In the June issue, in an article entitled ‘Spiritual Leadership in the Church” we touched briefly on the person and work of the ‘evangelist’ in the context of other leadership roles. This article expands somewhat upon the work that God calls evangelists to do. Geoff Ellis’ current series of articles about brother C.G. McPhee highlights the key role that men like him have played in the growth and spiritual health of congregagions in Canada.
From time to time, every congregation finds itself in search of someone to work in this capacity. Such times may provide a healthy pause during which a church may re-evaluate where they are as a congregation and what they should be looking for in a preacher.
To help with that process, and with such selection, this article this article explores two things:
- What the Bible says about the work that an evangelist is called to do.
- And then secondly, the kind of man that an evangelist is to be and aspire to be.
One of the ‘speaking ministries’ that we find in scripture is that of the preacher or evangelist. Both the Synoptic gospels and the Book of Acts tell us that this was the main thing that Jesus spent his time doing. Evangelists in the church carry on that same work
In the New Testament, the verb form ‘to teach’ is more common than the noun – ‘teacher’. Here are the 3 places where the noun form occurs, and these are important since they specify this function as a distinct role or ‘office’ in the church.
- The first is a reference to Philip in Acts 6.
- He was one of the seven chosen to oversee the distribution of food
- But he is also called ‘the evangelist’ (Acts 21:8).
- He preached in Jerusalem and in Samaria.
- He taught the Ethiopian eunuch and then preached throughout the coastal cities of Judea in Acts 8
- The second reference is in Ephesians 4:11 which reads:
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ
- And then In 2nd Timothy 4:5 the apostle Paul exhorted Timothy
“But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
Timothy is also addressed in Paul’s letters as
- A minister (servant) (I Tim 4:6)
- The Lord’s servant (II Tim 2:24)
- A Man of God (I Tim 6:11)
These suggest facets of who the preacher is and what he must be in order to do the work of an evangelist. There was a special connection between the evangelist and the apostles in that much of their work was the same
Paul often described his ministry in terms of preaching the gospel.
- In Romans 1:15, I Cor 1:17, Gal. 1:8 Paul says that he evangelized
- In I Cor 1:23, Gal 2:2 and I Thess 2:9 he proclaimed the word
The apostles were appointed to their role by the Lord Jesus. Evangelists on the other hand were not appointed directly by the Lord, yet they shared the job of proclaiming the gospel. There is also no indication that like the prophets, they received their message directly from the Holy Spirit. It seems that they needed to learn, to study and apply themselves to scripture in a responsible way
The Work of an Evangelist
It almost seems redundant then to say that evangelists – evangelized, since the word itself means “one who preaches the gospel”. As a servant of Christ, the evangelist is a minister of the word.
One of his responsibilities is to put the Lord’s instructions before the brothers and sisters – as we find in I Tim 4:6. “In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant (slave) of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following”.
Timothy’s first allegiance was to Jesus. He followed the Lord’s instructions and shared these with others. In that sense he is a “Man of God” (I Tim 6:11). In the Old Testament this term referred to the prophets. (I Kings 13:1-32). Prophets were messengers from God, sent to teach God’s word, and thereby calling God’s people back to faithfulness
The writings of Paul indicate a number of different kinds of preaching and activities associated with it.
- Philip the evangelist worked in Samaria and along the coastal cities to preach the gospel and win converts to the faith (Acts 8:5-13)
He travelled and preached.
- Then he located in one place and continued to work. About 20 years after Acts 8:40 we find him and his family in Caesarea up that same coast. He was working as a ‘located preacher’ with the church at Caesarea
Other evangelists did the same things that Philip did. They won new members and they planted churches. They visited churches and if they found them deficient in doctrine or practice, they stayed to turn those congregations back to God. With new church plants, they worked to organize the church, having a hand in the appointment of elders.
Paul left Titus in Crete for that very purpose.
“For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you,” Titus 1:5
Having said that, it appears that evangelists did more than just preach the gospel and plant new churches. As evangelists, Timothy and Titus were to ‘strengthen’ those already in the faith and to refute false teachings in well established congregations – even those with elders – as we see in I Tim 4:6
Included in these were
- Matters pertaining to worship (who does what) I Tim 2:1-15
- Church organization and leadership I Tim 3:1-13
- To warn of false teachings and apostasy I Tim 4:1-5
Like Timothy, Titus was also to teach that which was consistent with ‘sound doctrine’. (2:1). This included instructions for different age groups of both genders and members of various levels of society (Tit 2:2-10)
One way that they strengthened the church was by refuting error’.
So Paul wrote this to Timothy
- As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines (I Tim 1:3) Note that this was a congregation with elders.
To Titus, Paul wrote
For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain. One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith…
Replacing false doctrine with the truth…was part of a preacher’s job. We find this over and over again in the pastoral epistles – which tells us that it remains an important element of a preacher’s work.
