Over the last eight or nine years I often got phone calls from street evangelists asking how I was so blessed to get into full time evangelism? The question presupposes that there is some kind of secret formula that if mixed together in the right order produces an evangelism ministry. That's nonsense. At least if we're talking about God-ordained ministry. I know that just about anyone can create a ministry today whether or not they are really called of God. All you need is a credit card, a computer and an internet connection. Don't forget a digital camera or recorder. If you can post pics and media of yourself on Youtube preaching in the open-air, voila, you have a ministry. But the question is, "Are you called"?
It's difficult to answer this question because some have a very subjective view of a call from God. However, the call is nowhere near as subjective as some would like to think. To answer the question positively, you know you are called when your local church recognizes and affirms the call. I'm not referring to your pastor simply giving you the thumbs up in private conversation but when the church leadership publicly sends you out to do ministry, as we see in Acts 13:1-3 with the Apostle Paul. If your church is sending you out, it suggests the idea that the church knows that they are doing it. Could I approach the average, active member of your church and ask them, "Has your church sent out XYZ as an evangelist?" and have them answer in the affirmative? If not, no matter what your pastor says, you haven't been sent by the church. You may have been approved by the pastor to do what every Christian is called to do--share the gospel--but your call has not been recognized by the church.
It is probably easier to identify one who is NOT called to full time evangelism ministry by the common mistakes that people have made over the years who have tried to go into it when they were not called.
You Are NOT Called If....
1. You are NOT called as an evangelist at all, full time or not, if your primary work is not building your local church.
The office of evangelist (notice I did not say "gift") is given to the local church (Eph. 4:11). Their purpose is for, "...the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:12). How long does the evangelist labor in the local church for this purpose? The answer is in the next verse. "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). This will take longer than a whirlwind visit of a few days (or even a couple of weeks) in a locality under the guise of traveling about ministering to the universal church. The universal church is not in view here. Paul is referring to offices in the local church. We don't have a pope we can go to in order to get appointed to the office of evangelist. We go to our local churches for that and we labor in them in order to fulfill this office because the saints THERE need to be built up into "perfect" (or complete) men of God.
Therefore, if you think that an evangelist is primarily someone who travels and doesn't spend much time in their local churches doing evangelism or teaching the body how to evangelize, you have it all wrong. Somehow in the last few years the "ultimate" in street evangelism ministry has become having the financial wherewithal to hit the road and travel. I am not sure how this happened in the present day Way of the Master street evangelism world, but it was not common even here up until 2008 or 2009. There were some who did it, but some of the first to do so (in 2005\2006) were heretical and none of them were accountable to a local church. Praise the Lord that now there are many doctrinally sound street evangelists who travel. However, I think they are misguided when they believe that what they are doing fulfills the office of evangelist according to Ephesians 4:11, although I think that most do know this and wrestle with it.
I am not saying it's wrong to travel and share the gospel. It seems like whenever I write an article intended to correct abuses I have to point out the obvious, so call me "Captain Obvious" here. I am saying--and please hear this--that it's wrong to make that the primary goal of an evangelism ministry.
2. You are NOT called to be a full time evangelist if you have to go into debt to do it.
Some people have pretty good lines of credit and have several credit cards that they can max out. In the past, they have called it "stepping out by faith" and they charge their airfare, gas, food, tracts, and whatnot on their cards in order to do their ministry with the idea that eventually the Body of Christ will recognize either their 1) essential service or 2) the excellence of the products that they are producing for the Body.
Street evangelists are not recognized in churches as performing essential services because in many cases, they are only doing what all believers are called to do: evangelize. Because many street evangelists are not intentional in building local churches wherever they go to minister, churches don't get excited about supporting them financially, because, again, all they are doing is what all Christians are called to do. The only difference in their minds is that the street evangelists are asking to be paid to do it. In some cases, they are right.
My friends who do this, please hear me: you would have a far better chance at being supported by the local church if you followed the Biblical model and served IN your local church. If you could focus on equipping people there, your church would be far more likely to get behind you if they saw the fruit of a truly Biblical evangelism ministry. The interest rates on your credit card are so ridiculous that by the time the Christians around the world see how vital your ministry is, you will be in five or six figure debt.
A word on selling evangelism product to make a living: few can do this well. In order to pull that off, you need to spend most of your time making product, not evangelizing. And product has overhead costs, so you had better be a pretty good businessman in order to make enough money to both cover your overhead AND make enough to live on. And, you had better have a good piece of change to invest in start-up costs.
