I have written before of my love for the office of evangelists and the gift they bring to a local church by way of admonishing, exhorting and stirring up sleepy saints. When I surrendered to preach as a 19-year-old college freshman, I thought that if God would use me in evangelism, I would love that life. With a buddy of mine, in summers we would “practice” our gifts by finding churches in northeast Missouri that were closed down, sweeping out the cobwebs and dusting off the pews and pulpit, announcing a service in the evening and a VBS in the morning. We were pretty wet behind the ears, so to speak, but it was an attempt to wake up some churches in small communities that had already closed their doors. People were generally kind and receptive to our youthful efforts. But when my training was complete, it was evident that God had prepared me to be a pastor and for more times than I could ever tell I have thanked God for His gifts and calling and have never once thought that I would have liked to have tried evangelism at least for a while. I have loved every moment, though some were heart-wrenching and difficult, of the pastorates that God gave me spanning 50 years.
But I have always loved evangelists and their most helpful ministries. Many of them have become life-long friends: Bill Hall, Jerry Sivnksty, the late Monroe Parker, Gary Gillmore, ___________ (the blank is for you to fill in with your name if I inadvertently left you out), Fred Moritz, Joe Mark, the late Phil Shuler, the under-shepherd’s sheep dog as he would characterize himself, and many more that I have been privileged to have known and to have co-labored with in the work of the ministry. I always scheduled at least one “revival” meeting a year and sometimes two, and if I had it to do over again there is only one meeting that I would not do over again. We have had some blessed times, enjoyed some enriching fellowship and in almost every meeting could point to at least one person or one family that made life-changing decisions that were lasting. Sadly, though, not many churches are availing themselves today of the gifted ministries of these God-called servants. Three-week meetings became in time two-week meetings, then one-week, then Sunday through Wednesday, then, if at all, a Sunday only meeting.
Maybe it’s because evangelists are men with “untouched idiosyncrasies.” Now, that was part of the fun of it for me, but I can see that for some it might have been foreboding.
When I pastored in the first assignment that God gave to me in Wichita, Kansas back in the early 1970’s I scheduled a meeting with an evangelist I had never met. He had held a meeting while I was a student at BJU in my home church in Ottumwa, Iowa and I had heard of him through that and had listened to a “record” (that is 60’s terminology for a recording on a plastic disc, in this case a “78 rpm”) that he had made, and I was captivated by the way he sang “I Dreamed of a Great Judgment Morning….” He was from Michigan and had the physic of a college football player. As a young pastor, I wrote him and scheduled a (one of my first) week of special meetings. (Anyone out there want to guess who this evangelist was?) With excitement I looked forward to and promoted to our people the meeting, and to kick the week off we planned a carry-in fellowship dinner after the first Sunday morning service. Brother Bob arrived on the Saturday before the Sunday start, and we got him settled into a motel for the week, praying about a great start the next day.
We did have a wonderful Sunday morning service, then gathered for dinner in the fellowship hall. Everyone had gotten their food and was enjoying a fine feast when I noticed that Bob the evangelist was not eating. Of course, I was alarmed and at once asked him if he were not feeling well, to which he replied, “I’m fasting for the week.” I quickly determined that if our guest evangelist were fasting for the week, I as host pastor should follow suit, so I did not eat a bite of that delicious looking Kansas cooking that day, nor Monday, nor Tuesday nor any day that week. By Tuesday morning the pains (hunger) had subsided and we met each day for prayer, but nary a bite to eat nor even a cup of coffee.
The Sunday evening service was good as were all the services as I recall. It was not a “gully-washer” as I often in those years prayed for, but it was a wonderful week. After the Sunday PM service we invited the brother preacher over for, well, fellowship, not food. I had barely gotten the key out of the front door lock when the big shouldered evangelist barged into the house and headed straight for the kitchen. We were a bit taken back by that since he had never been in our home before nor had we ever met him personally before that weekend! What was even more surprising, when he got to the kitchen, he took a left and went directly to the refrigerator (trust me, you can’t make this stuff up). He opened the door wide, checked out the inventory, asked for nothing, did an about face and headed to the living room where he laid down on the couch and said, “Put my record on.” Well, I was excited to put his record on as I could not get enough of “I Dreamed of a Great Judgment Morning.” He laid there until the record was finished resting his big framed body and visiting some before he excused himself returning to the motel for more rest.
That first in-house visit of Bro. Bob was a bit awkward but not too big a deal as we were looking forward to a great week and I was serious about fasting for God’s blessings. The week went by quickly as they always do when these special weeks of spiritual renewal finally roll around. I got through the fasting thing all week and I have never tried to duplicate that again (week long, that is). One more big surprise came before my new dear evangelist friend packed up to trek back home to Michigan was that he revealed to me the reason for his week-long fast: he had eaten some bad pork over the Christmas holidays and had gotten deathly sick and had in fact been in bed until this week of spring meetings. And all the time I was thinking it was for spiritual reasons! Well, for whatever reason, I was still thankful for the week and even wrote him later to schedule another week. As I said, every evangelist seems to have some quirk (as if we pastors do not!!) and I can share many more tales with you, but at some future date. I still love them and count them amongst my very best friends for their giftedness and for their burden for souls. It was under the preaching of Evangelist Glen Schunk that as college freshman, home on Thanksgiving break, I heard the powerful preaching and compassionate call to serve that this seasoned soldier of the cross uttered one night in my home church revival meeting, and I responded to his invitation, presenting myself for full-time service if God would have me for such. Until that night, I was pursuing a degree in law. That was 60 years ago this fall. As I said, I love evangelists and still highly recommend them to any church thirsty for seasons of spiritual refreshment and renewal.
“And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ….” (Eph. 4:11,12)