Paul said much the same to Timothy: I Tim 4:1-6, where he sums up saying:
In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. You might also read: II Tim 2:24, 4:2 and Tit 2:1
So evangelists were engaged in edification and exhortation. They built people up by preaching the word. They stopped false doctrine by refuting it. They supported what they said by appealing to sound reasoning and to scripture. And they promoted the kind of change that God wanted.
Evangelists also had a duty to perpetuate the evangelistic work of the church. They did this at least in part by training others to carry on the work as Paul directed Timothy: “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (II Tim 2:2). Timothy was to find other like minded and perhaps like-gifted men and then provide biblical knowledge and skills training. These men in turn were to do the same.
In I Tim 4:13 Paul seems to sum up the public work of an evangelist: “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching”
Preachers ought to engage in all of these activities
- Reading scripture with others ensures that the instruction that follows is Biblical in nature. The preacher must be a student of God’s word. Timothy was diligent in his handling of scripture and consistent in its application. He was able to explain it to others in a way that made sense. That was important since an evangelist needs to convince others. This calls for logic and proper reasoning – so that the truth is known and the road to finding the truth can be travelled again and again. Part of a teacher’s job is not just to supply content but to teach others to be good students of God’s word.
- And then Timothy was to encourage. The gospel is basically good news and we need to hear it over and over. It is encouraging by nature, but is easily forgotten or drowned out by the cares and worries of life. It gets pushed to the back of our minds which is why the preacher is to make it front and centre again. An important part of the preacher’s job is build us up.
All of this is demanding work and why God has provided for preachers to be supported and able to work full-time (I Cor 9:13-14). Such support is extended to elders who also engaged in teaching and preaching (I Tim 5:18). By providing financial support for the work of elders and evangelists God indicated that these were permanent roles and functions within the church.
- As we have seen, elders were to be appointed in all of the churches
- And preachers were to find and train others to carry on their work.
We serve now as they did then. We are God’s agents on earth, and on a mission to bring other people to the one who can save them. Evangelism is necessary: essential to church life and the persistence of the church on earth. Those who lead must be fully engaged in it and set an example for others to follow
The Evangelist as a Man of God.
Given the kind of spiritual work that an evangelist is called to do, what sort of man ought he to be?
The apostle Paul wrote:
The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (II Tim 2:24-26)
You’ll notice that some of these qualifications are personal qualities and some are skill’s oriented.
The list includes:
- The ability to teach
- Not everyone is good at it.
- Let me suggest that some should avoid it.
- And as James warns in chapter 3 of his letter, no one should presume to teach without proper preparation (Jas 3:1-2)
- Kindness – this is a benevolent disposition that works for the good of others – one that always grants the benefit of the doubt.
- It allows enough time for the message to get through
- It gives people time to catch up and to catch on and to grow up if that’s what’s needed.
- Gentleness – a quality of tenderness in the handling of other’s feelings –
- As a tool in the hands of the evangelist, it finds a way to convey the truth without compromise in a way that is least offensive for the purpose of clarity and persuasion.
- And Paul says that the man of God ought not be quarrelsome.
- He must not be a person who loves a good ‘fight’ or goes looking to ‘pick a fight’. That is not his predisposition or demeanour.
In I Tim 6:3-10, the apostle Paul gives a long list of conduct to be avoided. Included in that list of things that the preacher must must not do:
- He must not advocate a different doctrine than what the apostles taught.
- He must not get stuck on controversial subjects that cause division
- He must not do anything to give rise to envy, strife, the use of abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men
- And he must not desire to become rich, but content himself with the means that God puts at his disposal
Instead Paul says: “…flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness” (Vs 11). And to these Paul added the quality of ‘purity’ in I Tim 5:22. Notice the things in which Timothy was to serve as an example to the church – (I Tim 4:12)
Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. Perhaps we are more in danger today of despising age instead of youth. But, Timothy – and by extension, all preachers are to set an example in:
- That is, what is said from the pulpit and how it is said
- To set an example in day to day conversation as well as when teaching or explaining God’s word.
- Including interaction with others, moral conduct, a healthy work ethic and overall Christian attitude.
- An example in love
- The kind of love that pursues the best interests of others.
- A love that is never conditioned upon the lovableness of others, but like the one described by Paul in I Cor 13
- An example in faith:
- Both the content of what one believes and the degree of zeal with which it is held.
- Timothy was to be a man who fully trusted God with his personal life, walking with God from day to day
- A faithful Christian fully dispatching his duties as a preacher
- An example in purity
- Blameless in moral conduct.
- Having his mind set upon spiritual values – and not upon physical or base desire.
- Living a life set apart for God.
Later again in that same chapter Paul added
Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. (vs 15-16)
Timothy was to be diligent about his duties as a preacher. They were to command his attention and he was to pursue them.
This then is the kind of man that a congregation ought to look for and the kind of work that the Lord wants him to do. The evangelist himself must aspire to these qualities in order to serve as an agent of the Lord among those who love the Lord.
Now perhaps more than ever in the recent history of the church in Canada, such men are needed. May each congregation and each body of elders do their best to raise up such men, equipping them to serve for the greater progress of the gospel.
Note: article adapted from a presentation made by the author at Sault Ste Marie.