By Bill Webb
COLUMBIA — Clyde Chiles has seen a lot of changes in evangelistic approaches in his 52 years as an active vocational evangelist. But he believes the message must not change, and evangelists always must demonstrate integrity.
Chiles, one of 30 evangelists elected to the inaugural class of the Association of Southern Baptist Evangelists Hall of Faith this year, believes event evangelism still has a place as an effective evangelism method.
As a 16-year-old boy, Chiles went forward to accept Christ at a Billy Graham crusade and was counseled at the altar by Graham associate Cliff Barrows, both of whom also were inducted into the Hall of Faith. A year later, Chiles sensed a call to vocational evangelism at a Youth for Christ meeting where Graham was preaching.
“Event evangelism is just one of several methods of reaching people for Christ, but it has always been my conviction that even in event evangelism, the personal touch is necessary,” Chiles said.
“It is my conviction that all evangelism is personal evangelism. Most people just don’t ‘drop in’ to a revival. Someone cared enough to invite and/or bring them. I believe that the role of event evangelism in the 21st century is the same as it has always been — to introduce people to the Savior.”
Even so, churches and evangelists must seek effective contemporary evangelistic approaches and strategies to reach people, he maintains.
“An unusual singing group, a professional athlete, magic or a block party, and all other means to ‘catch the eye,’ are good, but there is no substitute for the preaching of the Word,” Chiles said.
As a revival preacher, he tries hard to involve church members in “getting outside of the church” to bring unchurched friends to evangelistic events.
He believes a popular misconception among some pastors, leaders and churches today is that evangelistic crusades are not relevant. But he begs to disagree.
“If we are not relevant, neither are pastors and teachers, because we are listed in Ephesians 4:11 in the same verse,” Chiles said.
“One of the big problems is that we have not honored one another’s calling and that God gave us to the church — his bride — for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry.
Above: Missouri evangelist Clyde Chiles.
“To ignore the call of the evangelist is to ignore the teaching of the word of God.”
Chiles acknowledges churches do not call on vocational evangelists as frequently as they did a generation or more ago.
“Too many churches had crusades that failed because they planned for them to fail,” he said. “There was little prayer, little preparation and when very little happened, they said, ‘It does not work anymore,’” the veteran evangelist explained.
“I have found that today when God’s people pray and prepare, God opens the windows of heaven and pours out blessings that you can hardly contain. It still works,” he said.
“My message has never changed; my emphasis on prayer and preparation has not changed…. The only thing that has changed is the length of the revival.
“In my case, I do everything from a one-day crusade to a four-day crusade and have a plan for each. I have never made the size of the church an issue. God has led me into some of the smallest churches and some of the largest churches, and my gift has been blessed and used in any size church.”
Chiles has some advice for churches wishing to plan an evangelistic event and some counsel for evangelists just starting out.
To churches: “Pray that God will lay the evangelist for the particular type of crusade you want upon your heart. Some evangelists spend more time in areawide crusades and others in church crusades. Some minister to the church more than others. I have always felt that an evangelist should minister to the church and win the lost. I have been doing this for 52 years, and it does work.”
His counsel to beginning evangelists is practical and includes a checklist that requires honest hard work:
• “Build your ministry on return engagements, because if they invite you back, you have solved a few problems, rather than created some.”
• “Don’t quit!”
• “Have a plan that makes your ministry different.”
• “Stay in the word and pray much.”
• “Get acquainted with as many pastors as you can and listen to them.”
• “There is no room for an evangelist that has no integrity.”
Chiles is convinced every activity in a church —including human care ministries — should involve evangelism.
“Nothing should be done through the life of the church that does not lift up the message of Jesus,” the evangelist said