How to Support Evangelistic Work
The New Testament highlights two practical ways that every believer is able to support evangelism: giving and praying.
Is your preaching and teaching ministry doing enough to prepare your church for the task of evangelism? In this series, Andy Paterson offers biblical encouragement that every Christian has a role to play, free from false guilt.
This is part 9 in the series.
I’ve been suggesting that the role of ‘non-evangelists’ is distinct to that of ‘evangelist’ and that the New Testament record bears this out. But it does leave us with the question: how did Paul expect his converts to give themselves to the promotion of the gospel?
Once again, the New Testament is not silent on this issue.
However distasteful or grubby this might sound to our ears (especially when associated with the money-grabbing tactics of some hypocritical TV evangelists), the reality remains: evangelism requires funding and support. And in his letters, Paul is not ashamed to face up to this and encourage both churches and individuals to be active in giving to gospel ministry.
It would seem that Paul viewed this financial support in three ways:
Paul assumes that churches should pay for the evangelists who come amongst them (1 Thessalonians 2:1-9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8; 1 Corinthians 9:1-18) although, for various reasons, he himself did not always make use of such provision (1 Corinthians 9:18; 1 Thessalonians 2:9).
In five places Paul refers to churches ‘sending’ workers on their way (1 Corinthians 16:6, 11; 2 Corinthians 1:16; Romans 15:24; Titus 3:13). The Greek word he uses (προπέμπω) carries the sense of equipping, both with resources and personnel.
For example, when Paul writes to the church at Rome it would seem his overarching purpose is to secure in advance support for the mission he wanted to undertake in Spain, that he would collect when he arrived from Jerusalem.
Paul speaks about missionary expenses to the Philippian church, thanking them for their help in supporting his missionary work in general (Philippians 4:10-19). This was a love gift from that church, rather than a demand or expectation. In fact, it may be these gifts from Philippi that enabled Paul not to be a financial burden to the young churches at Corinth and Thessalonica.
So, let’s try and ground all this for ourselves: how can we help advance the gospel if we are not evangelists? One significant, vital, and often overlooked element is that we should be generous givers. The work of evangelists requires resources and, through sacrificial giving, God’s people enable that work to go forward.
To suggest that prayer is essential in evangelism seems so commonplace that one might yawn and pass this section by. Sadly, however, it would seem that this is what happens in so much church life today: believers pass the prayer meeting by and fail to engage in prayer for the lost.
We read books about strategy, we put in place impressive seminars, we show all the latest training videos, but we fail to engage in prayer.
Yet, an examination of the New Testament record reveals how integral prayer was to the expansion of the early church.
Prayer for unbelievers in general
We see something of Paul’s passion for the lost when he shares an insight into his own heart with the believers in Rome. Talking about his own national people he writes this:
“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” (Romans 10:1)
And it wasn’t just that Paul prayed for Israel, he wanted all the churches to be praying for all the people. Writing to Timothy he urges that:
“…petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
And when you look at the context of these verses you discover that Paul is not concerned primarily in a well-ordered, civic society, but that through the peace that good government brings, believers will be able to lead God-honouring and distinctive lives (vs 8-10), pointing many to saving faith in Christ.
So, prayer for the lost was a feature of the early church. They wanted to align their hearts with God’s saving purposes. And this continued. Ignatius of Antioch, writing sometime between AD 98-117, encouraged Christian communities to go on doing this: “Now for other men pray unceasingly, for there is in them a hope of repentance, that they may find God” (Ignatius to the Ephesians, 10:1).
My own experience has been that churches who are passionate to see the lost saved and let that passion overflow in corporate prayer are churches who regularly see unbelievers come to faith in Jesus.
Prayer for gospel opportunities in particular
Paul often requested prayer for himself and his band of evangelists as they carried out their work:
“Brothers and sisters, pray for us” (1 Thessalonians 5:25)
“As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honoured, just as it was with you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:1)
“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.” (Colossians 4:2-4)
“Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” (Ephesians 6:19-20)
Little wonder Gordon Wiles, in Paul’s Intercessory Prayers, says: “Prayer buttressed all his mission work – in advance of his visits, during them, and after he had departed...Taken together, then, the intercessory prayer passages offer impressive documentation of Paul’s unfailing reliance upon the ministry of supplication, his own and that of his fellow believers.”1
So, what should non-evangelists do?
Part of that answer is clearly that they should give financially towards the work of evangelists and they should pray for it, both in its broadest context (with a heart that shares God’s passion for the lost) and also with insight and discernment. Paul’s instruction to the Colossian church to be watchful implies that we should be aware of some of the situations facing those engaged as evangelists. This might well mean following prayer updates and prayer letters produced by such workers and praying faithfully through them.
The danger we face as we conclude this article is that we’re more preoccupied with quick-fix strategies and inspirational ideas than with the sacrificial expectations of knuckling down to giving and prayer.
Don’t let these articles be just an academic exercise but let’s ask ourselves whether our evangelistic seriousness is matched by our commitment in those two areas.
1 Wiles, Paul’s Intercessory Prayers, CUP, Pg.296.
Next time: Living it out.