A number of issues need to be dealt with to understand the biblical role of an evangelist. Three Greek words undergird the concept of evangelism: (1) euaggelion,*—gospel, (2) euaggelizo—I preach, (3) euaggelistes—evangelist. These words are derived from the word aggelos—angel, messenger, or one who makes an announcement.
Euaggelion is the gospel. The English word gospel comes from the word godspell—a story about a god. It means good news or a good message. Good messages are considered to be gifts from the gods. The eu prefix means good, which along with aggelos means a good message or the good news. The gospel is good news. The content of the message is God's universal victory—that His victory and His rule have begun. With the coming of Christ the announcement is: "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (Matthew 4:17; John 1:29).
The messengers spread out to carry this message, this great news. Salvation has come to the world. The message announces the Kingdom but also inaugurates the Kingdom. The message from God is a divine act that inaugurates, starts, precipitates, and catalyzes spiritual activity. It is not just a memo that comes through the office, but it is a message that has power in it. In the very preaching act, spiritual activity takes place. People are never left neutral. The message gives them an opportunity to accept or reject, to cooperate with God or rebel.
Euaggelizo simply means I preach, I proclaim, or I announce. Euaggelistes, the evangelist, is the messenger or the preacher—one who proclaims the good news or the message.
In the New Testament there are only three occurrences of evangelist. In Acts 21:8 Philip is called an evangelist. In Ephesians 4:11, the gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher are given to the Church. These gifts are persons. In 2 Timothy 4:5, Timothy is told to do the work of an evangelist. That's all we have in the New Testament to tell us about the work of the evangelist. We know something of the good news and the message, but we know very little about the messenger.
Function of the Evangelist
By definition, the evangelist is a preacher or a proclaimer. However, by looking at the example of Philip, we gain some additional insight into the function and work of this ministry. In Acts 21:8, Philip is called an evangelist. But we see in 6:5 that he is also a deacon. He is called to the service ministry the apostles established so that they might be liberated to give their attention to the Word.
In chapter 8, Philip went down to Samaria, preached to sinners, made believers, and experienced miracles. By reading through these verses, we can develop a better understanding of what the evangelist does. In 8:12, he preached to sinners, won converts, and baptized men and women. In 8:26, he met the Ethiopian, witnessed to him, and baptized him. From these verses a picture emerges. The evangelist preaches to sinners—either as a group or individually—presents Christ, leads people to Christ, experiences miracles in his or her ministry, and baptizes people in water.
The second example is Timothy. Paul tells Timothy to do the work of an evangelist. But we are not given a description of the work (see 2 Timothy 4:5). It is reasonable to assume it is consonant with what we see with Philip.
Charles Finney, an evangelist, said that revival has two functions: to win the lost and to revive the church. Both of these are ministries of the evangelist, and, historically, evangelists have done both.
What emerges from this are the functions of the evangelist. The evangelist preaches the good news to sinners, makes converts, and baptizes them. That is the primary role of the evangelist. However, there seems to be another role, which is not only preaching salvation to sinners but also preaching revival to believers.
Part of the problem we have in the church is being able to come to grips with the concept of revival and the role of the revivalist. We try to get some sense of what happens, who does what, which gifts operate, and how the Spirit works in these various ministries.
Fivefold Ministry Gifts
A proper understanding of the various ministry gifts is one of the problems we face. In traditional Pentecostal circles, part of the reticence toward the fivefold ministry gifts are issues based on the Latter Rain revival. In 1948 a prophecy was given in Canada that God would restore to the Church all the ministry gifts, including the restoration of the offices of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher. This restoration idea spawned the Latter Rain movement. The Latter Rain movement swung out into a healing movement featuring A.A. Allen, William Branham, Jack Coe, Oral Roberts, T.L. Osborn, Gordon Lindsey, and many others. It was sometimes characterized by excess, fanaticism, and scandal, as the lives of Branham, Allen, and others demonstrate.
