Last year at camp meeting the idea of having a conference evangelist was presented. “Statistics indicate that when a conference employs a full-time local evangelist, there are more baptisms, more people learning truth and choosing to follow Jesus,” said Wisconsin Conference President Mike Edge. So, during the evening meetings, a special offering was taken to see if we could collect enough funds to hire a full-time evangelist here in our state. Before weeks end, $30,000 was raised. In the next few months more funds came in, and when several generous donors added to the amount, funds were available. Pastor Tom Michalski was asked to be our Conference Evangelist and he began January 1 of this year. He has completed one series in Waukesha, and is gearing up for two more series this fall in Wisconsin Rapids and then Milwaukee Central. The following is an interview with our Conference Evangelist, Tom Michalski.
Why have a conference evangelist?
The advantage of having a conference evangelist is that you have someone working in-house with your church, helping them prepare for the upcoming series. That is critical! If you go into a church to have a series and they don’t know what to do, if they haven’t been making friends and building bridges with neighbors, it will have a negative impact on the series. The success of a series has more to do with the church than it does the speaker. One of the things I can do as your evangelist is I will come into your church for a weekend and hold a five-session soul-winning class and teach you how to witness. I used to think that witnessing was nailing someone on the Sabbath and telling then they were wrong about keeping Sunday. That’s not witnessing, that’s being a bully! I could win every argument, but I never won a soul to Christ. It’s no good to win a lot of battles and lose the war. In my class I teach how to witness in a winning way. Truth must be presented in as easy to understand and as winning of a way as can be.
What kind of preparation do we need to have before a series?
1. Pray. That’s number one. I have done series were the church has not prayed; I’ve done series where the church has prayed. There is such a marked difference between the two. The church has to be spiritually healthy for God to bless.
2. Get out of your comfort zone. Go to your neighbor across the street, your relatives, your friends that you’ve had a few conversations with over the years, and start making closer contact. If you wait till the week of the series, hand them a brochure and say, “You want to go to this with me?” it’s not the same as when you have a close friendly relationship built with somebody and you say, “Hey, I’m going to go to this series, would you like to go with me?” A close relationship makes the invitation have a much bigger impact.
3. We need to realize we are always a witness. Most people who come to a series and make a decision for Christ have had a very good experience with a Seventh-day Adventist. They are friends with, have worked with, have an Adventist relative, or rubbed shoulders positively with an Adventist somewhere in their life. We are always witnessing. We’ve got to make sure our witness is strong for Jesus so it can help people make that critical decision for Jesus in their life when the moment comes. If they see the difference in the way you are now from the way you were then, or if they see a difference in you from everybody else, they will wonder, “What is it that makes you tick?”
I wish I could get churches witnessing this way now, then our evangelism next year and the year after would be fantastic. That’s really what I want to see happen. I want to see every church a center for evangelism. Evangelism to be who we are, the very DNA of our existence. We are here for one reason, to evangelize the world. Period.
What would you say to someone who doesn’t believe public evangelism works, but we should just live right and let our lives be our testimony for Jesus?
The short answer is they are wrong. Pubic evangelism does work. I lived with the Amish for six and a half years. They believe in only witnessing by lifestyle. In those six and a half years how many converts do you think I saw? Zero. What does Jesus say in Matthew 28? Go, you, into all the world, teaching. This is a direct command from Jesus that is just as important as the 10 commandments. Now, is our lifestyle important? Absolutely! It is critical. But we can’t only live our life and not share about Jesus, or people will just look at us and say, hey, there’s a healthy guy, or whatever they notice. We have to be out teaching, preaching, sharing.
As a pastor, I watched people to see what they were doing with the information they received. And when I saw people out sharing their faith, I knew they valued what they had. The purpose of everything the church does, Pathfinders, health institutions, health message, our schools, community service, our conferences, everything the church does, is working together to support one thing, to evangelize the world.
When everything works together it hums. I used to be a beekeeper. I got to where I could crack the lid on the beehive and tell if the bees were healthy or not by the sound of their hum, the sound they make with their wings. If they had a queen that was injured and she wasn’t able to lay right, they had a different sound than when she was well, growing, and multiplying. I’ve noticed when people get along, and are spiritually healthy, there is a “sound” that they make. The church is growing, planting churches, and supports a wide spectrum of people, ages, and cultures.
Another thing I’ve noticed is the people in a healthy church are not focused on issues, problems, and each other, but are outward focused. Bickering and backbiting drop drastically when a congregation becomes a healthy church.
Bees are selfless. They will give their life for the hive. Everything is for the health, the growth, and the survival of the hive. When the hive becomes a good size, the workers will start raising another queen. The old queen will leave the hive, and about half the hive will swarm, follow her, and start a new hive somewhere else. But before they leave, they take all the stores that they need to establish a new healthy hive. They have the same DNA so the new hive is exactly like the old one.
If churches are growing the way they were supposed to, when they get to a certain point, a third to a half of that congregation should go start another congregation with the same DNA, beliefs, and purpose. They aren’t splitting off because of an argument or theological issues, they are splitting off because it is time to start another hive, with the same healthy DNA. So the mother church supports it, they give their whole support to the new hive in another location. That’s the healthy way to divide a church.
From what I have observed, every church who has lost their focus on evangelism dwindles down to almost nothing, and many close. When we neglect evangelism, we are committing suicide in a very slow methodical way. But when churches focus on evangelism, they bloom, they grow, they thrive! Members get excited and say, “Wow, this is really good! We’ve never seen anything like this!” It’s just about getting back on track and sharing the gospel with our world like Jesus commanded.