3. You are NOT called to be a full time evangelist if you are afraid to work to support yourself.
It is extremely rare, and in our present economy even more so, to have a rich donor to back you to do ministry. I was extremely blessed to have a couple of rich donors support our ministries from 2005 until 2010. In both cases, we did not seek them out, they sought us out (a pretty good sign that you're called to full time evangelism when the Lord drops that in your lap). Because of a few ministries that were well funded, those who were newly trained came to believe that this is the "ultimate" in street evangelism ("Imagine getting PAID to do this!").
Since October 2008 those days are over. In this economy, unless you have a good retirement you are living on or have your own financial resources, you may be able to get donors, but not enough to live full time on. If your church is behind you and all other factors being equal, go for it, but recognize that you will need to do something to support yourself and your family. The best thing is to find a home based business you are passionate about.
Our Lord Jesus made wooden utensils and furniture as a Jewish first century carpenter. The Apostle Paul made tents. Peter was a fisherman and returned to that line of work after he was called (Jn. 21). I think Ray Comfort had a surf shop.
The first church manual we have in church history is the Didache. They had a term in that manual to describe men who traveled about preaching as guests in the homes of believers who did not pay their own way. That term was "false teacher." Much of that manual dealt with how to handle the many traveling preachers of that day and it would shock most traveling evangelists today. The early church fathers recognized the danger inherent in traveling ministry. The days of the apostles are over. The church now oversees and guides missions and evangelism.
Here's an excerpt. This is section XII, and in the context of section XI, has to do with traveling preachers. A "true prophet" in section XIII is "one who settles among you."
1. Let everyone who "comes in the
Name of the Lord" be received; but when you have tested him you shall
know him, for you shall have understanding of true and false.
2. If he who comes is a traveller, help him as much as you
can, but he shall not remain with you more than two days, or, if need
3. And if he wishes to settle among you and has a craft, let him work for his bread.
4. But if he has no craft provide for him according to your
understanding, so that no man shall live among you in idleness because
he is a Christian.
5. But if he will not do so, he is making traffic of Christ; beware of such.
Am I saying all traveling evangelists are false prophets? I don't believe that. However, the early church's concerns over the abuses ought to be enough to slow down those who would seek this kind of ministry and think seriously about the Scriptures.
4. You are NOT called to full time evangelism ministry, or ANY ministry if you are not absolutely committed to work at studying the Word and praying (Acts 6:4).
Notice I did not say "committed to reading the Word and praying". Studying is a lot different. Heretical street preachers often read the Word. Called street preachers study it. If you cannot devote serious time to study of God's Word, how do you dare to go preach it? You are going to be judged more strictly than other Christians when you take the role of teacher on yourself (Jas. 3:1).
Much street preaching today involves the same men saying the same things across a route that includes the same places. Those places are usually populated with local street preachers who likewise say the same things each week. They repeat what they have said before, repeat what they have heard others say on Youtube, but it's not often that they come with a message from their study that they got from the Lord.
Often, these things are said without any evidence of power because there has been no serious prayer. Sending up a quick group prayer before hitting the streets is not what I am talking about. Oh, how much we need to pray. We don't have many good examples in the churches of this and even fewer in street evangelism circles. I am not claiming to be one of them. But I am growing in this area and am calling others to do the same.
5. You are NOT called to full time evangelism ministry, or ANY ministry, if your home-life is a shambles.
I know too many street preachers whose families are a wreck. If your passion for evangelism exceeds your passion for your wife, children or parents, you may want to ask yourself why you care more about people you don't know than your own flesh and blood. The list of those who have had spouses leave them because of evangelism is way too long. If your relationship with your local church is functioning as it should then you have probably been warned by other believers about this. Listen to them. Do yourself and everyone you preach to a favor and get off of the streets.
