This article is about the church and evangelism and the office of evangelist in the church.

Source: The Monthly Record, 1990. 4 pages.

"Do the Work of an Evangelist"

Our circumstances demand that more attention be paid to the work of evangelism. I don't think I need argue that point: most of us are confronted by growing numbers of people who do not know the gospel. And in our church the work of evangelism is receiving a higher profile than in former years.

My purpose in writing this article is to provoke further thought on this subject by considering the implications of Paul's statement to Timothy: "do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry" (2 Timothy 4:5).

What does he mean by "the work of an evangelist"?

Unofficial Evangelistsโค’๐Ÿ”—

It is obvious that all believers are to engage in some way in the great work of advancing the gospel. To the church as a whole there is given the task of "declaring the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9). As surely as the church as a whole are a "royal priesthood", so too the church as a whole has a prophetic or evangelistic function to perform.

Moreover, all have to be "prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks them to give the reason for the hope that they have" (1 Peter 3:15). True, Peter does not give a picture of believers eagerly button-holing those around them and ramming the gospel down their throats. Rather there is the picture of a church where all live a consistent Christian life and where all are to be equipped to give a reasoned defence of the faith.

That being the standard, it is little wonder that in New Testament times the church extended, in part at least, through informal and unofficial activity. For example, those who had been scattered through persecution evangelised wherever they went (Acts 8:4; 11:20).

That in some sense the New Testament speaks of "evangelising" as a function that belongs to all believers cannot be doubted. That's something that needs to be taught โ€” in its place.

Official Evangelistsโ†โค’๐Ÿ”—

At the same time it is clear that there is another aspect that is to be borne in mind. Work started in an unofficial way had to be examined, authenticated and brought under the authority of the official representatives of the church (Acts 8:14; 11:22). Evangelism is not simply an unofficial, informal, spontaneous activity. It is something that must be organised, recognised and controlled by the officers of the church.

Not only so, but the teaching of Paul is quite clearly that God gave "some to be evangelists" (Ephesians 4:11). There is a work of evangelism, different from the spontaneous witness-bearing of God's people, which belongs to certain people, gifted by God and recognised in the church for that purpose. In that sense, it is flying in the face of Scripture to say that all are evangelists.

It is into that category that the verse in 2 Timothy falls. Here Timothy is exhorted not to neglect his gift, a gift given when Paul, with the body of elders, laid their hands on him (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6). Paul is instructing him in what the exercise of those gifts means in the particular setting in which he has been placed. Among other instructions he gives him this one: "do the work of an evangelist". This means the work of evangelism belongs to him in his official capacity as one duly set apart for it. In adding to his other duties the work of an evangelist he is fully discharging the duties of his "ministry" โ€” a word which, in this context at least, has an official ring about it.

This passage fits in with the following picture of evangelism:

  • as well as there being an ongoing work of witness by the whole body of Christ, there is an official function of evangelist;

  • this is a distinctive aspect of service, part of the ministry to which men are set apart in the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery.

What the Evangelist Doesโ†โค’๐Ÿ”—

According to my dictionary, an evangelist is:

  1. One of the writers of the four Gospels.

  2. Preacher of the gospel; now usually, layman doing home missionary work.

We'll have to rewrite the dictionary โ€” or change the state of affairs in the church: the implication that it's usually laymen that preach the gospel is quite remarkable!

Whatever the dictionary says, I'm sure that, to our minds, a distinctive feature of the evangelist's work would be the sort of people to whom he directs his ministry. He goes to the unconverted; more specifically, we would probably add, the unchurched.

That's the sort of picture that I get from looking at the Scriptures too. For example, "to evangelise" is one of the characteristic words Luke uses to describe missionary work. This, unfortunately, is obscured in most English translations but that's the word used, for example, of Paul and Barnabas breaking new ground when they brought the gospel to Lycaonia (Acts 14:7). It is an activity which is connected with making disciples: they "evangelised" and won a large number of disciples (Acts 14:21). Again in Acts 16:10, it's used of a major new expansion of the gospel into new territory.

There the "evangelist" is sandwiched in between the prophet and the pastor/teacher. This is not the place for going into details about these different aspects of the ministry of the Word. But one thing is evident: the evangelist isn't just another way of describing the minister. The evangelist isn't a pastor: he doesn't look after a body of gathered people. He's not a teacher: he doesn't instruct believers. He's not a prophet: he doesn't authoritatively proclaim God's Word to heart and conscience.