What do you recommend as a follow-up measure after a series to keep new members?
If the meetings just stop, and nothing happens, that’s not good. New people are fragile. During the meetings, I start everyone on a Bible marking program. Then after the series I give that program over to the pastor or to an elder. This way they end up going through the 28 fundamental beliefs again, plus they have it all chain referenced in their Bibles. If their friends ask them, “Hey, where’d you come up with this seventh day Sabbath idea?” they can say, “You know what, I found it right here in the Bible,” and they can take them through a whole Bible study on the Sabbath, because they have all the texts chain referenced. They will have 15-20 Bible texts to support their new beliefs found in their Bible.
After finishing the Bible marking class, I take them through another series, maybe another Bible study set. So about six months after the series, they completely go through the beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church three times, and each approach comes at the beliefs from a difference perspectives. The attrition rate is really low when you do that.
When we bring a new baby home, we don’t just lay it on the floor and leave it there, hoping it will grow and thrive. We attend it, we have to take care of it. We don’t expect that new baby to be potty-trained, know how to walk and talk to us. When we bring a new baby home, they are a lot of work! And so is birth in the church. If a baby falls down, you don’t pick it up by the scruff of the neck and throw it out the door! You have to pick it up, help it, be there to catch them so they don’t make a fatal fall. If a baby has a dirty diaper, you don’t throw out the baby, you clean it up. Likewise, we must befriend the new member and help keep them in the truth.
If when an evangelistic series is over you think you’re done, they have the information, now they are on their own, you will lose at least 75% of them. Every newly baptized person needs to make at least three new friends in the church. Not just someone who says, “Hi, how have you been?” each Sabbath, but three friends who will really connect and be real friends to them.
What is it that made you want to be an evangelist verses a pastor?
I never really saw myself as a pastor. I’ve been an evangelist doing pastoral ministry. My main focus has always been evangelism. That’s where my heart has always been. When I went into ministry years ago, evangelism is what I did.
Wisconsin in my home state. This is where I grew up. These are my people. To be able to share Jesus here is a dream come true for me. Years ago, when Paul became a Christian, he wanted to go back to Jerusalem because his family was there, the Jews were there and he wanted to bring them to Christ. Now I feel I’ve been given the same opportunity here in Wisconsin, and it’s really special for me, it really is.
What does a typical day during a series look like for you?
First, I always have my devotions. Then I like to go over the evening’s sermon three times the day I give it, which takes about three hours. When I get up to speak I want it to be solid. I don’t want to stumble and stammer through. I’ll also get together with the pastor and maybe some elders to discuss what is going on in the series. Typically, I don’t bother people if they are coming regularly. But, if they stop coming, I want to be in touch with them through a phone call or sometimes I’ll go over and talk with them. In the mid-point of the meetings on, I also focus on visiting more of the interests and answering their questions.
What Bible topic do you see people most eager to learn about?
People really want to know about prophecy. That is still the drawing card. They love hearing prophecy explained in a very clear and logical way. They are amazed, because they never hear it like this outside of Adventism. People don’t want prophecy in theological terms, they want it in terms they can put their mind around and understand it. People tell me God has blessed me with the ability to explain Bible topics in ways they can understand. Maybe that’s why I love evangelism ministry.
Is your wife involved in your evangelistic meetings?
She is a huge asset. Melody knows guests need to have friends, they need to have someone talk with them, and she mingles very well with them. She usually is at the greeting table and she helps with meeting people and making sure they receive the literature they need. She is very committed, and when she gets off work, she drives to wherever I’m having a series and is there as much as she can be.
Where do you stay when you hold a series?
We stay in a local motel. A motorhome just doesn’t seem practical with the long winters and virtually no motorhome parks are open year-round. The motel works fine.
What should a person do it they would like you to hold a series in their church?
Contact your pastor, and have him contact Elder Adam Case and we will see what we can do. We currently have two openings yet to fill if someone is interested in a series next year; one early next spring and one in the late fall. But really, now is the time to start witnessing and preparing for next year and even the year after that.
If there were a virus that I could infect every Adventist in Wisconsin Conference that would give them the Evangelism Bug, I would carry it to them personally, because of where we are at in history we need to take evangelism very very seriously. I often think of what Ellen White says about this in Testimonies Volume 5 page 463:
“The work which the church has failed to do in a time of peace and prosperity, she will have to do in a terrible crisis, under most discouraging, forbidding, circumstances. The warnings that worldly conformity has silenced or withheld, must be given under the fiercest opposition from enemies of the faith. And at that time the superficial, conservative class, whose influence has steadily retarded the progress of the work, will renounce the faith, and take their stand with its avowed enemies, toward whom their sympathies have long been tending. These apostates will then manifest the most bitter enmity, doing all in their power to oppress and malign their former brethren, and to excite indignation against them. This day is just before us. The members of the church will individually be tested and proved. They will be placed in circumstances where they will be forced to bear witness for the truth. Many will be called to speak before councils and in courts of justice, perhaps separately and alone. The experience which would have helped them in this emergency they have neglected to obtain, and their souls are burdened with remorse for wasted opportunities and neglected privileges.”
We have golden opportunities right now. Our country is divided in so many areas. People today are wondering, “What is going on in our world today? Where is our social, economic, and political world taking us?” I think we have an opportunity right now in the world that we really really really need to take advantage of.
Juanita Edge, Communication Director