Is the Evangelist Facing Extinction in Canada?

Dr. Larry Brice is the evangelist of the Dr. Larry Brice Reachout Ministries. Dr. Brice lives at R.R. #3, Port Rowan, Ontario, N0E 1M0, with his wife Karen and their two daughters Alena and Erika.

Although I have been across Canada and up to northern Alaska in full-time evangelistic ministry over the past three years, still I could be much busier than I am. And to be the only full-time evangelist from the Presbyterian Church in Canada in the last fifty years says a great deal about the unimportance of the evangelist in the Canadian Church. In fact, other itinerant (travelling) evangelists in similar work to mine, speak of having few ministry opportunities and little income to live on.

Is the evangelist, then, almost extinct in Canada?

I am thoroughly convinced of several compelling, underlying constants which assure me that my calling as an evangelist, and the role of the evangelist generally, will not die out in Canada. Here are four reasons:

For one thing, the evangelist is a biblical order of ministry like that of the prophet, apostle, pastor and teacher in God's scheme of leadership for the Church (Ephesians 4:11-13). Paul urged Timothy "to do the work of an evangelist" in his orbit of regular pastoral leadership (2 Timothy 4:5); and one of the longest descriptions of a specific ministry in the New Testament is that of Philip "the evangelist" winning the Ethiopian official to faith in Christ (Acts 8:26-40; 21:8-9).

Secondly, throughout Christian history, God has repeatedly used missionaries and evangelists to go and preach the gospel, and in the latter case, to "exhort" listeners to come to Christ by faith. The evangelist historically, and in both the Old and New Testaments, was an "exhorter" who persuasively called people to give their lives to God! (See Moses in Exodus 32:25-26; Elijah in 1 Kings 18:21; and Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:20 in their role as evangelist.) Over different periods of history, God has continually used the evangelist to call people to believe and obey God's word.

Thirdly, I do not doubt that God has called me personally to the biblical office of evangelist. As a teenager in my Bible study class at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Maple, Ontario, God called me to the pastoral ministry, but at the same time gave me a longing to tell as many of my generation as possible the majestic truths of life and purpose I was discovering in the Bible — to some day do the work of an evangelist! Then, years later, in 1987 at a Billy Graham School of Evangelism in Columbia, South Carolina, my wife and I answered the invitation to completely surrender our lives afresh to Christ as Lord and Saviour; and that night God placed on my heart the desire (begun years earlier in the Bible study class) to invite others to do what Karen and I had just done ourselves.

Fourthly, another constant keeping me in evangelism is the confirmation God has given me from those receiving my ministry. The many positive things people say and write to us after an evangelistic ministry give confirmation that this really is God's calling. For example, I was sent the results of those phoning in their commitments in a national telecast I spoke at last year and was delighted to learn that as many responded to the invitation from this little known, inexperienced evangelist as for two internationally known evangelists who have had long T.V. ministries. God confirms his calling for this work.

But where is the market for evangelism? And the income to support oneself in this ministry? Just as the national church supports missionaries, church administrators and teachers, if the evangelist is also a biblical order ministry, then shouldn't the church provide in her budget for the evangelist too?

Knowing there was little hope of that happening, I left the security of pastoral ministry in 1992, with no bookings for ministry, no income and no known supporters; and with my wife Karen, founded Dr. Larry Brice Reachout Ministries, a federally incorporated charity with a Board of Directors still connected in some way to the Hamilton Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in Canada where I am a minister in full standing.

The Presbyterian Church in Canada almost did institute a national full-time evangelist in the late 1960s but fell short of that goal with an alternative plan to designate ministers from several congregations as part-time "evangelists-at-large." They worked enthusiastically and effectively for a while, but being only part-time and still primarily pastoral ministers, they were under-funded and poorly advertised, and their work was little known and has since petered out.

Whatever market remained since then for evangelism went to evangelists from other denominations like Barry Moore, Marney Patterson and John Moore; or support fell to larger crusade ministries involving well known evangelists like John Wesley White, Leighton Ford, Ralph Bell or Billy Graham.

Every one of the above evangelists is over 65 years of age, and there appear to be few faces on the horizon of those who will take their places. And for those of us called to be evangelists, will there still be a market and income available to make this ministry possible?

If the Church does not use the itinerant evangelist, there will be a reduction in the fullness of leadership God wants to give to the Church and a dramatic impoverishment of evangelism in the country! And without ministry opportunities, the Church could continue to see the further attrition of young men and women offering themselves for full-time evangelistic ministry.

Having listened to ministers and students for the ministry talk about their aspirations, I believe that as many as one in every three Presbyterian ministers has considered God's possible call to be an evangelist, but the apparently overwhelming obstacles I have mentioned turn almost all of them sadly and quickly away.

But if God has issued his call, and if it is a biblical office of ministry, one cannot turn their back and give up because of difficulties. Evangelists and missionaries are the entrepreneurs of the clergy world and God greatly honours those who answer his call to take risks. St. Paul, St. Columba of Scotland, Albert Schweitzer, David Livingstone, Hudson Taylor, Jonathan Goforth, Mother Teresa and John Wesley are just a few of those who have blazed gloriously for the name of Christ by leaving safety and security to answer God's adventurous call.

We have seen God's provision for us, too. Each year we are a little a busier; each year our budget increases by a little more; and with each new mission more and more people respond to the gospel invitations I extend. While my dreams of evangelistic ministry in Canada are boundless and exciting — that God could use me in a great way yet — nevertheless, I am steadied by what I am sure is the call of God and accept the possibility that I may never have anything more than a small, struggling outreach ministry for the rest of my life. To thrive in this work, the Church must use, financially support and pray for this legitimate office of ministry that Christ has given to help build up his body in the world!

There are indeed some worrisome signs that the evangelist in Canada is headed for extinction. However, Karen and I are certain that God still calls and commissions his servants for this biblical office of ministry and is continuing to abundantly bless this work, despite all the hardships one faces at times, of being an evangelist in Canada.