Do the Work of an Evangelist

From Faith Pulpitused with permission.

Every Christian understands the importance of evangelism, but sadly it is on the decline in many churches. And the scarcity of evangelism has led to the decline and closure of many churches. In this issue of the Faith Pulpit Dr. Daniel Brown, faculty member of Faith Baptist Theological Seminary, challenges pastors to follow the Biblical command to “do the work of an evangelist.” If pastors will carry out their responsibility, more people will have the opportunity to hear the gospel and our churches will thrive again.

Many churches do not have an active evangelism program. This lack of evangelism has led to two negative consequences: 1) fewer people have the opportunity to hear the gospel message and receive the Lord, and 2) the lack of new believers leads to the decline of our churches.

Churches in America die at an alarming rate. Some 4,000 churches close every year, and the United States has one-third fewer churches than in 1950. Further, 80% of American churches are either stagnant or in decline.1 Anyone driving through New England can testify to the myriad of old, stately churches that are now small stores of one sort or another.

The simple reality is that churches are not seeing enough people come to Christ to even replace an ever-aging Christian population. Every believer is a first generation Christian in that God does not have grandchildren, only children (John 1:12). Church ministries must strive toward effective evangelism in order to replace members and grow or run the risk of dying. All one needs to do is to visit almost any American church to see an aging population that is perhaps only a few funerals from closing. Unfortunately, 95% of believers have never led anyone to the Lord.2 This failure in evangelism demonstrates a breakdown in the foundational need of believers to participate in the process of bringing people to Christ.

While many arguments could be made as to the cause for this decline, such as poor preaching, legalism, apostasy, the problems are neither singular nor simple. Undoubtedly poorly planned and executed evangelism finds itself at the root of the problem.

Errors in Evangelism

Errors in evangelism abound whether in the message or the method. Some make the gospel too simple (easy believism) asking sinners to “just repeat this prayer” that produces no heart change. Some make the gospel too complex (Lordship salvation) adding complexities to believing faith beyond what the simple gospel requires.

Some might use no methods, thinking only a lifestyle is sufficient. Others use high pressure tactics, forgetting it is God who saves, not man. Some find fulfillment of their evangelistic responsibility in sending missionaries as if people over “there” are more important than people “here.” Somehow a large missions budget for the “uttermost parts of the world” justifies neglecting evangelism in “Jerusalem.”

Some believe evangelism is the pastor’s job, similar to bringing in a “specialist” to solve a problem. Others wait for those with the spiritual gift of evangelism to perform what only the “gifted” can do well. Add in apathy, a large dose of the fear of man, distortions from doctrinal idiosyncrasies, distractions from division, defeats from sin in the camp, and leadership by a Diotrophes and you have a perfect storm resulting in no evangelistic fervor. Any time a problem surfaces in a church, the first ministry to lose attention typically is whatever evangelism outreach exists.

A New Testament Solution

So how does the church find its will to evangelize? Not surprisingly, everything rises or falls with leadership. The New Testament specifically addresses the pastor’s role in leading the evangelistic charge of the church when Paul instructed Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). The pastor is to provide leadership to the church in its evangelistic ministry. What remains is to define  what “evangelist” means and how that looks in the church.

The term “evangelist” is found only three times in the New Testament.

 Acts 21:8—In this text the term describes Philip, the same man chosen to serve the church in Acts 6 and who preached the gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. Perhaps his encounter with the Ethiopian initiated his ministry as an evangelist. The title “evangelist” certainly communicates the gospel activity of Philip whether or not it carried all the significance of the church office found later in Ephesians 4:11.

Ephesians 4:11—Here the term “evangelist” occurs third in the list of church leaders. I understand this term to be essentially the equivalent of the modern missionary or even more accurately, a church planter.3  The title “evangelist” in this passage, along with the other three (or four) leadership positions mentioned, designates the man who is the gift given by Christ to the church rather than a spiritual endowment given to an individual (as in 1 Corinthians 12). The term “evangelist” refers to the emphasis this man should place on a gospel-centered ministry. The passage contrasts the emphasis between a ministry that is primarily gospel centered (evangelist) and a ministry that is primarily discipleship centered (pastor/teacher).

