What does a Baptist church do with someone within the congregation who is identified as an evangelist? Do they send them off to a para-church organisation where they can feel more at home, or utilise them within the church. How do evangelists fit in to the church context which often revolves around the ‘found’ rather than the lost, around pastoral care as opposed to reaching out?
To this end Crossover conducted its first ever emerging Evangelists Conference in Melbourne on 5-6 August. Crossover Taskforce State representatives invited people from around the nation who they identified as being ’emerging evangelists’. The purpose of the gathering hinged on recognising and raising up a new generation of evangelists in a church movement where the ‘office’ or gift of pastor occupies the primary place of importance, training and focus. There were a range of key questions that were put on the table to discuss over the two day conference. At the start of every session a delegate was asked to tell their story. in a sign of the changing face of Australian Baptist churches, three of the delegates had spent time overseas in refugee camps. The conference was particularly moved to hear the story of Bolis Longy and Awatif Shomoo (married) who were both imprisoned for their faith in Sudan.
The guest speaker was Dennis Pethers of Viz-A-Viz Ministries based in London. Dennis was at the end of a national tour the Crossover sponsored to help churches think through the strategic implications of turning community contacts into faith conversations. Prayer was a frequent activity during the conference and it featured on the conference program of workshops.
Because the position and calling of pastor has such supremacy within our churches it came as no surprise that the conference provided a great deal of encouragement to those invited. Firstly their unique gifting was recognised and and furthermore they were validated as having an essential place within the ministry of our churches, as opposed to only being able to find a place in a para-church setting. A very strong theme of equipping came through the conference, led by the main speaker Dennis Pethers who sought to balance out the perception of the evangelist as a speaker and ‘doer’ of evangelist with the essential role of an advocate and equipper within the church. Those present were encouraged to multiply their ministry amongst others and to see their ministry in that light rather than seeing their ministry as the sum of their efforts.
Dennis revealed that during his travels he had been approached by many pastors ‘confessing’ that they were evangelists at heart, but were fulfilling the role of pastor as there were no opportunities to be minister in the capacity of a designated evangelist. This isn’t necessarily bad news, it simply means that many churches have leaders who are evangelists at heart. A greater recognition is needed of the role of evangelist within our churches and an acknowledgement that church leadership is not necessarily confined to those who have pastoral gifting. It’s neither either or but both. As churches are gradually becoming more mission oriented, greater freedom will be afforded to pastors to minister outside of the church walls in addition to ‘caring for the flock’.
Raw feedback comments on the most valuable insights gained illustrated the value of the conference for delegates:
“The definition and clarity of an evangelist and its role within the church body.” “My role as a “frustrated” evangelist, my role compared to others.” “The focus on prayer as well as equipping Christians for evangelism.”
“The idea that for us as evangelists to be effective we must not only impact the unsaved but also equip, encourage and release members of our church to do so as well. In this way we are to multiply our effectiveness.”
“A clarification personally of the pastor-evangelist mix and priorities that must be worked out.”
“A deep level of encouragement being among a group of evangelists, this re-ignites my passion and calling.”
“I have gained many valuable insights from every session in the conference which will help me to be equipped effectively while doing the work of the evangelist, such as, how to build character that can be Christlikeness with purity and humility. Also I now know how to know the especially weapons I can use in my evangelist ministry – my personality and so on.”
“Thank you Crossover team, I have benefited through this experience in a way that will benefit the Kingdom. Thank you.”
Where To Now?
The Crossover Taskforce will be deliberating on how to move this forward after our review. Something with great potential has begun and from this point forward Crossover can build on the momentum and continue to invest in a new generation of evangelists, who in turn will invest in others. This conference adds to the investment we are putting into church planters, through our annual Church Planting Consultation.