Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why Does the Church Need Evangelists?

I have learned to love fly fishing. I had the privilege of being taught and guided by a friend who is a gifted fly fisherman. I learned a lot from him and caught some really nice fish! My friend taught me a few simple techniques about fly fishing that helped me become a better fisherman.  I continue to use these techniques which allow me to enjoy a more rewarding fishing experience.  The passion my friend has for fly fishing is contagious!  His gifts of reading the water, knowing where the fish are, and sharing simple casting tips were very helpful. A gifted person who shares their gifting educates, equips and empowers others through that gift. In turn, this then awakens and elevates the receiver's abilities and passions.

What my gifted fly fishing friend did for my fishing abilities is akin to what gifted evangelists are to do for followers of Jesus regarding evangelism. Evangelists are gifted people given to the body of Christ (the church) to equip believers to share the Good News* of the Gospel--to evangelize (Ephesians 4:11-12). The evangelist's role is to equip followers of Jesus in order that they live out the Biblical principles regarding evangelism. Evangelists should help believers understand that from the minute they come to know Jesus they have the authority to share the message of Jesus (Matthew 28:16-20), the power to impart His message (Acts 1:8), the mind of Christ to communicate His message (1 Corinthians 2:16), and are given the right words at the perfect time for each person they engage (Ephesians 6:18-20). This equipping must be ongoing  so that believers are regularly instilled with God's Truth.  This raises the confidence, excitement and passion in believers to engage people who need Jesus.

The word evangelist is only mentioned three times in the New Testament (Acts 21:8, Ephesians 4:11 & 2 Timothy 4:5). The key passage related to the evangelist is found in Ephesians 4:8, 11-12.

8 Therefore it says, "WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.”…11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ…” (NASB)

The first thing to notice about the evangelist (and each of the five gifts mentioned above) is that he/she is a "gift" given to the church. In other words these five gifts are gifted to people who have matured in faith and are able to instill in others the confidence and abilities in their area of gifting**. The gifts listed in Ephesians 4:8,11-12 are not to be confused with the spiritual gifts found in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 or 1 Peter 4:10. Those spiritual gifts are given to individuals, as the Spirit wills, for the common good of the people in order to encourage them in their faith (1 Corinthians 12:7,11). The five-fold "gifts to men" have a different purpose than spiritual gifts which is to equip so believers can do the work of service. 

The second thing to notice about the evangelist is that as a gifted person to the church, he/she is to equip the saints (believers) to do the work of ministry. The evangelist's equipping responsibility is therefore to multiply communicators of the good news (to equip people for evangelism). A simple google search on “the gift of the evangelist” reveals that most believe the evangelist's purpose is to bring the lost sheep into the fold of God. Much is made of the evangelist being able to articulate the message of "Jesus saves" in clear, concise, creative and comprehensive ways in order to lead people to place their faith in Jesus. Certainly evangelists have this passion at their core. However, Paul’s clear teaching in Ephesians 4 is that this gifted person is given for the church in order that more believers are equipped to share the good news of Jesus freely and fearlessly.  

Ephesians 4:9 & 10 add much to this concept of the five-fold gifts and to our discussion surrounding the gift of the evangelist.

“9 (Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) (NASB)

Notice that Jesus ascended on high…and He gave gifts to men (vs.8) “…so that He might fill all things” (vs. 11). Paul then explains that these apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers are given to the church to equip the church to do the work of ministry. When these  gifted individuals are fulfilling their roles of equipping people to do the work of ministry, God will "fill all things.” God wants His church to saturate culture with the good news and good life of the Kingdom of God. The primary role of the evangelist is to ready the mass of believers to get the message and life of Jesus to the world so He might fill all things! The more believers who are equipped, educated and empowered to share the message of Jesus, the more receivers of The Good News there will be.

I believe this is why Paul instructed Timothy to do the work of the evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5). Near the end of his life, Paul wanted more people to be freed to share the gospel powerfully, effectively and fearlessly. When people understand and live out the truth that they have the authority, power, mind and words of Christ to be powerful witnesses to the greatness of God, every nook and cranny of our culture will be filled with people who love Christ. That is the work of the Evangelist.

