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An Evangelist for our Pastor? Never!

Idiscovered that the road from evangelist to senior pastor had several roadblocks.

By Alton Garrison

After serving as an evangelist for 19 years, I sensed God was leading me to the pastorate. I began the interview process with First Assembly of God, North Little Rock, Arkansas. However, I discovered that the road from evangelist to senior pastor had several roadblocks.

The board members of First Assembly were godly men who were diligently seeking God's will. The following minutes reflect not only their fears but the conventional wisdom regarding calling an evangelist to serve as pastor:

December 3, 1985: The November 26 interview with Alton Garrison was discussed. The general opinion was that Alton Garrison is young, dynamic, and would be a strong preacher. However, several expressed concern over his ability to become a full-time pastor and divest himself of his current tape ministry and evangelistic lifestyle. On a vote of seven yes and one no, it was agreed to place Alton Garrison on our hold list."

January 5, 1986: The purpose of this meeting was to discuss again the possibility of calling Alton Garrison as our pastor. After much discussion, Tom Mitchell motioned that we call Alton Garrison as nominee for senior pastor. The motion was interrupted for a time of prayer. Motion died for lack of a second."

Later that year I sat with the board. After hearing their concerns, I answered, "Gentlemen, you've been in this process for 9 months. You have 100 resumes, and every one of them has more pastoral experience than I do. What we need to do is get on our faces before God and find out His will for this church. If it is God's will for me to pastor this church, any pastoral logistical skills that I do not presently have, I can acquire."

Many believe that the gifts of an evangelist and the gifts of a pastor are mutually exclusive—that an evangelist can never become an effective pastor. These beliefs are formed in part by certain myths.

MYTHS ABOUT EVANGELISTS WHO WOULD BECOME PASTORS

  1. He has only three sermons, and they are all on soul winning.
    This is a popular joke concerning evangelists. It was said about me, "He only has three sermons, and I have all three on tape." As an evangelist, I had some tried-and-true messages, but I had more time to seek God for fresh revelation than I have ever had as a pastor.
  2. He won't be able to settle down.
    People fear the evangelist has traveling in his blood. How can an evangelist who travels 50 weeks of the year ever be content to spend all his time in one place? In fact, many evangelists are ready because God has placed a desire and dream in their hearts to assume a pastoral role.
  3. He doesn't have a pastor's heart.
    A pastor is not only elected for his or her preaching ability but as a shepherd, a caregiver, and a counselor. The people want someone who will hold their hands through the joys and crises of life. When I became a pastor, I had never conducted a funeral or a wedding and had never ministered to a family in grief. However, as I encountered new situations, I depended on the leading of the Holy Spirit and asked others for advice. God gives a person a pastor's heart—it is not inherited.
  4. He has no track record as a pastor.
    When I was interviewing at First Assembly, one man said, "He just can't be our pastor because he has never pastored." It is true that an evangelist oftentimes has no previous pastoral experience. However, an evangelist without pastoral experience can acquire the pragmatic skills if God has called him to pastor.
  5. He can't give up his tape ministry and mailing list.
    The fear behind this statement is that the evangelist will care more about his own ministry than the church. He may not be able to transfer his allegiance, and the church members will be neglected. This rarely occurs, however. An evangelist who chooses to pastor recognizes that he is making the transition into a new phase of ministry.

ADVANTAGES TO CHOOSING AN EVANGELIST AS PASTOR

  1. He has access to a vast network of resources and ideas.
    In his travels, an evangelist has been able to see what works and what does not work. When I came to First Assembly in North Little Rock, I didn't know everything I wanted to do, but I certainly knew many things I did not want to duplicate. In fact, I told the board, "I don't know exactly what you need, but I know a lot of things you don't need." The life of an evangelist affords a wonderful opportunity to view effective programs, personnel, and methods. I often call for assistance from pastors in whose churches I have preached.
  2. He has learned flexibility by adapting to different congregational moods.
    An evangelist has to preach to all types of people (Democrats, Republicans, young, old, traditional, progressive, country music fans, classical music fans, etc.) and must develop a dependency on the Holy Spirit and the gift of discernment to address the needs of the congregation accurately. Every week I ask God to help me see the needs of my congregation and minister effectively to those needs.
  3. The gift of evangelism is present in his ministry.
    Every pastor must also function in the gift of evangelism. A healthy church maintains a proper balance between evangelism, discipleship, and care. An evangelist has functioned in the gift of evangelism and is able to lead others to function in that gift.
  4. He has been responsible for the bottom line.
    Life as an evangelist is often precarious such as no regular income—no weekly paycheck. An evangelist knows that the bottom line of paying his expenses and feeding his family hinges on his management. He has learned to plan for the future and live on an uncertain budget. In business terms he is, in effect, serving as the CEO of his corporation. The weight of the corporation rests solely upon his shoulders.
  5. People skills are vital for survival on the evangelistic field.
    The evangelist who does not get along with pastors has few return meetings. If he cannot get along with the people, he has few results. People skills, therefore, are vital for an evangelist and crucial for a pastor.

The board and congregation of First Assembly of God, North Little Rock, elected me as their senior pastor. In March 1998, I celebrated my 12th anniversary—12 wonderful years together with God's blessing

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