Positive Evangelism – The Role of the “Evangelist”
[Continuing my discussion of positive evangelism]
Okay, so far we have examined the weaknesses of the “one size fits all” question and answer or “follow the bouncing Scripture” type of evangelistic programs (and those weaknesses are legion). We have seen how we need to take our students seriously and attend to their personality and to their needs. We have seen that the best tool to use in evangelism is the evangelion – the “good news” of the gospel of Jesus exactly as the Holy Spirit intended it to be written down and preserved for us. Now we turn to the role of the “evangelist.” What is the role of the human in this process?
One comment that might be in your mind regarding this series of thoughts is that I have been too harsh on those who write these “one size fits all” type of evangelistic studies. I have been pretty harsh on the studies themselves, but I really do not want to attack those who write or publish them. On one hand I do believe they have made some serious errors. But I will grant to them that they were working with the best of intentions. Good intentions do not always transition into good results, however.
No, the real culprits in the proliferation of these question/answer and “follow the bouncing Scripture” outlines are the members of the congregations who demand such materials. They (we) say that we want easy to comprehend study guides that are fast, effective, and require little in the way of study and preparation. So, that’s what the authors and the publishers have given us. These study guides are cheap, easy to master, require very little in the way of genuine in-depth Bible study, and at least on one level, can be described as effective. The long-term results, however, are distinctly negative. Campaign after campaign results in large numbers of “conversions;” people who rarely, if ever, darken the door of a church building within six months of their baptism. But we have our fast, easy and cheap evangelistic guides and the authors and publishers have their money so everyone is happy.
Is that the role of the evangelist? Baptize a person and move on to the next target? What does the Bible say? What saith the Scripture?
The apostle Paul makes clear that the gift of evangelism is one of the specific “gifts” of the Holy Spirit that he bestows on the church community (Eph. 4, Rom. 12, 1 Cor. 12). I take this distinction quite literally. That is I believe some individuals have the gift of evangelism, and others do not. What are the implications of understanding this “spiritual giftedness” aspect of evangelism?
For one thing, it means that it is manifestly NOT the duty of every Christian to be an evangelist. It IS the obligation of every Christian to be ready to give an answer for their faith (1 Peter 3:15). That is a far cry from the active role of evangelism. Nothing as complex as the process of conversion can be so “simple” that every member can perform the task. As I believe I have already demonstrated, the “one size fits all” mentality is dangerous and unbiblical. Once we free non-evangelists to discover the gift that they have been given we will go a long way toward freeing those who do have the gift of evangelism to do the work that they have been given to do.
Recognizing the spiritual giftedness of the evangelist also suggests that in every congregation there very likely is at least one, if not many more, who do have this gift. But they may not be comfortable using the “approved” method of evangelism that the preacher demands the congregation to use. My solution is to throw the program away and just teach the gospel! Our task is not to make disciples of the minister (preacher). Our task is to make disciples of Jesus. Evangelism is sharing the gospel of Jesus, it is not mastering a set of questions or becoming adept at proof-texting the Bible.
Notice, second, that if evangelism is a gift, then the one who uses it is simply a recipient, and not the source of the gift. This simple but profound truth must be remembered! We are not the masters of the text, we are simply fellow students with our non-Christian students. You can, and actually you have to, master a set of questions and answers. You can and must master a Scripture chain reference. But no matter how many years you study the text and how many commentaries and how many devotional studies you read you will never, ever master the Bible. Every time you study a gospel with a new student you will learn something new. Evangelism is a gift that keeps on giving!
Related to this, if the gift is of the Holy Spirit, then the Holy Spirit is the teacher of the student. The evangelist is simply one who shares the good news. Jesus Christ will “draw” all men to him if we will just lift him up (John 12:32). The one who masters the question and answers, the one who miraculously produces the next magic verse in the chain reference, these are the revival building gurus, the “sage on the stage” that everyone brags about. That kind of response feeds their ego, and they are quick to tell you exactly how many people they have “won” for Jesus. The Holy Spirit is nowhere to be seen or heard. But that is the kind of self-seeking person that Paul condemns. The faithful steward, the one who simply exercises his or her gift, the one who shares the text and then gets out of the way so that the Holy Spirit can do His work – THAT is the true evangelist.
Now, does this mean that all one must do is sit and read with a student to be an evangelist? Well, yes and no. Yes in the sense that we want the Holy Spirit to do the converting, but there is a role for the evangelist. The Ethiopian Eunuch told Philip, “How can I (understand) unless someone explains it to me?” So we want to guide, to lead, to share. That means we must know our subject. An evangelist will not be content to just read the text – he or she will want to increase his or her knowledge of the four gospels as much as he or she possibly can. This means the purchase and study of commentaries (commentaries must be studied, not just read). It is not too much to expect that a person can read a new commentary every six months or so. Certainly, one can read a new commentary every year. It will mean the purchase and study of special study type books focused on the gospels (focused on the parables, or the miracle stories, or maybe some technical aspect like the various endings of Mark). It will mean that he or she will want to buy and study books, or attend lectures dealing with, the various personality types of human beings and how various humans learn. The point is that Paul told Timothy he had received a special gift (2 Timothy 1:6 ) but Paul also told Timothy to study to show that he could properly handle the word of God (2 Tim. 2:15)! Being gifted is not an excuse for not studying – rather it is the invitation to deeper and greater study!
Next – summation and conclusion – putting everything together.