So I urge you to find an evangelist who understands this concept and have them guide you to an understanding of all that the Scriptures teach us regarding our God-given, supernatural ability to share the good news. As you follow Jesus and learn from His gifted evangelists, you will indeed become a “fisher of men” (Matthew 4:19)!

Is this a new concept of the evangelist for you? Does it make sense to you? How can you see this view of the evangelist being of value and benefit for local bodies and the universal body of Christ? I would love to hear your thoughts!

* The Good News of Jesus is much more than telling people that God loves them, that they are sinners, that Jesus took their sin upon Himself to pay for it and rose from the dead.  It is more than encouraging them to pray a prayer to receive this gift of grace. The Good News of Jesus is also the reversal and renewal of all things - the Kingdom of God - His love, leadership, management, care and the order of things. Jesus is King and all things in our lives are to be submitted to Him so that we will experience the abundant life He promised to those who follow Him.

** For a full interaction with the Five Fold Gifts of Ephesians 4 read Neil Cole, Primal Fire: Reigniting the Church with the Five Gifts of Jesus, Bonita Springs Florida: Tyndale Momentum, 2014.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Are Evangelists for Sinners or Saints?

The answer I receive to that question is overwhelmingly that the evangelists are for sinners (those who are not yet following Jesus). It seems our concept of an evangelist is formed more by powerful names and personalities than by what the Bible teaches. The mention of Billy Graham, Aimee Semple McPherson, Luis Palau, D.L. Moody, Greg Laurie and many others elicit images of powerful orators who preach the Gospel of Jesus to crowds. There is no doubt that the people mentioned above are evangelists, but as evangelists is their primary biblical role meant to preach the gospel to sinners?

Every believer is commissioned by Jesus (Matthew 4:19, John 20:21) and empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8) to tell the good news as a way of life. In this way evangelists are to be preaching the gospel to sinners. However, according to Scripture, the main charge of the evangelist to proclaim, teach and equip the saints--not sinners. Many ask the question, "Why do saints need an evangelist? After all, they have already been “evangelized?” That is a good question. Before we take a look at the answer, let’s take a look where we get the teaching that evangelists are primarily for saints, not sinners.

“11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ…” Ephesians 4:11-12 (NASB) (emphasis mine)

In these verses we learn that God gave some as evangelists for the equipping (building up) of the saints (the body of Christ) so the saints will be doing the "work of service." In the case of the evangelist they are to equip the believers to be living and sharing the Good News of Jesus. It is clear that the main role of the evangelist is for the saints, not sinners.

So, back to the question of why saints (the church) need evangelists. There are at least three clear reasons. 

Primarily they are to equip believers to be freely and fearlessly sharing the Good News with their lives (Ephesians 4:11-16). 

Secondly all believers need to be reminded of our desperate need for Christ at all times. The Gospel needs to be preached to ourselves so we don’t forget. It is easy in every generation to forget all that Christ has done for us. Distractions, apathy and trials all seek to steal our gaze away from Christ. When we remember how indebted we are to Jesus, we often end up looking for opportunities to share the Good News out of our gratefulness. 

Thirdly, a constant reminding of the truths of Scripture that guarantee freedom, power, authority and even the right words to speak to others is vital and essential for all believers. Most every believer needs continual, strong encouragement to be listening to Jesus and sharing His truth. This third reason is often overlooked but is of paramount importance in the life of any community of believers.

In recent history, saints have looked to evangelists to do the “heavy lifting” to proclaim the Kingdom of God, relieving them from the responsibility that is fully their privilege (2 Corinthians 5:14-21). In my opinion, relying on evangelists to be the proclaimers has served to weaken the church at large and has caused the sowing of seeds to be greatly diminished. When evangelists are doing their main role of equipping saints to be confident with the Good News of Christ, more seeds will be sown which means there will be more communicators of this Good News (2 Corinthians 3:4-6).

My next post will explore more deeply why the church needs evangelists.

I would to hear your thoughts about what I’ve written. Is seeing the evangelist’s main role for saints, not sinners new to you? How could you see this understanding affect the church you are part of and the church at large?