by Vicky Kaniaru
CLEVELAND, Ga. (TMCNews)—Evangelist Bailey Smith -- a Truett-McConnell College trustee -- met with and advised eight students who responded to the call to full-time vocational evangelism when Evangelist Tim Lee preached in TMC's January 26 chapel service.
"When God speaks, He doesn't stutter, and you will know if you're called to evangelism," said Smith, who warned students, however, "this is not a good time to make the decision to be an evangelist."
"If you were my son, I would look you square in the face and I would say, 'Don't go into evangelism,'" said Smith, adding that Southern Baptist vocational evangelists in recent years have decreased in number, from 600 to 180.
"If you're not doing it face-to-face, don't do it professionally," said Smith, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and a vocational evangelist for almost 30 years. "Evangelism is not a profession; it's a matter of a heart cry inside you that says, 'I want lost people saved.'"
"I would not consider being an evangelist because it's going to be hard to make a living," he said. "But if you do become an evangelist, you're going to have a hard time getting a full calendar."
A full calendar consists of 40 meetings a year, and some churches do not even pay for expenses, Smith said. The evangelist also warned students that, if they are not evangelists personally, they should not be evangelists vocationally.
Smith urged the students to heed God's call, but advised they should be evangelists with the understanding that it will be a difficult road. Their spouses also need to hear that calling, he added.
A pastor for more than 27 years, Smith advised students to become pastors before they become evangelists in order to relate better to pastors. Smith later added that being an evangelist is a "great calling, it's a rewarding calling, but it's not a popular calling."
"I love what I do," Smith said. "I've turned down the presidency of a university since I've been an evangelist. I've turned down several churches; and so, I love what I do. If God's called you, you've got to do it."
Smith related his sojourn from the pastorate to full-time evangelism. And then he invited questions from the students.
Questions and Answers
Q: What will be the catalyst to see evangelism come back?
A: Probably a national tragedy. I think a national tragedy, but that's connected to another tragedy. After 9/11, church attendance went up almost 30 percent. A friend took a guy, who had really been affected by 9/11, to a Methodist church. The woman pastor preached 18 minutes, and for 18 minutes she called the apostle Paul an ignorant fool. The man said, "Is this what church has become since I left?' His friend answered, 'No man, this is not typical, I'm sorry.' The man responded, 'Well, I won't be back.'" So even though people would rush back to some of our churches, they wouldn't hear much. Preachers have developed the art of almost saying something. I don't think we need a catalyst. I think what we need to do is have a bold decision promoted by the Southern Baptist Convention to encourage churches to go back to weeks of revival. I think all we need to do is make a volitional commitment that revivals still work.
Q: Is it imperative to be a pastor before you're an evangelist? What about missionaries and evangelism?
A: What evangelism is to missions is what burning is to fire. If we don't have a mission in mind when we're an evangelist, then we have no fire. A lot of people who love to talk about missions don't do any of it.
Q: How do you stand boldly in God to overcome temptations?
A: Keep yourself close to the Word of God. Establish some convictions. Develop within you some convictions that are non-negotiable. You've got to just so fall in love with Jesus that you say, "I can't do that."
Q: Is it wrong to go to places like bars to witness?
A: If you're not tempted, there is nothing wrong with it. Make sure you take someone with you. ... Jesus spent time with sinners, but he didn't do it in bad places. He went to sinners so he could share with them the message. So, you're not wrong; but be cautious. Take somebody with you.
Q: I'm torn if God wants me to go straight into evangelism or be a pastor. What's your advice?
A: It's a great advantage of being a pastor first. Is it wrong to go directly into evangelism? No.
Vicky Kaniaru is senior staff writer at Truett-McConnell College.