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  • Writer's pictureMichael Durham

The Evangelist-A Dying Breed: Unraveling the Mystery of Extinction



We are looking into the once-vibrant figure—the evangelist, the revivalist, that is facing near extinction in the modern era of congregational life. Why is this happening? How do we understand why it is that a biblical office of ministry can be almost eliminated? In this article, we seek to understand why churches have ceased to call upon the evangelist and, even more perplexingly, why Reformed churches, with a legacy steeped in reverence for historical evangelists, now seem to turn a blind eye to those bearing the gifts of awakening.

 
Reasons for the Diminishing of
the Evangelist-Revivalist

 

In the fury of modern church life, priorities have shifted. The church's gaze has shifted from the transformative power of revival to more pragmatic concerns, programs, administrative duties, and a focus on numerical growth, and the result is that the evangelist's role has become increasingly marginalized.

 

One factor is that the revivalist/evangelist, with his fervent preaching and emphasis on personal conversion, can stir controversy within congregations. Some who are considered pillars of the church could come under conviction and prove to have never been truly converted. Weak Christians may struggle with assurance under the strong and searching word. Churches that believe tranquility is better than any disturbance of the sleeping and the dead see the potentially divisive nature of revivalistic messages and shy away from inviting these forceful messengers.

 

Another similar contributing factor is the fear of the unpredictable. The itinerant nature of the evangelist and the unknown outcomes of revival meetings may clash with the desire for predictable, controlled environments within the church. Pastors and church leaders, often immersed in the routine, may hesitate to invite the uncertainty that the revivalist/evangelist might bring.

 

But perhaps the greatest contribution to the demise of the evangelist is the disappearance of the special meeting. Once upon a time, churches eagerly called upon evangelists to hold special meetings, breathing life and fervor into their congregations. But today, church schedules are too packed with self-care, self-entertainment, and self-advancement. The family is whipped to and fro by the children’s extra-curricular schedules, which leaves little time for all that the church has on the calendar. Pastors are reluctant to make time for a solemn, soulful searching of the hearts of the people because they fear few will attend. They don’t seem to realize that the Lord seldom works with large numbers and that the few who meet with God in the meeting could have more impact on the church than ten evangelists.

 

This leads to another consideration, which is the financial concern. Hosting evangelistic events can come with financial implications. The costs associated with organizing special meetings may dissuade churches from extending invitations to revivalists/evangelists.

 

Reformed Churches and
the Paradox of Neglect

 

The paradox of Reformed churches neglecting evangelists with awakening gifts is distressing as well as perplexing. The very tradition that reveres the evangelists of church history now seems to distance itself from those embodying similar gifts. The reasons for this are very similar to the above motives given. However, there are some factors that are unique to reformed churches.

 

The first concern is the theological caution that is preeminent in the reformed world. Reformed theology, while rich and doctrinally sound, can sometimes breed a cautious approach to practices perceived as too emotional or experiential. Evangelists with awakening gifts, often characterized by passionate appeals and emotionally charged messages, may find themselves at odds with the theological temperance of some Reformed congregations.

 

Some Reformed churches, despite their rich revival history, have settled into a doctrinal rigidity that creates an aversion to practices that are perceived as more emotional or experiential. Indeed, the soul-stirring preaching of the evangelist presses the mind and conscience for decision and action. It is this spiritual pressure that seems to be the very thing unwanted. The awakening gifts of the evangelist, once celebrated, now find themselves in the crosshairs of theological caution.

 

The reformed movement, in general, has become very averse to any kind of emotions, wrongly conflating them with unbiblical modern charismatics. They fail to distinguish between biblical emotions that result from the truth of Scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit and an emotionalism that is carnal at best and demonic at worst. We have opted to do without genuine Spirit-wrought emotion for fear of some unscriptural experience. All experience is shunned to avoid any abuse. As a result, many Christians are forced to live in the shallows of Christian experience and reality. Christianity is reduced to mere intellectualism. How wise is this?

 

Another unspoken concern is the security that exists in tradition. Reformed churches may find refuge in the established order and regularity of their worship services. The spontaneity and unpredictability associated with revivalists or evangelists may be perceived as a departure from cherished traditions, fostering hesitancy rather than openness.

 

The Fallout

 

What are the sad consequences of neglecting the protracted meeting and the evangelist/revivalist?

 

First, I would say it is the loss of emphasis on personal conversion. Many of our churches see little to no conversions. In the course of a year, the baptistry lies quiet and empty. Some have not seen any professions of faith in years.

 

Another question that must not be avoided is how many on the church’s role are not truly converted? And without the gifted ability to biblically search the heart with the probe of divine conviction, these poor souls will remain secure in their false profession. They will endure confirmed in their self-righteousness.

 

Another consequence of the loss of the evangelist/revivalist is that churches have increasingly turned their focus to a status quo that is lacking spiritual renewal. The Christian life is thought of as mere plodding in mundaneness and mediocrity. The concept of spiritual vitality and power is almost lost. We have excused our lukewarmness until lukewarm is the preferred temperature of the church.  We know nothing else. There is no recognition of spiritual loss and declension.

 

In fact, the concept of revival has been relegated to the realm of God’s sovereignty, that to encourage saints to seek revival is akin to blaspheming God’s providence. In our next article, I want to explore what genuine revival is and if the preaching of an evangelist/revivalist can be used by the Lord to bring revival.

 

A Plea for Resurgence and Reconciliation

 

We find ourselves standing at a crossroads—a juncture where tradition, theology, and modernity intersect. The evangelist, once celebrated and sought after, now stands on the periphery, awaiting a revival of his own.

 

Perhaps it is time for churches, regardless of denomination, to rediscover the treasure trove that the evangelist brings—a unique blend of passion, conviction, and a divine calling to stir the embers of revival. Let the church once again become a haven for the evangelist-revivalist, welcoming their gifts, embracing unpredictability, and daring to believe that the revival fires, though dim, can blaze anew.

 

In this plea for resurgence and reconciliation, may the church rekindle its appreciation for the evangelist, recognizing their role as carriers of a timeless flame—a flame that has the power to ignite hearts, transform lives, and usher in seasons of unprecedented spiritual awakening.

 

 

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2 Comments


carolannsp
Feb 28

Thank you for this article, Michael. I couldn’t agree with you more.

I’ve lived long enough to witness many types of movements within that speak of fevered and false proclamations to downright cold and confusing theology.

May the Good Lord help us all.


Carol

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smdurham2000
Feb 28
Replying to

Thank you, Carol, for your comment. We are living in the very time the Apostle Paul called "perilous." (2 Timothy 3:1).


Heartily,

Michael

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