2 Timothy 4:5—The third passage using the term “evangelist” instructed Pastor Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist.” On one hand, the instruction clearly teaches that gospel ministry must be part of the pastor’s regular, planned activity. On the other hand, the instruction implies how easy it might be for a pastor to neglect this ministry because of a schedule filled with too many conflicting priorities.

Evangelistic Preaching & Practice

A pastor’s leadership in evangelism functions with two primary thrusts. The first thrust is the ministry of the Word in both preaching and teaching (2 Tim. 4:2). Evangelism must be a constant theme in preaching. At every turn the preacher must ask how any given passage connects to the gospel. We must preach Christ crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).

Evangelistic preaching seems to be a lost art today. Gospel preaching encompasses not only communicating the gospel itself and training God’s people to use the Scriptures in their witnessing, but it also, and perhaps most importantly, involves communicating a passion for the lost through the Word.

Certainly evangelistic preaching includes preaching explicit gospel sermons. Some circumstances lend themselves readily to this kind of sermon such as a funeral, but too few preachers regularly preach gospel messages to their own congregations. Furthermore, preachers need to understand how passages not explicitly centered on the gospel touch the gospel. This procedure is not reading into a passage but rather connecting the passage to the greater context of the Bible.

We pastors should intentionally teach our people how to use the Bible evangelistically. Let your people know that if they invite an unsaved visitor to the services, the gospel will be clearly presented. A pastor ought to be able to adjust his sermon to include a greater emphasis upon the gospel if he knows unexpected, unsaved people are present. I was recently a guest preacher in a church that was between pastors. I was completely taken off guard by a huge number of visitors in the evening service, so I changed the entire emphasis of the sermon to a gospel-centered message from the same passage that I originally planned to be a challenge for Christian growth. To say that the sermon I prepared was the sermon I had to preach would have been a disservice to the unsaved there that night.

The well-known story is told of D. L. Moody’s unfinished sermon. One Sunday he preached a message with the intention of giving the gospel the next Sunday as he concluded the sermon. What he didn’t know was that week the infamous Chicago fire struck. The fire burned the church, the sermon was never finished, and Moody always regretted not giving the gospel when he had the opportunity.

The second thrust of a pastor’s evangelistic emphasis is his example to the flock (1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 5:3). The pastor must be a practitioner of evangelism. He must have a passion for the lost souls of people.

He must constantly have evangelism on his agenda and priority list. The church will never rise in its passion for the lost above the passion demonstrated by the pastor. For this reason I determined early in my pastoral ministry never to leave the home of a church visitor without giving a clear gospel challenge.4

A Busy Week

Pastors can easily lose sight of the need to be evangelists. A pastor’s life is a weekly grind. Student’s think final exams are difficult at the end of a semester, but a faithful pastor can feel like he faces final exams every week. The pressure to be prepared each Sunday with multiple original sermons that inspire, challenge, and convict can overwhelm even an experienced pastor. Add to a pastor’s preaching/teaching duties administration, deacons’ meetings, counseling, Bible studies, and hospital calls, which can all easily come before evangelism. Trying to fit evangelism into “down” time means evangelism rarely happens.

The solution must be that we pastors take Paul’s instruction to heart and consistently place evangelism high on our priority list. We need to be aggressive in seeking gospel opportunities. We should set personal goals for monthly and yearly calls, gospel presentations, and even decisions. Such goals should be reachable, measurable, and aggressive. We need to force ourselves out of our comfort zone. We do this not to boast but to motivate and keep the evangelist mandate ever before our eyes. We also need to pray for open doors for the gospel (Col. 4:3-6, esp. v. 3). We need to ask the Lord to bring unsaved people across our path and then be ready with the gospel.

Paul’s instruction is not about possessing a certain spiritual gift set. I have met only a handful of people in my lifetime who seem extraordinarily capable with the gospel, and interestingly most of them were not pastors. A pastor and church are truly blessed if they have one such person in the membership. Paul’s command, however, is not about our ability; rather it’s about our responsibility. Paul’s instruction is not given to members of the congregation. His instruction directly relates to leadership in the church and setting the pace for others to follow.

Pastor, take seriously your responsibility to “do the work of an evangelist.” Read more, study more, pray more, teach more, and preach more on evangelism. Everything in your church rises or falls on leadership. Lead your church in its pursuit of evangelism, always remembering that it is God who gives the increase.

Notes

1 http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2013/10/26/why-we-are-losing… accessed 1/7/15.

