We’re All Evangelists – Aren’t We?
We are all called to evangelise, but we are not all evangelists. So, what marks someone out as an ‘evangelist’?
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 5 in the series.
Bruce Larson, talking of his experience in leadership at University Presbyterian Church of Seattle, said this: “I proposed to the Session, “How about dropping the evangelism department? Every member of this church is called to be an evangelist, to talk about Jesus to the people where we live and work. Having a department responsible for this lets us off the hook. Let’s make evangelism everybody’s job.” An evangelist merely says to someone experiencing the pain of life, “Have you had enough? I want you to meet the ultimate Someone who can change your life—Jesus Christ.””1
But are we all evangelists?
The gift of an Evangelist
We’re certainly all called to evangelise, but this is where the confusion arises. By failing to recognise that evangelist is a specialist people-gift given to the church by Christ we can make two significant mistakes.
Firstly, if we assume that we’re all evangelists, then those who are evangelists will expect us to evangelise in just the same way they do. They don’t see that their gifting is unique to evangelists and, by laying the burden upon ‘non-evangelists’ to be ‘evangelists’, they can so easily discourage to the extent that many will give up on evangelism all together. They just can’t do it and that was never the intention of the evangelist, just the sad outcome.
Secondly, if we assume that every believer is an evangelist it inevitably flattens out our understanding of the gift. We fail to appreciate the unique character and particular gifting of those who are Christ-called evangelists. Just as in Bruce Larson’s church, evangelists will no longer be identified, set apart, trained, resourced, and prayed for.
How many churches do you know where they have developed the role of the evangelist? We’re far more likely to see full-time administrators and youth workers on staff than we are to see evangelists. And that imbalance is all down to a failure to engage with the Bible as we ought.
So, having made such an accusation, I want to demonstrate what I think emerges from the Scriptures.
Evangelist or evangelism
The verb ‘evangelise’ comes from the Greek verb euangelizomai: ‘to announce news’. That verb occurs 55 times in the New Testament.
The noun ‘evangelist’ occurs only three times. It is used to describe Philip (Acts 21:8); to encourage Timothy (2 Timothy 4:5); and to recognize that ‘evangelist’ is a people-gift to the Church (Ephesians 4:11).
It would be worth stopping off at that passage in Ephesians to notice something very obvious:
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Are we all apostles? No. Are we all prophets? No. Are we all pastors and teachers? No.
So, are we all evangelists? The answer is clearly: no. ‘Evangelist’ is a people-gift from Christ to the church that we should treasure, recognise, and cultivate. God give us more evangelists!
But that begs another question: What do evangelists do? What gifts, qualities and characteristics mark them out?
What do evangelists do?
Now to answer that I want to suggest that the Apostles, by definition and calling, were equipped and empowered to do the work of an evangelist, and by looking at how they operated in communicating the gospel, we’ll get some idea of what we might see in evangelists today. After all, the Apostles were most often those described as ‘evangelising’.
A significant chapter of the Bible that condenses some of these characteristics is Acts 17. This chapter describes what the Apostle Paul did in Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens, and begins with Luke using three specialist words to describe what Paul and Silas did in Thessalonica: they reasoned (v2); explained (v3); and proved (v3).
The Greek word for “reasoned” is dielegeto. It has the sense of putting forward a proposal and then dealing with objections. There’s a two-way flow to this communication.
The Greek word for “explained” is dianoigwn. Literally, this means ‘opening up’. It has the sense of revealing something for the first time. So, in this context, you have Paul showing the Jews the evidence from scripture concerning a suffering Messiah.
The Greek word for “proved” is paratithemenos. Literally, this means ‘to place alongside’. Here it has the idea of truth being set before enquiring minds. And in this context, we find Paul placing misconceptions or prejudices alongside the truth. He places the prophecies of a suffering Messiah alongside the fulfilment found in Christ.
What’s fascinating about Acts 17 is that we then see this varied approach being repeated when Paul travels on to Athens:
- “So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and the God-fearing Greeks” (v17a). Here Paul is once again proving that Jesus was the fulfilment of all the Messiah prophecies.
- “A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him” (v18a). Now here Paul engages in dialogue with ordinary pagans and thinkers using a method of ‘Question and Answer’ that had been championed by the great Athenian philosopher Socrates.
- “They took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?"” (v19) So here Paul is given an opportunity to make a presentation to the intelligentsia, the academics, the professional thinkers and philosophers of the city.
It’s my contention that evangelists have an especial gifting to use all these opportunities. They know how to provoke and then engage in debate. They’re gifted in apologetics, as they defend the truth claims of the gospel. They can readily use cultural arguments to bring in God’s truth (as we see Paul doing with his quotations in Acts 17:28).
I’m certainly not saying that non-evangelists can’t do these things but I am suggesting that evangelists have a giftedness from Christ that makes them particularly used in these public events and with those they have never met before.
You’re probably thinking right now of some evangelists you know who do this brilliantly. Well, praise God. Pray for them and ask God to gift many more!
Are we all evangelists?
So, are we all evangelists? No – evangelist is a special people-gift to the church from Christ.
We’re not all evangelists any more than we’re all called to preach and teach. But we are all called to evangelise. Evangelism is something else so I needn’t beat myself up that I don’t display the distinctive and varied gifts of an evangelist - whether that’s in public proclamation, group debate, apologetic presentation, or personal witness out of nothing.
And evangelists: be careful that you don’t expect every other believer to be just like you. We have a different calling.
Next time: Professionals and programmes.
1 Larson, B., Anderson, P., & Self, D. (1990). Mastering pastoral care. Mastering ministry (129). Portland, Or.; Carol Stream, IL: Multnomah Press; Christianity Today.