Pastor's Pastor

Restoring evangelistic credibility

Perhaps no evangelist in history has preached to more people in more countries than Billy Graham, who, during more than a half century of public ministry, has avoided even a hint of scandal or impropriety.

James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Perhaps no evangelist in history has preached to more people in more countries than Billy Graham, who, during more than a half century of public ministry, has avoided even a hint of scandal or impropriety.

When nearly eleven thousand itinerant evangelists recently gathered for Amsterdam 2000, a great evangelism council sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the attendees learned of a 55-year-old plan for maintaining high standards in public evangelism.

Billy Graham's long-time associate and song leader, Cliff Barrows, described the Modesto Manifesto which grew out of a council that the embryonic evangelistic association held in order to establish and maintain their credibility. Dr. Graham and his colleagues gathered to discuss why public evangelists were so often criticized. They focused on four major issues that every public preacher should emphasize.

Financial integrity.

Never should a hint of impropriety surround the way in which finances are collected, reported, accounted for, or dispersed. Simony, or ministering for money, has no place in Christian evangelism.

Wise evangelists will make certain that others count and verify the income and that appropriate policies and procedures are followed for expenses including securing appropriate receipts and reporting audited statements in order to assure donors that their contributions have been properly handled.

Moral purity.

The highest standards of conduct should accompany the ministry of any pastor, but especially the ministry of itinerant preachers.

When an evangelist ministers away from home and family, temptations multiply and opportunities for unethical and inappropriate behavior abound. In his personal autobiography, Just As I Am, Graham describes how the tabloids would love to discredit the ministry and influence of any public personality. For that reason, he has carefully avoided being alone with any woman other than his own spouse. He describes how he never even enters a hotel room before someone from his team has checked that no one lurks inside to discredit his reputation.

Every minister is Satan's special target and it is our responsibility to avoid even the appearance of evil in both our public ministry as well as our private conduct. Counseling sessions should never occur behind locked doors. An open-to-view window safeguards the pastor's reputation.

Cooperation with local churches.

Every itinerant evangelist must remember that the harvest is only conserved to the extent that the local church assimilates and disciples new converts. Evangelism and followup must be inseparable. In fact, Peter Wagner, asserts that any evangelistic scheme which separates follow-up from proclamation has already built it's own defeat into the system.

It is spiritual child abuse to invite people to make a spiritual decision for Christ and then abandon the newborn believers without providing appropriate nurture, encouragement, training, and inclusion. We are held accountable by heaven not just for the numbers that are baptized, but for the disciples who are built as fruit from our labor.

If an itinerant preacher ignores the local church or bypasses established believers, apostasy of newly-won souls will be that evangelist's legacy. If a preacher builds himself up rather than strengthening the local church leaders, then we should not be surprised when new converts are unwelcomed and unnurtured by the church members who were given no significant role in their accession into the church.

Honesty in publicity.

Credible evangelists will not promise more than can be delivered. They will not employ sensational advertising or unsavory publicity stunts to attract an audience.

Some things that are done in the name of publicity are a disgrace to the gospel. These things tend to attract sensation seekers who are most resistant to becoming responsible disciples, if they even stick around long enough to make a decision for Christ or the church.

If you are tempted to attract people by resorting to speculative and sensational topics or by employing inappropriate artistic portrayals, remember that Jesus calls His ministers to simply "Lift Him up." Of course we need attractive advertising to attract the masses to hear the sermon, but the methods we use to get the crowd must not be incongruent with the message which we proclaim.

Likewise, honesty in evangelism demands that the only reward offered for conversion is the free gift of eternal life. Potential converts never should be led to believe that employment, education, enhanced social standing, or financial gain will result from their baptism.

A simple gospel presentation made by a minister who demonstrates the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in his or her own life will make a far deeper impact than any resort to personality, programs, publicity, or promises.

As our own General Conference President, Jan Paulsen, convenes a denomination-wide Commission on Evangelism and Witness, I believe we can restore and enhance the credibility of evangelism and evangelists as we adhere to these principles.

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James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

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