More than a few times in recent months I have been asked about this particular question. My daughter asked me about it because of a teacher she heard say it in a classroom. Several preacher boys asked about it because they desire to become evangelists and have become confused by the variety of opinions being offered. Several evangelists have contacted me because they were told that they are not legitimate in what they are doing. I have had some pastors ask me about it and at least one missionary. So, are evangelists supposed to be missionaries? Here is a Biblical answer, a somewhat practical answer, and a challenge.
Biblically speaking, Ephesians 4 speaks of five gifts that have been given to the church: “And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.” The verses that immediately follow list the reasons they were given: “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,” and so forth. Many would believe that apostles and prophets have ceased as a gift to the churches (usually based on Ephesians 2:20ff where they are referred to as foundational gifts). If that is true, then all of us who are called to ministry would have to be either an evangelist, a pastor, or a teacher. A pastor is one who oversees a local congregation and who “feeds” them, takes oversight of them, and serves as an example to them. A teacher is one who instructs from the Word of God. What is the gift of the evangelist?
The word evangelist can be understood in several ways. First, we can understand simply by defining the word. The evangelist is “one who preaches or heralds good news.” In its verb form, it means “to announce good news, to preach the gospel,” and is used to describe the preaching and ministry of Jesus (Luke 4:18), of the disciples (Acts 5:42), of the scattered believers in the early church (Acts 8:4), of Philip (Acts 8:12), of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:35), and of many others as well. By Scripturally defining the word, the gift of the evangelist emphasizes preaching the gospel in a wide variety of places. Second, we can understand the evangelist simply by the job description given in Ephesians 4. By his job description, he has the same job as the pastor and the teacher. He is to serve the local church and use his gift toward accomplishing the same things that the pastor and the teacher are to accomplish. I say this gently, but nowhere does this word imply that the evangelist should only be a “church planter” or should only go to a foreign mission field. Evangelists who travel itinerantly and who help local congregations and who preach the gospel in a variety of places would have strong Biblical reasons and examples for doing so.
The evangelist can also be understood practically. Many of our Bibles have maps at the back that usually include one called “Paul’s Missionary Journeys.” A brief examination of the map indicates that Paul’s work of evangelizing would look a lot more like that of a “traditional” evangelist than that of a “modern-day” missionary. That he traveled extensively preaching the gospel and helping churches is undeniable. In fact, it appears that in his preaching and ministry he covered much of the known world of his day! Couldn’t we also examine the work of a plethora of itinerant evangelists? Any evaluation of history would be replete with illustration after illustration of the “traditional” evangelist (D.L. Moody, George Whitefield, Peter Cartwright, and John R. Rice for instance). So evangelists who travel itinerantly and who help local congregations and who preach the gospel in a variety of places would not only have strong Biblical reasons for doing so, but would also have strong practical reasons for doing so.
Consider these concluding challenges:
1. Don’t downplay and discourage a gift and a calling that has had wonderful successes for many centuries. Evangelists have been used of God to spark great revivals of Christianity, to plant churches, to write gospel literature, to revive dying churches, to see multitudes saved, to start Bible colleges, to impact foreign fields, and so forth. Missionary-evangelists and pastors have planted great churches; have organized and lead evangelistic and revival campaigns that has impacted thousands of lives, have started Bible colleges, schools, and orphanages; and have helped entire people groups know of our Savior!. God bless everyone of them for doing the work of the evangelist.
2. Teach missionaries to be evangelists. Many missionaries are sent to a foreign field to plant churches and to pastor them. The key word in that sentence is pastor! Let’s train our students to be evangelists. Lets send them to preach the gospel everywhere. Of course, we would need men to teach converts how to pastor the churches that would result. Therefore, we would need to send other missionaries to be “teachers.” We would need evangelists to return to these churches and to strengthen them and teach them and perhaps even correct and direct them. Isn’t that the point of the great commission? To go into all the world and preach the gospel? To go and teach all nations and baptize the converts and then teach them the truths of Christianity? My point is that instead of teaching “evangelists” to stop their work and become pastoral “missionaries,” perhaps we should begin teaching our “missionaries” to become “evangelists.”
3. Consider that all of this debate is very likely a sinister attack from our enemy. This is not a time to discourage, but rather a time to encourage our generation to reach as many people as possible with the gospel and subsequently teach all the things that Jesus commanded us. This is a time to pray fervently that our churches will experience a genuine reviving. This is a time to pray fervently that more gospel-preachers will be sent forth into the harvest fields. This is a time to stop postulating that evangelists are only supposed to be missionaries. Would to God that we had many, many more of both!
Thanks for reading.