But the restoration movement did not die. As a matter of fact, it continued in independent Pentecostal churches and was the undergirding of the charismatic movement that started in the 60s. In some places restoration churches are doing a tremendous job. In other places they have some offbeat doctrines such as kingdom now and dominion theology.
Because of these dynamics, talk among traditional Pentecostals about the restoration of the gifts often gets a negative response. The fivefold ministry gifts must be addressed. Ephesians 4:11 specifically says, "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers." How do we understand this, and what do we do about it?
Part of my thesis is that failure to come to grips with the ministry gifts in Ephesians 4:11 is part of the reason many of our evangelists are currently struggling. Part of the problem is a failure to harness the spiritual ministries that build the church—looking for solutions in administrative offices instead of spiritual gifts, and putting more weight on the pastoral office than it can bear. Pastors cannot do it all.
Failure to understand and explain Ephesians 4:11 in its relation to other ministries has created numerous problems. It has eliminated, renamed, or reconfigured some of the office gifts. Are some evangelistic revivalists really prophets? What is the proper role of the evangelist?
We have created other offices for which there is no clear biblical base. If these roles are appropriate, they raise significant questions about the extent to which we need biblical precedent and instruction to form our models of church government. We should get our leading from the Holy Spirit and organize in a way that can touch our world. We do not want to lose the ministries we need to have a powerful and dynamic church.
We have marginalized some of our gifted ministries. That is, we may have moved them so far to the periphery that they are no longer a blessing. Absolute distinction among the office gifts and their functions is not possible. There is overlap; there is dual function. We don't need to draw lines that are absolutely rigid. The deacon did evangelism; the pastor was told to do evangelism. Hard and fast categories are not necessary; but whatever we do, it must be done with sensitivity to biblical principle and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Some think evangelism is traveling and preaching. They don't have a deeper sense of reaching as their focus, their target, their plan, their goal. And some evangelists need to clearly identify their gift, find an accurate and biblical name for it, and accept the responsibilities that go with it.
If God has called you to the pagan, you need to focus your life on the pagan. If He has called you to revive the church, you need to focus on that. Make it your agenda and accept the responsibilities that come with a prophetic, revivalistic ministry. Some evangelists fulfill the prophetic function and call the people of God to revival. They may be prophetic revivalists. If evangelists don't call us to revival, we're going to be hard-pressed for it to be done.
I have teamed up with Evangelist Sam Farina a number of times. Sam is a gifted evangelist and a good friend. In summer Bible camps I do the morning's instruction; Sam does the night's inspiration. It is a team. I cannot do what Sam does. Sam cannot do what I do. We need to have both content and inspiration. If the evangelists don't fulfill their role, then the church will simply go without this dimension of ministry.
Issues that Hinder Evangelism
In earlier days of our Movement, preachers started churches with evangelistic preaching crusades. This Movement was begun and carried by preachers. The primacy of this ministry has only been called into question as churches have grown and specialized ministries have developed. This is a major challenge for evangelists because they are called to preach.
Our appreciation of the gift of the evangelist is being diluted by our appreciation for other good things. But we should never forget that God called evangelists to preach: "How beautiful...are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings" (Isaiah 52:7). Other ministries are important, but God has ordained preaching as the primary plan for proclaiming the gospel.
Part of the influence of the primarily pastoral orientation is that the emphasis has changed from evangelism and revivalism to church life. This is normal when a movement goes from no churches to 12,000. Church life is very important; but if you have it without evangelism, you follow traditional denominational history and lose a primary commitment to evangelism and missions.
The cutting edge of ministry is preaching to the pagan. The cutting edge of evangelism is winning the lost. If a movement loses that and picks up the secondary concern of training and discipling, then it begins to slide toward denominational stagnation. We build Bible schools and produce students who will teach in the schools and pastor the churches, but evangelism will begin to fall away. If evangelism is not a burning foundational commitment that runs through the ranks, then everything else will grow stale.
