by Brian Spangler
Exactly what is the “work” of an evangelist? I’m sure it has very little to do with a truck and trailer! We can't simply sum up an "evangelist" as a “traveling preacher.” Certainly it's not just chastising everyone who drifts from “The Way” or even repeatedly calling sinners to repentance. In my younger years, I may have described it in just those terms. While at times each of these may play a role, and perhaps even a very significant role, in no way do they begin to define the full “work of an evangelist.”
The work of an evangelist is best described as spreading the “Good News,” or proclaiming the Gospel. In a concise but thorough definition, “sharing the Message” seems to sum it up quite nicely. And oh, what a privilege to be involved in that!
Building Up, Not Tearing Down
I am reminded of a statement someone shared with me years ago: “As a pastor, you feed your sheep and care for them all year long; as evangelists, we come in and shear them twice a year!” Wow! I cringed! What he said to me was “You build them up all year long, and I’ll tear them apart in a week!” The sad reality is that there are those who adhere to this as a directive, even though it is clearly quite destructive and counterproductive, to say the least! Further, it totally misrepresents – and even circumvents – the duty of an evangelist.
The goal of a good evangelist is to come alongside a good pastor and work for the good of the people.
Now I must be even-handed here. God forbid, but if a pastor ever summons an evangelist to deal with issues from which he himself is cowering away for fear of losing his congregation, my general advice to the evangelist is “Don’t touch it!” Perhaps it would be more productive to evangelize the pastor! The goal of a good evangelist is to come alongside a good pastor and work for the good of the people, in essence for the good of the Kingdom (Ephesians 4:11-13). The duty is to preach and teach the beautiful and glorious Gospel for the benefit of directing the hearts of the hearers toward God.
In the book of Acts, Philip is called an evangelist (Acts 21:8). The word properly implies that he was one who proclaimed the good news. This concept can either mean one who preaches the Gospel, or simply anyone who declares the glad tidings of salvation.
One of the many charges Paul left in scripture was directed to Timothy, a spiritual son of his. This charge is a very interesting directive which remarkably is translated exactly the same in twenty-one of the twenty-five versions I read after. “Do the work of an evangelist" (2 Timothy 4:5). Equally interesting is the fact that today's interpretation of that concise and simple statement is about as varied as any statement in scripture.
For certain, as Paul was nearing the end of his ministry, one of his greatest concerns was that the “work” would continue. In a great sense, this charge to Timothy was Paul's passion projected on the future – a passion to tell everyone he came near of the glorious Gospel. He had experienced it, preached it, and he desired that it would continually be told, even after he was gone. It is the greatest story ever told!
We must preach the Word, not with harshness, but mingled thoroughly with long-suffering, saturated deeply in doctrine, and carefully synchronized with all other biblical teachings.
To this day, real men of God busy themselves with the Word—searching through the past, sharing in the present, and safeguarding it for the future. Paul's charge to Timothy is simply, “I have been faithful to carry the baton, now you go forth and take it with you.” Quite frankly, he desired that Timothy become a “Gospelizer.”
From the day of Paul's conversion, one could never question his passion. Life had little to do with him, but everything to do with Him. To preach the Word, to teach the Way, and to tell the Story – these became the pursuit of Paul. Even down to the time of his departure from this old world, we can sense his passion for preserving the same truths that set him free. In 2 Timothy 4:2 he says, “Preach the word.” Stand by it when it is popular and when it is not. Use it to reprove, to rebuke, to exhort, not with harshness, but mingled thoroughly with long-suffering, saturated deeply in doctrine, and carefully synchronized with all other biblical teachings.
He knew first hand that there was a reason to be involved in this “work,” because this “work” truly works! Religion, organization, “churchy-ness,” programs, gatherings, buildings, facilities and the like are all to no avail without the message of the glorious life-changing, sin-canceling, heart-cleansing Gospel! In this, one will discover all of life’s answers. Oh, God, may we never forget the message in all of our doings and workings, in all of our passion, zeal and energy! The glorious Gospel convicts, condemns, cleans, cancels, conditions, and cleanses from all sin. We cannot keep silent, we must live it, love it, shout it, sing it, preach it, and teach it!
A Living Example
Paul warns Timothy that sooner or later they will turn away from the truth and follow after false ways. “But,” or nevertheless, “I charge thee before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, ...watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof thy ministry.” A little different rendering comes from the New International Version: “But you, keep your head in all situations.” Wow! What a way to say it!
Evangelists must be a living example of the power of the gospel to convict and cleanse from all sin.
Perhaps today we would say, “Hey, preacher boy, whatever else you do, remember to keep your head screwed on straight.” For the record, the Spangler Version would read, “Pay attention! Indeed, there will be challenges both great and small, but hang in there! There's a job for you to do, and make sure to keep out of trouble.” Dear friends, in order to be effective as a minister, or even as a witness for Christ, we must continually live a holy and blameless life. People are simply not interested in hearing our three-point outlines if our lives are filled with inconsistencies.
In my own personal ministry, I have come to this conclusion: people listen more to who you really are than to what you have to say. As we crisscross the country telling others how to live, we must never neglect to live it ourselves! Remember, before we preach or teach the gospel to a friend, to our family, to our flock, or to the four corners of the earth, we must make certain we are first living it! On all accounts, this makes the “work of an evangelist” easier, and much more productive!
Dear God, grant us guidance and courage today to tell the story of yesterday throughout the ages of tomorrow. Oh, let us do the work of an evangelist!
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Dr. Timothy Cooley, Sr.
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