Our family always enjoyed woodworking. From my youngest recollection, Dad had a great wood shop furnished with all the necessary tools. During my last two years of high school, I developed an interest in wood carving, especially as it related to waterfowl. Dad, always wanting to encourage my development, took me to carving shows, bought me books on the subject, and soon began to equip me with the necessary tools to carve. The result was a deep love for this art and wood carvings that still grace our home today. In a similar way, when a God-called evangelist launches into the field of evangelism, he needs certain know-how and tools. These will enable him to carve out a ministry that will greatly honor the Lord!
Solid Through and Through
As my Dad cultivated my interest for wood-carving, he exposed me to more and more material on the subject. This expanded my knowledge and wetted my appetite for the art. To get started in carving, the wood had to be selected. It had to be the proper kind of wood, with the correct density and the right cut. The cut could not be from the center of the tree, or over time, it would succumb to cracking, and the work invested would be wasted. Simply put, the wood had to be solid. In the same way, the God-called evangelist must be solid through and through. There is no room for spiritual weakness or lack of integrity. “The just man walketh in his integrity” (Prov. 20:7). This necessary strength begins with a deep and abiding passion to know Jesus Christ. When studying the one example God gives of an evangelist, Philip, there can be no mistake but that he knew and sought continually to know His Saviour. To the multitudes “he preached Christ” (Acts 8:5). To the individual he “preached unto him Jesus” (Acts 8:35). This was his source of strength. If you begin in this wonderful work and do not drink deeply and daily from the Wellspring of Life, it will not be long before your end will overtake your start. Make your first goal to be godly. Much else will fall into place if this is your first priority. Little else will matter if it is not. Years ago, Evangelist Ron Comfort challenged me to strive to be a better Christian than I am a preacher. “Exercise thyself rather unto godliness” (I Tim. 4:7). What timeless advice this is, and what a help it has been to me. We don’t need another preacher, especially in the field of evangelism, who preaches high and lives low. Be certain that you are a man of integrity (Prov. 11:3), a man of faith (Heb. 10:38), a diligent prayer warrior (I Thess. 5:17), a personal soulwinner (Prov. 11:30), and a man filled with the Word (I Tim. 4:13-15)! This is the foundation and the key to inner spiritual strength. If it is not right, though you may develop quickly and outwardly as an evangelist, it will not be long before cracks appear in the structure of your ministry.
Another essential source of strength comes when you know that God has called you to this task. This call to the ministry of evangelism should be unmistakable! Nothing else counts when compared to God’s will. If it is His will for you to be in this glorious work, you should not settle for anything less. If it is not His will, you should not attempt it. “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Romans 11:29). The sawdust trail is littered with men who began in the field of evangelism and are no longer in it simply because they were not called. You must know that God has called you to this high and holy work. If you do not, all the practical know how will be of little use.
Your strength will also increase when you have a working knowledge of evangelism itself. Reading the biographies of former evangelists will only serve to aid you in the beginning days of your itinerate ministry.* Become familiar with godly men past and present who have faithfully and effectively served as evangelists. Study how they started. Learn what kept them at it. Know their style of preaching, and seek to emulate their good points. The current evangelists are just a phone call, e-mail, or written letter away. They may even be holding meetings near you. Go to their crusade, spend time with them personally, and soak up all you can! I knew that God had called me to evangelism when I was a sophomore in high school. So for three years before I went to college, Dad would take me all around Minnesota and Wisconsin to hear various Bible-preaching evangelists. He said, “Son, if you are going to be an evangelist, I want you to be around them, hear their preaching, and learn what you ought to become.” This investment greatly aided my early development as an evangelist. It exposed me to men like John Carrara, Jim Mercer, Phil Shuler, Bill Hall, Paul Schwanke, Mike Duffy, Paul Levin, Bill Rice III, Jim VanGeldren, and many others who immediately began to influence my life.
As Dad and I continued on this journey into the realm of wood-carving, I realized that sooner than later I had to start carving. It would not be good enough to just have book knowledge or to know some of the premier carvers in the country. I had to jump in. I did, and soon began to reap the benefit of this wonderful activity. There comes a time when you must “launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught” (Lk. 5:4). As to “jumping in” to evangelism, five matters are important to consider.