2 This statistic is commonly used though unconfirmed. I have no reason to dispute it.

3 I understand the modern use of “evangelist” to be essentially an itinerant missionary.

4 Unless providentially hindered.

Daniel Brown bio


Daniel Brown serves on the faculty of Faith Baptist Bible College and Seminary where he provides instruction in pastoral ministry and Bible. He has served in a variety of pastoral roles in addition to teaching on the faculty at Denver Baptist Bible College and Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Brown holds the MDiv and ThM from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and the DMin from Westminster Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Mary Jo, have been blessed with four daughters.

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Larry Nelson's picture

 

In his book Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism, Douglas McLachlan's third chapter is entirely about the subject of restoring evangelistic fervor in the Church.  In its introduction, he writes:

"In this chapter I want to bring into focus two monumental necessities [emphasis his] which must be fulfilled, if we ever intend to honor the evangelistic mandate which Jesus left us: recognizing the stifling factors, and rekindling the Spirit's fire."

Under the header "Recognizing the Stifling Factors" he writes:

"What is it that creates apathy and dissipates urgency?  I believe there are at least three factors which account for the suffocation of evangelism in much of contemporary Christianity."

The first one he discusses is "Pervasive Materialism".  There's a lot of material to cover there, but its not my focus in this comment, so I'll let that one pass.

The second one he discusses is "Excessive Calvinism."  Again, there's a lot of material to cover there, but its not my focus in this comment, so I'll also let that one pass.

The third one is discusses is "Oppressive Fundamentalism."  It is in this section that much of what he discusses crosses paths with the article above, so let me provide several key excerpts:

"There has developed within certain segments of Fundamentalism a hostility to change, no matter its form or purpose.  This kind of intransigence has grown out of a tendency to make non-absolutes into absolutes or to impute divine authority ot human traditions.

Let me make clear that we are not advocating a ruthless abandonment of tried and true methods, but rather an openness to new and creative approaches to evangelism, so long as they fit within Biblical boundaries." 

After a paragraph defending the "concept of tradition," he continues:

"However, that which has been most hurtful to urgent and effective evangelism within Fundamentalism is not tradition but traditionalism."

McLachlan next provides this quotation from another author:

"Tradition [emphasis in the text] is the living faith of godly progenitors, passed on from generation to generation.  Traditionalism is the dead faith of living Christian leaders attempting to hold onto power."

McLachlan writes:

"Do we dare face ourselves squarely?  Some of us within Fundamentalism are practicing traditionalism In our insistence that "my way is the only way," we have begun to shut down authentic ministry.  Unwittingly, we have embraced a posture of resistance to the will and Word of God."

Later he continues:

"What this means is that we need to begin not only living in the modern world but actually ministering to it.  Few of us are driving Model-T's to church, but some of us are antiquated in our methodology.....As we have said earlier, it is possible to make adaptation in our methodology to the culture without experiencing contamination by our cultureAnd from my perspective, it is not only possible, it is absolutely essentialWithout it we will become ineffective in evangelism and incapable of retaining the next generation of thinking pastors within the fundamentalist orbit."

--------------------------------------------------

Wow, have his underlined conclusions above from 24 years ago been vindicated today. 

Regarding the former, we have articles such as the one above (from a fundamentalist) that wonder aloud what has befallen evangelism (without even touching on or acknowledging the issues that McLachlan mentioned 24 years ago).

Regarding the latter, we have the frequent phenomenon of head-scratching among older fundamentalists about why Dever/Mohler/MacArthur/Piper et al. have had such a broad appeal among the younger guys, the findings of the Young Fundmentalists survey [  http://sharperiron.org/downloads/2005%20Young%20Fundamentalists%20Survey%20Results.pdf ] from a few years ago, and recent things such as the FBFI's "Convergence" magazine issue that assailed any within fundamentalism who might show any inkling of leaning towards conservative evangelicalism.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Very well put.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Dave White's picture

Fundamentalism largely is "come to us" evangelism in the United States. We are "go to them" in the sense of foreign missions.

