preached in the context of one's relationship with Jesus Christ. They must show who Christ is and what He is doing and plans to do in the life of the Christian and in the world. Such preaching will involve not only the gospel and the doctrines but clear eschatology as well. If these great aspects of the gospel are set in the context of Christ and His work, certainly it will result in both building up the saints and winning souls.

Church history clearly indicates that this emphasis upon both pastoral and evangelistic preaching in the regular worship services of our churches is the means whereby God brings revival. "The health curve of the Christian church throughout the centuries can pretty well be plotted by the warmth of the evangelistic fervor in the pulpits. In the periods of decline, sermons were intended only for the edifying of the saints. But when a fresh spiritual life has come surging like a springtime through the church, into the preaching has always come the pleading with men to give their hearts to Christ."—Effective Evangelism, p. 159.

Seventh-day Adventists have a rich source of information regarding pastoral-evangelistic work. The literature within our church, and particularly the writings of Ellen White, give us a balance that should keep us on course. Until our churches become evangelistic centers, and nonmembers are regularly invited to the worship services, which in turn provide for nurture and conversion, the work of God will never be finished.

We can ill afford to continue the dichotomy between pastoral and evangelistic work. Public evangelism will always play an important role in the Adventist Church; however, it can never take the place of pastoral-evangelistic work. The churches must be taught to understand their role. They must be inspired and trained to work in harmony with the pastoral ministry to make their churches evangelistic centers and develop ongoing, perennial evangelistic programs that will win nonmembers and non-Christians to Christ and His church every week throughout the year.

Samuel Moffett sums it up: "If the church no longer believes in evangelism, it has no business being a church. For evangelism is the business of the church." 'Evangelize,' said the Lord, 'and make disciples.' Those were His marching orders."—Christianity Today, Sept. 10, 1971, p. 4.

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John Fowler is president of the Ohio Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

February 1983

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