First, you should be consumed with ministry. It will not do for you to wait around for a grand opportunity to preach in a big church. This will kill you before you begin. Let the ministry of reaching people for Christ and encouraging believers to a more vibrant walk be your constant obsession. If you are not active with the “small” parts of the ministry, why should God entrust you with the “big” parts? In fact, He will not. “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much” (Lk. 16:10). Should someone ask around to those within your sphere of influence, they should easily uncover an abundance of passionate service for the King. Some years ago, I was downhearted because I did not have many opportunities to preach – publicly. I began to complain to the Lord about this lack, when He seemed to say, “Son, how many people do you need for an audience? Philip, the evangelist, preached to an audience of one. If you will be faithful with the little opportunities, I will give you more.” Philip did not squander or despise the chance God had given him to preach to a few. I made a promise to God that day, that every chance I had to personally win someone to Christ or to challenge a Christian to revival, I would do so. As I made true on my promise, God began to open more and more opportunities to preach!
Second, it is essential to have the proper support. By this I refer to your local church. Philip, the evangelist, was out of the church at Jerusalem. In Acts 6 he was selected as a deacon. He was an active and faithful participant in the one organism that God promises to bless. Be sure that you have consulted much with your pastor. Both he and your church should be behind you in your ministry. Their prayer support and often financial support will be a great benefit as you take the gospel around the world. Some evangelists have also found help, along with their local church, from a Christian camp or a Bible college. When I first started in itinerate work, I had the privilege of traveling with several summer groups from Ambassador Baptist College. The Lord allowed me to preach for these quartets for three summers before I entered full-time evangelism. This exposure proved invaluable as I launched into my evangelistic ministry, and one third of my meetings in the first year were linked to that opportunity!
Financially speaking, it would show great wisdom to keep your debt to a bare minimum! When I first entered into this great work, I was single. I traveled for a year and nine months before I was married. Then Amber and I traveled for another year and five months together, without a truck and trailer. We stayed in hotels, prophet’s chambers, and people’s houses. During that time we inadvertently met John and Mary Lynn VanGeldren in an airport. They asked if we had a trailer yet. We said, “No.” He said, “Well, every evangelist has to go through Purgatory for a little while!” Was it hard? Yes! Would we have enjoyed a seventy-two foot fifth wheel right away? No doubt! But the payments would have killed us. I told the Lord that I wanted to have at least half of the total amount saved up for a truck and trailer before I purchased one. Then three years and two months after I started, God graciously provided a truck and fifth-wheel trailer. With God’s help, I had half saved for the purchase. God will honor you with meetings if you are a good steward of your finances!
You then should wait for the proper timing. Some men launch ahead without considering some key factors. Practically, it would not be wise to enter into evangelism in late November. The winter months are the slowest for meetings. The summer months are fairly slow as well, unless you work in a summer camp. The spring and the fall are the key times for evangelistic meetings. On another angle, if you are married, your family needs to be considered as a priority. If your wife is not behind you in this ministry, you will not make it. Be sure that you have patiently and wisely led her and the rest of your family along in this decision and the proper timing of it. Most importantly, wait on the Lord for His timing. Those that do “shall mount up with wings as eagles” (Isaiah 40:31). You can’t beat that for a good start.
Along with the above mentioned factors, positive determination is vital. This venture will take a great deal of faith, courage, and persistence. Every evangelist just beginning must have a sink or swim attitude. If not, discouragement could easily set in during the lean times. Each effective evangelist that I know or have studied has had a positive, can-do type of spirit. They are not moaning about what is not. They are rejoicing about what is! They are not stuck in a rut wondering why nothing is happening. They are aggressively praying and pursuing God so something will happen. Jim VanGeldren has said, “Part of the evangelist’s gift is a pioneering spirit.” If there is not a place to preach, he will find or make a place to preach. This quality of positive determination is essential to begin and to build an itinerary.
Tools! Tools! Tools!
After we chose the wood we were going to carve, and after I had made up my mind to jump in, I had to have available all the necessary tools. Among others, I needed a band saw, chisels, a drill, a Dremel tool, grinders, and sandpaper. They had to be sharp, and I had to put them to good use. Just now, I want to focus on the practical tools that are absolutely necessary for an evangelist just beginning his ministry.
You must first be accessible. Get a cell phone, a web-site, an e-mail account, and an address where people will be able to contact you. You will have a better chance at it, if preachers can reach you. If you don’t answer your mail promptly, don’t return your phone calls, and thirty-seven e-mails later you finally respond, it might be better to shoot at becoming a professional ping-pong player. In truth, you are building your testimony by being accessible.
