WHERE HAVE ALL THE EVANGELISTS GONE?

EDITORS NOTE: The first half of this article was published in the June CONNECT. If you’ve read the first installment of Andy’s article, jump down to the image for the conclusion. 

Where have all the evangelists gone? That is a question I have asked myself since the early days of my Christian experience. I didn’t grow up in church. I never met an outspoken Christian, heard the gospel, got invited to church, or given any kind of religious material. But that all changed in the summer of 1977. I was 18 years of age when I first heard the good news that Jesus loved me and came to die for my sins.

College interns traveled fourteen miles from a Baptist church on Friday and Saturday nights as part of a student ministries initiative. Their only goal was be real and to share the gospel. By the end of two years, more than twenty three of my friends came to know the Lord, many of which went on to become pastors, missionaries, and church leaders. I am forever grateful for those “evangelists.“

Sadly, evangelism has fallen on hard times, especially within the local church. Ed Stetzer, a leading evangelical missiologist, asserted that many do not share their faith because it is simply not their gift. Others have bought into the notion of “lifestyle evangelism” which advocates merely “living out” one’s faith to the exclusion of the proclamation of it. Perhaps the more honest reason we don’t do evangelism is fear – fear of what others might think, fear of rejection, fear of what it will cost or fear of the damage it may cause. One thing seems certain, Satan has successfully “shut” the mouths of many of God’s people and the lack of emphasis on evangelism is crippling the church big time. 

Nowadays, talk of evangelism is a lot like talk about dieting – it’s usually at the very bottom of most people’s “favorite-things-to-do” list. Like dieting, many of us know we need to do it and the evidence to that need seems quite obvious, but the message still falls on deaf ears.

At the heart of evangelism is bearing witness to the impact the “good news” of Jesus has had upon our lives and the proclamation of what His finished work accomplished. Witnesses are what we are more than what we do. Like those who witness an accident, we speak of what we have seen and heard. Presumably we are witnesses to the profound work of Jesus in our lives. Now, we must speak about it.

Truthfully, many American believers are not witnessing. Even pastors and vocational church leaders fail in this regard. Evangelism seems optional to pastors and parishioners these days. Pastors are busy preaching and teaching, “tending the sheep,” staffing programs, and heading up projects. Nevertheless, of all the charges given to young pastors by the Apostle Paul, one that is crystal clear is the pastor’s calling to “do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim.4:5).” If pastors would commit to do evangelism and help others see it in action regularly and systematically, it would certainly help everyone else.

There’s more to it, though. We need to recover this – there really are some who are evangelists. When outlining the critical role of leadership in the church the Apostle Paul highlighted the role of the God-called, spiritually-gifted evangelist in the local church, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph.4:11-12, emphasis mine).

Like pastors, evangelists were given as gifts to the church to equip others in the church to do evangelism. That person, committed to that function, would “build-up” the body of Christ (i.e. the local church). And yet, in my experience, having worked in or been part of many churches, none had an identified evangelist, either on staff or volunteer.

Truth be told, and to our shame, evangelism as Paul mentions the office here in Ephesians 4 has hardly ever been talked about in my experience. Not having an evangelist among us to help the local body has probably contributed to our organized attempts being rigid, forced, or relegated to the strangest people in the church.

This must change.

Since evangelism is not regular talk in our churches or even among some pastors, it’s worth reviewing some of what we know that underlies the evangelism.

  1. Salvation is of the Lord (Psalm 3:8). Salvation is glorious and should be celebrated. That means God is at the heart of whatever it means to be “saved!”
  2. The essential message of The New Testament is the gospel, or “good news,” as found in the Word of God. It is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:15-16; Matthew 28:18-20). That means salvation is only accomplished by the power of God by means of the proclamation of that “Good News (Romans 10:9-13).
  3. Following the Lord’s example, believers are responsible to take initiative in evangelism (Acts 1:8, John 20:21). That means it is not just the pastors job, but all believers. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.
  4. Prayer is essential to evangelism so that “doors” of opportunity stay open (Col. 4:3), that the gospel message spread (2 Thess.3:1), and that people would be saved (1 Tim.2:1-4; Acts 16:14).
  5. As leaders emerge, gain experience, and develop in their role, they go on to teach, train, and exemplify the proclamation of the gospel (Eph.4:11-14; 2 Tim. 4:5; Acts 21:8).

As a local church pastor, responsible for leadership, I would like to suggest: 

  1. We develop a theology of outreach.
  2. We reintroduce the Evangelist to the local church and welcome evangelists to leadership.
  3. We identify, encourage, and resource would-be evangelists in our ranks.
  4. We free up a pastor’s time to “do evangelism.”
  5. We think strategically and practically as to how to equip our people to do evangelism by “making the most of every opportunity” (Eph.5:16).
  6. We intentionally embed ourselves into the communities in which we live so we can witness in every place to His glory.

Jesus said, “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest (John 4:35).” This is a command not a suggestion! Jesus makes clear that the problem is with the perception of what is seen. Like the children of Israel in Nehemiah’s day when viewing the city walls. Some saw only “rubbish” (KJV) or how bad things were. 

Nehemiah saw opportunity. 

I live seven minutes from our church. On any given Sunday I pass a municipal park and see large groups of people participating in organized sporting events. A Guatemalan league is playing soccer on one field, a Mexican league on another. Behind them a large group of men from India play Cricket. Interestingly, none of them mix or even acknowledge the other group’s existence. Sometimes I stop just to watch. Yet I wonder what Jesus would be thinking or, better, doing if He were to pass by: Obstacle? Opportunity? What do you see in your community?

In Luke 15 Jesus tells three parables and directs an indictment on the religious professionals of his day. In all three stories there is something lost – a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. Then there is a great search for the item lost…until it was found. With the finding there was great joy – and that joy was to be shared by all. Notice, each parable in Luke 15 builds upon the other. Why?  This had to be in hopes that the religious leaders, “respectable Jews,” would not only recognize God’s great love for the lost, but they would see and experience the joy God experiences with His people when what is lost is found. The joy grows!

Speaking of the lost son in Luke 15:32, the Father “had to celebrate and be glad” (NIV) because the son who was lost was “alive again.” That is us at salvation! God is thrilled! Excited! Happy and ready to celebrate! We absolutely do not want to repeat the attitude of the older son. His resentment and anger boiled over at his father’s joy. He missed the celebration because he couldn’t embrace the joy of his brother’s return. So too, many misguided Christians miss the joy of God because they choose a path of rules and rigid self-sustained effort over God’s heart for restored sinners. God help us!    

A closing word to the Evangelists:

Hide no more. Find your voice and talk with the leadership of your church. Place yourself under their authority and care. Commit to working with them. Develop your gift and help others learn how to do it with you. Graciously take your place at the table and be the “gift” you are to the local church. Be proactive in equipping the saints to “do the work of the ministry.” Be generous in your attempts to change the culture within the church. And be patient because there may be legitimate reasons why the leadership is skeptical about evangelism. Relevant history may be influencing their decisions. And whatever you do, don’t give up! Rather, “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, because we know our labor is NOT in vain in the Lord!” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

All to Him,

Andrew Straubel

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