In accordance with the basic meaning of the word and by contrasting the evangelist with the other functions mentioned, it seems reasonable to say, the evangelist's particular ministry is amongst those out with the church. His special emphasis is the planting of a church, the extension of the church. The pastor/teacher then takes over from him, instructing and caring for those converted through the evangelist's ministry.

Evangelism in a Wider Ministryโ†โค’๐Ÿ”—

It's worth noting here that Paul doesn't call Timothy an evangelist. He tells him rather to do the work of an evangelist. The work of evangelism is something done in addition to the main work that is committed to his charge. It is only thus that he will be able to "make full proof of his ministry" (AV) or "discharge all the duties of his ministry" (NIV). If he only does the sort of work Paul has already been describing, there will be an aspect lacking. What that is, is the work of an evangelist.

Paul has already given a clear picture of what is involved in Timothy's main work. He works amongst the people of God. For example, he has to teach, reminding God's people of the basic truths of the gospel, warning them against quarreling (2:14) and gently instructing those who oppose him (2:25). He has to preach, correct, rebuke and encourage (4:2). He has also to equip men to perform a teaching ministry (2:2). He may be a prophet to them, he certainly has to be a pastor/teacher. But besides all that work caring for God's people, he mustn't neglect another aspect of work: he has to do the work of an evangelist โ€” he has to look for the extension of the church, he has to go out with its bounds, he has to work amongst the unconverted.

Paul is teaching not only that evangelism is a distinctive form of ministry, but also that it must form a part of every ministry.

Summing it Upโ†โค’๐Ÿ”—

These considerations lead us to the following conclusions:

  1. There is an unofficial work of evangelism in which all God's people are to be actively engaged.

  2. There is an official work of evangelism which is the particular preserve of those who are gifted and set apart for it.

  3. This official work is directed to the unchurched with a view to their conversion and their being brought within the church, from which point on their growth is conducted under the ministry of the pastor/teacher.

  4. Although there are distinctions between one type of ministry and another, an all-round ministry must involve some work that is distinctive of an evangelist.

Working it Outโ†โค’๐Ÿ”—

My own feeling is that while there has been a commendable emphasis on the need for each believer to be an evangelist and while continued efforts need to be made to get this message over to God's people, equal attention needs to be placed upon the fact that not all are evangelists and that there is an official ministry of evangelism to be done by those specially equipped and set apart for it.

Hand in Handโ†โค’๐Ÿ”—

The most effective evangelism is when the church as a body is involved. Personal efforts must be integrated more fully and immediately into church-based activities. Official evangelism and unofficial must be brought together in a useful partnership.

You've got unconverted friends; you've witnessed to them; they are reading the Bible; asking questions. What do you do next? Tell it to the church; enlist their prayers; seek advice; bow to the advice of those to whom has been committed a special responsibility in this sort of matter and to whom the Scriptures direct the exhortation: "do the work of an evangelist". If you do that, however you then follow up this contact, you'll be acting not alone as an individual, but as part of a body with all the support and help that that implies.

A counsel of perfection? Of course! There are practicalities that make it difficult to work out that advice in practice. But perfection is what we're meant to aim at. If we don't, the good will be the enemy of the best.

Full-time Evangelistsโ†โค’๐Ÿ”—

There must be fuller recognition of the distinctions between the different aspects of the ministry of the Word. There are pastor/teachers. There are prophets (at least, in the sense of preachers). There are also evangelists.

There has been, I think, a growing recognition of this. But we need more awareness of this yet. The balance is weighted to the prophet and the teacher. The pastor and the evangelist get left out in the cold. We need full-time evangelists, that will remain full-time evangelists and not be pressed into service as pastor/teachers. And when I say "evangelist" I don't mean by that the dictionary definition: "a layman who engages in the work of home-missions". I mean evangelists according to the Biblical pattern.

All-round Ministriesโ†โค’๐Ÿ”—

We've to take seriously Paul's injunction to do the work of an evangelist and so discharge all the duties of the ministry. Paul would say to us ministers today. Teach your people โ€” and do your studies to enable you to do so. Pastor them too โ€” and all the running around โ€” or drinking of tea! โ€” that that involves. Rule them as well โ€” and all the administration that goes with that. But as well as all that time at your desk, and all the paperwork that you sometimes have to do and all the preaching and pastoring, don't neglect the unchurched. Always be thinking of how you can fulfill your responsibility to them. Don't just visit that old lady who's a member in your church; visit that old man next door to her, whom the whole village knows to be a godless alcoholic who never darkened the church door since his last child was "christened". Don't just preach to the converted, or the churched, see if you can find means of reaching others. Only then will you have the all-round ministry that is pleasing to God.

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