6. You are NOT called to full time evangelism ministry, or ANY ministry, if you do not love people.
I am NOT talking about the kind of love we street preachers like to think of ourselves: "I love them enough to tell them the truth!". Of course, we should love people enough to tell them the truth. But if that is as far as our love extends to people, I think we need to ask if we really love them. Don't believe me? Try your philosophy of love on your family sometime. If all you do is tell them the truth whether they want to hear it or not in your family, you will be hated. And not for righteousness' sake. You will be hated because they have a sneaking suspicion that you don't care for them as a person, because people who genuinely care about others do things like spend time with them. They are not just a pair of lips on a pair of legs. If I tell my kids the truth about their inadequacies constantly but don't spend time with them, I become a father who provokes his children to wrath. Yet somehow we have this idea that if we are known as the town street preacher who loves people but doesn't care about trying to connect with those we preach to with real face time we have done our duty and "loved them enough to tell them the truth." Do you know what your audience thinks about your professed love? I can't write it here because it would be an expletive I'd have to delete of the manure variety. People who care about other people do more than talk. They don't stop talking, but they do MORE than talk. Do you try?
When we get more excited about the confrontations we have, our run-ins with the police, and our crowd size than we do about the people we connect with, there's a problem. I don't read a lot of updates about people meeting with people they've met on the streets, bringing them to church, or having a Bible study with them. Why is that? We're not trying. And why is that we are not trying?
This is where it gets sticky, but let's face facts and we'll all be better off. 1) Our ministries are more about us than about the Lord or people. "I don't have time to spend with people but I do have time to yell at them for a couple of hours." If we can tell people what WE have done, where WE have gone, and the witty things WE say, it becomes pretty clear we are Christian narcissists. Self absorbed. It's all about us. What's the difference between that kind of narcissism and the vanity we see in this culture? It's only different because it is Christianized. 2) Street preaching has long had a tendency to attract introverts. I've never seen a ministry so populated with introverts as I have in street evangelism. It's not true all of the time, but think about it. How many street preachers do you know who are NOT introverts socially? I write this as something of an introvert myself. Ray Comfort is not one of them; if there is ever someone who loves people it's Ray. It's ironic that so many that follow his ministry don't know how to have a conversation with people about anything other than evangelism or the gospel (which always sounds strangely like the good person test).
Listen, people will get really bent out of shape over this point, but after observing this over eight years, I'll dare anyone to say anything different. I've been to too many evangelism trainings, done too many outreaches, and taught too many people to open-air preach to say anything else. The only thing the training gets them to do is to get past their introverted nature in order to present the gospel, but rarely does it go beyond that to invest in the lives of others. I can train a parrot to open-air preach, but it doesn't change his nature. He's still a parrot and will make his parrot droppings in the bird cage. This is a fatal flaw in our training. We can teach people how to become salesmen but we cannot teach people how to love in a crash course. That's a fruit of the Spirit! The fact that it's lacking is a woeful condemnation on our ministries. And all we're left with is a pile of parrot manure to clean up at the end of the day.
Now if you train someone who already loves people to do evangelism, you have a powerful combination. I've seen it and those ministries are among the most fruitful. I've also seen it with men who once had that love but have lost it. Ministry without genuine care for individuals is a strange fire that's being offered on the altar. People may commend your zeal, your passion for souls, and your sacrifice, but if it's self generated and not generated by the Spirit of God, what do you have?
I suspect that this might be the whole truth of the matter. When we claim we have a calling from God that lacks the Biblical signs of a calling, we are offering the strange fire that Nadab and Abihu offered in Leviticus 10. We make offerings that the Lord never asked us to make. The Lord doesn't need a fake fire on His altar. It's an insult to His holy character. He doesn't need our uncalled for help. Listen to what the Lord said, "Among those who are near Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified" (Lev. 10:3). For offering this strange fire, the Lord killed Nadab and Abihu and He commanded that they not be mourned. Good riddance.
What is this rant? It's a call to repentance. We all love to talk about repentance as long as it is the wicked sinner's or atheist's repentance. What about our repentance? I'd love to see some street preachers repent. Like Gideon's army, we need to see it trimmed down before the Lord will do anything. Far more could be accomplished with a handful of men who are called to ministry than thousands who are not. Do you want revival? Do you want reform? It must start with us. How can we expect people on the streets to repent when we do not? As Keith Green wrote, "My eyes are dry, my faith is old, my heart is hard and my prayers are cold. But I know how it ought to be. Alive to You and dead to me. Oh what can be done for an old heart like mine? Soften it up with oil and wine. The oil is You, Your Spirit of love. Please wash me anew in the wine of Your blood."
This is a good place to start. If this is the genuine cry of your heart, perhaps the Lord will do something. What He calls you to do may look a lot different than what you have been doing.