As you begin to print your prayer cards, compile your brochure, and develop your material, be sure that everything is sharp! An evangelist cannot afford to have a shabby presentation in his material, his preaching, or his personal habits. More than one pastor has told me that he has turned certain preachers down for meetings, simply because of a lack in this area. The details are vital! Misspelled words, poor grammar, incorrect punctuation, or a homemade look all will retard the process of getting started. It is not only wise but right to “approve things that are excellent” (Phil. 1:10).
One of the wonderful tools in carving is a Dremel tool. It is simply a hand-held drill that is attached to a motor by a flexible hose. Probably one of the most necessary tools in beginning evangelism is to remain flexible. An attitude that is only willing to go to certain size churches, travel in a convenient geographic schedule, or preach in only the “beneficial” meetings will not fly, especially at the beginning. An evangelist just starting out should be willing to do whatever is needed to “get his plane off of the ground!” During my first or second year on the road, I sat down with an older evangelist to “talk shop.” In the conversation, I asked, “When can I expect to start scheduling my meetings closer together versus here, there, and everywhere?” He answered with a chuckle, nothing more. His response sent a clear message. In the early days you have to be willing to go anywhere and everywhere. You have to be flexible.
Along these lines you should have a willing spirit in the meetings themselves. If pastors sense that you have an inflexible schedule, they will seldom have you back. In my first few years of evangelism, I found myself cleaning a pastor’s work shed, driving a tractor to disk a pastor’s farm field, and replacing a roof at a church where I had just preached. This willingness to serve was a big help in my beginning days. For the record, I want to have it when I’m ninety.
It is also significant that you be visible. Pastors will not have someone that they know nothing about. Get out and meet them. Go to preacher’s meetings and seek to be a blessing. Show up early and help set out the donuts and orange juice. Stay late and help clean up. This visibility will go a lot farther than just handing out a few business cards, whipping out your calendar, and waiting for a meeting. Ask other evangelists how they launched their ministry. John Goetsch traveled for a few weeks, slept in laundry mats or his car, and met as many pastors as he could along the way. Steve Pettit, along with his pastor, sent out several hundred letters announcing his start. From the responses, he traveled around to meet those pastors and establish relationships. Some men have started by traveling with another evangelist. Others have begun by working at a camp for successive summers and traveling in the remainder of the year. In all of your visibility, remember that nothing replaces a personal face to face contact. While web-sites, brochures, DVDs, and sermon CDs are good, a person to person connection is the very best!
Another vital tool that ought be sharpened and maintained is diligence. It takes a great deal of work to prepare new sermons, to meet pastors, to make newsletters, to maintain a website, to keep up with correspondence, and to mail out your itinerary, but in the end, it pays. There is no reason for an evangelist to be lazy. The opportunities may be there, but if laziness is chosen, your ministry will suffer. In fact, it may not even get off the ground. If you choose diligence, your ministry will rise above! One who is diligent “will stand before kings” (Prov. 22:29).
There are some carving tools that are smaller than others, but no less significant. So it is with the following: be discreet. Utilize this in the area of your morality. Avoid improper conversation and contact with those of the opposite sex. Use wisdom and prudence “to abstain from all appearance of evil” (I Thes. 5:22). This area, when neglected, has brought down many evangelists and has kept others from a good beginning. Also, be discreet in your words. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof” (Prov. 18:21). Your words should edify not destroy. Don’t bad-mouth other preachers and their ministries. Remember the law of sowing and reaping applies to you. As an evangelist, you may be privy to juicy tidbits of little known information. If you are not part of the problem or the solution, keep it to yourself or forget about it. If you travel across the country with a loose tongue, it will not be long before you trip over it.
When attempting to carve out a place on the evangelistic circuit, it will be of tremendous benefit if you are compatible. Develop and hone your people skills. Some years ago, while training for the ministry, I heard a wise evangelist say, “If you cannot work with people, if you are so eccentric that it distracts, if you cannot get along with others: don’t go into the ministry!” What sage advice, especially as it relates to evangelism! There will be multitudes of ways you can minister. Don’t miss out on any of them because of poor compatibility. Come to the service early. Stay late. Mingle with those to whom you are ministering. Be friendly. Seek to have a selfless, servant’s spirit toward the pastor and his sheep. If you are rude, arrogant, and thoughtless, confess it to God and get right! If you think there is some higher virtue in weirdness or your own unique eccentricity, ask the Lord to chisel this out of your life! It will limit you, hinder you, and may very well keep you from the ministry to which you have been called. Even our Lord “increased…in favour with God and man” (Lk. 2:52).