The features of "come to us":

  • Isolation of membership out of the community via over-programming and frenetic calendaring (to serve programs)
  • Children's programs galore: BB camps, soccer camps, VBS, Awana et cetera
  • Children are "low hanging fruit" ... EZ for fundamentalist adults to evangelize because kids don't ask tough questions and can succumb to adult pressure to "make a decision"
  • Emphasis on inviting people to church
  • Instead of "go" .. "believe" ... "belong" ... "grow" it's
  • "Come" ... "belong" ... "believe" and "grow"
  • Things that tend to isolate:
    • Hectic calendars with little time to interact with lost people
    • An over-emphasis on separation from the world that becomes isolation from lost people and their practices that offend us
    • The CDS movement which, while has many positives, has isolated children
    • The Bible college movement, which also has many positives, has isolated young adults from lost people (on the secular campuses) - a guy on S/I wrote an article about this (Larry?)
TylerR's picture

Editor

One important misconception which may hinder our analysis of evangelism is that of roles. Our role is to simply proclaim the Gospel and urge people to repent and believe. If we do that, our role is finished. I've explained it this way:

  • God chooses and elects
  • The Son provided atonement and propitiation
  • The Spirit calls and sanctifies
  • We preach the message
  • The person comes to Christ

If we understand our real role, it can actually be very liberating. I''m systematically working my through evangelizing all my co-workers. Not one of them has come to Christ. But, I've had long and substantive discussions with four of them in the past nine months. I've clearly explained the Gospel, and even had some apologetic dialogue with my boss, who doesn't really care about God one way or the other. I could tell it got him thinking. What more can I do? I know my role is to be a faithful witness and testimony. I have to rely on the Spirit to call God's own to His Son.

The author wrote:

The solution must be that we pastors take Paul’s instruction to heart and consistently place evangelism high on our priority list. We need to be aggressive in seeking gospel opportunities. We should set personal goals for monthly and yearly calls, gospel presentations, and even decisions. Such goals should be reachable, measurable, and aggressive. We need to force ourselves out of our comfort zone. We do this not to boast but to motivate and keep the evangelist mandate ever before our eyes. We also need to pray for open doors for the gospel (Col. 4:3-6, esp. v. 3). We need to ask the Lord to bring unsaved people across our path and then be ready with the gospel.

I agree with this. In my case, it took years of determined effort to get to the point where I simply don't care about people's sensibilities when I preach the Gospel to people, individually. Not that I'm rude. I mean, I'm not hindered by fear or hesitation when I explain the Gospel in personal encounters. That took a long time. It didn't happen without effort. I still don't believe I'm a very good evangelist. But, I try. Some Christians never do.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

JBL's picture

One other aspect of churches not allowing flexibility or adaptation in evangelism methods is that the evangelists that those ministries train are very pigeonholed into a very narrowly defined skill set.  

Vocational evangelism in reactionary fundamentalist circles tends to be conducted in environments that are coordinated to be very gospel friendly (saturated with believers) and have limited interactive dialogue with unbelievers (preaching).  The skill sets required to be successful in those circumstances revolve more around homiletics and reinforcing jargon and methodology.  These skills do not help as much when the evangelist is transferred to areas that have no gospel saturation and are more gospel hostile (e.g. present day America or the world during Paul's ministries).

Most of what we learn of Paul is in his own writings to believers, but the glimmers of his ministry to the unsaved that we glean from Luke's writings show a man who was skillful in understanding and confronting different world views, adept at critical thinking and debate, and alert to use any opportunity as a moment to present the gospel.  My belief is that successful evangelism needs the entire package, and reactionary fundamentalism has indeed been slow to make the course adjustment to adequately prepare workers for this ministry.

John B. Lee

TylerR's picture

Editor

My son is homeschooled. My wife just told me that today, in his ACE pace, he read that was was not supposed to have non-Christian friends. My son laughed. This is the kind of isolationism that is dangerous. He asked how he was supposed to ever share the Gospel with anybody.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

josh p's picture

Larry, thanks for posting the survey. I had not heard about that before. Pretty interesting. It would also be interesting to see the results if it were taken today. 

Larry Nelson's picture

josh p wrote:

Larry, thanks for posting the survey. I had not heard about that before. Pretty interesting. It would also be interesting to see the results if it were taken today. 

 

Yes, some of the results were considered surprising when it came our in 2005.  It was a very big deal at the time---it generated a lot of discussion & analysis (including here on SI).

josh p's picture

I will have to search the archives some time. I think I joined SI around 2010 so I guess all the discussion had died out by then.

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