Are some pastors satisfied to build their own churches by emptying others, largely ignoring the unsaved? It is normal that we would have a growing emphasis on the church, but it produces challenges and potential problems for the issues of evangelism and church planting. Tent crusades and other strategic evangelistic outreaches have fallen off dramatically. They happen almost incidentally or occasionally. Evangelistic campaigns must be strategic, committed to do whatever it takes to reach the pagan and to touch their lives with the gospel. This must be at the very heart of the church.
Church marketing has largely replaced personal and campaign evangelism. Ads in the paper, radio programs, or other marketing strategies have replaced grassroots evangelism. There is a place to tell about our church, its location, and its ministries; but if that replaces evangelism, we will reach only a limited audience. We would be much better off to simply win the pagan, train them up in Jesus, walk them through Sunday school, get them baptized, and make good Christians of them, instead of transferring disgruntled pew-sitters.
Things are changing. Our churches and Bible schools are full of people who came into the church only recently, 10 to 15 years ago or less. They came out of other churches or have been recently converted, and they don't care about our history. What they need and want is something for today—something to which they can be committed.
Pastors and churches have fewer general spiritual revival emphases. They have been replaced with special interest ministries. General spirituality has been replaced by the mall mentality and its niche-marketing philosophy. There is a proper time to address the issues of life—drugs, divorce, teen violence—but ultimately, those things pale in light of the more important issues of being a Christian, called to be a person of God. Somehow our evangelists need to be tapped for a portion of this ministry that only they can produce.
God exists to call us unto himself. He calls us to His program. We need to have a transcendent vision of a God in heaven meeting people on the earth. Our cry should be: "God, have Your way."
Evangelists have a PR problem. The word televangelism is a negative term. It pictures in people's minds a certain image. That's an awful thing to labor under. I call evangelists to change this image.
The evangelist ought to be held in high regard as a prophet of God who is winning souls. Within our Movement, we need to view evangelists as street-level soul winners or prophets.
I emphasize 2 Peter 2:2 that says many will follow the sensuality of false prophets. Sensuality is that which appeals to the senses. False prophets appeal to the sensual dimension, and many follow that sensuality—things that can be seen, the spectacle that can be observed.
If God has called you to preach, don't get caught up in this sensational stuff. God will create a spectacle if He wants to. It might surprise you too. God honors the faith of sincere seekers. Evangelists must make a renewed commitment to the Word as the primary plan of God to reach the world.
Challenge to the Evangelist
Identify your gift.
If you are called to preach to the pagans, then come to grips with your identity. If your are called to stir revival in the church, then understand it, accept it, and get with it. If you're an itinerant teacher, cultivate your gift.
Cultivate your gift.
Read. Study. Attend conferences. Support your gifts with prayer, fasting, and seeking God. Play less and pray more.
Prepare as if you were preaching to 10,000.
Prepare your next message that way. If you took the meeting with 25 or 125 as seriously as you would a Friday–night sermon at General Council, your ministry would escalate in its effectiveness.
Keep a schedule. Otherwise, your days will just ooze away. Ministry is a battleground, not a playground. Pick a goal; work incessantly toward it; do whatever it takes to succeed. If an evangelist structures one or more detailed plans for reaching the lost or reviving the believers, then he or she can come to a pastor with a plan. When the evangelist has a plan, he or she can say to a pastor: "What do you want to get done? I am here to help you."
Become the kind of person this Movement cannot survive without.
Don't just admire the great evangelists; study and imitate them. Call people to imitate your model of spirituality. Be exemplary, the embodiment of spiritual reality, and deal out your life to the people.
Your role as an evangelist gives you an agenda. You are on a mission to win the lost at any cost and revive churches at any sacrifice. Fads may come and go, but real ministry is always the same. While some of our strategies may need to change, people have always been and always will be saved through the foolishness of preaching. So preach the Word.
Would somebody please be a preacher of the Word and preach the Word of God to a church that needs revival? God ordained this evangelistic gift. It was His idea. It will function. He will empower it.
Evangelists, we need you, your gift, and your ministry. Please don't fail us. Revive us again. Revive us again! (Unknown Author)