In light of compatibility, you cannot replace the personal touch. Before I started in evangelism, I started a list of several pastors from around the country that became my prayer list. Some knew me. Many did not. That list has only grown over the years. I want to pray for them, whether they give me a meeting or not. This helps me to add a personal touch to my relationship with them. I give every preacher that comes to my meetings something off of my back table. I want them to know that I am grateful they have taken time out of their schedules to come. This gives a personal touch. Sometimes, when preachers visit, I will get their address and send them a personal handwritten note of thanks. This shows a personal touch. When I am writing a thank you note for the meeting itself, I refuse to just print out a form letter. I want every letter to have a personal touch to it. When I first come to a church, I carry a note card in my pocket so I can write down the names of the people in the church. This helps me remember their names and pray for them during the meeting. It gives the edge of a personal touch. This shows you care about the individual, that you are not just interested in building your ministry and that you place others first! This will be very helpful as you hit the sawdust trail.
My Dremel tool is probably my favorite tool in carving. It has many inner-changeable bits that give it a wide range of versatility. It can take off excess wood in a quick way, as well as carve the feathers on the wing of a bird. More than any of the previously mentioned tools in getting started, I would recommend that you be teachable. Learn first from the One Who shed His blood for you. Let Him be your supreme Guide. He is the Example for all evangelists who carry His gospel. Then posture yourself to learn from other godly evangelists who can teach you the nuts and bolts of this fabulous work! Burn up your minutes asking them questions. Fill up their inbox seeking advice. Find out where they are congregating and “talk shop” with them. “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise” (Prov. 13:20). There is a wealth of information to be had from those who have done it before. Learn how to get started, how to get repeat meetings, how to preach, how to give invitations, and how to be a personal soulwinner. Every Elisha needs an Elijah who will train him. As well, every Elijah needs an Elisha, who will follow him to the end.
My journey in carving has been a great one! I look forward to carving other pieces and to training my boys in this art. Still, it pales in significance to the privilege God has given me to carve out a place in the field of evangelism. Bringing men and women to Christ individually and in droves still thrills me and fills me to overflowing! The truth is if you will seek to be a solid evangelist, choose to “jump in,” then sharpen and use the necessary tools, God will allow you to carve out your own place on the sawdust trail!
(This article was written for “The Voice of the Evangelist” website – voiceoftheevangelist.com – The February 2008 issue – This website is sponsored by Evangelist Tom Farrell)
*These are just a few biographies and autobiographies of evangelists. Listed are the subject of the work, the title of the work, and the publisher of the work. Some of these books are still in print. Some are out of print. A Google search on the internet using any of this information should lead you to the book. While I would not adhere to all that these men believed, much good can be gained from reading after their lives.
1.John R. Rice – Captain of Our Team – The Sword of the Lord 2.Gipsy Smith – Gipsy Smith – His Life and Work – Revell 3.Mordecai Ham – 50 Years on the Battlefront for Christ – Reprint by Larry Harrison & The Christian Book Gallery 4.Monroe Parker – Through Sunshine and Shadows – The Sword of the Lord 5.George Whitefield – George Whitefield – Banner of Truth 6.D.L Moody – A Passion for Souls – Moody Press 7.John Wesley – The Journal of John Wesley – Moody Press 8.Vance Havner – Vance Havner – Journey from Jugtown – Revell 9.B.R. Lakin – Just a Country Preacher – The Old Time Gospel Hour 10.Billy Sunday – The Billy Sunday Story – The Sword of the Lord 11.Charles Finney – Charles G. Finney – Revell 12.Sam Jones – The Life and Sayings of Sam Jones – Reprint by Larry Harrison & The Christian Book Gallery 13.Bob Jones Sr. – Builder of Bridges – BJU Press 14.Homer Rodeheaver – Rody – BJU Press 15.R.A. Torrey – Apostle of Certainty – The Sword of the Lord 16.Charlie Alexander – A Romance of Song and Soulwinning – The Sword of the Lord 17.Lester Roloff – Lester Roloff – Living by Faith – Action Press 18.W. P. Nicholson – All for Jesus – Ambassador Emerald 19.Oliver B. Greene – From Disgrace to Grace – The Gospel Hour Inc. (Sword of the Lord) 20.J. Bennet Collins – When God Is In It – Sermon & Song 21.Mel Trotter – These Forty Years – Zondervan Publishers 22.John Carrara – Why a Preacher Not A Priest? – Zondervan Publishers 23.Charles Weigle – The Adventures of an Evangelist – Zondervan Publishers 24.Profiles in Evangelism – The Sword of the Lord
Evangelist Dwight Smith