Paper from 2006 National EFAC Conference
In this seminar I am not beginning by arguing that we should employ specialist local church evangelists but simply working from the assumption that this is something to think about. However, towards the end of the seminar, a couple of questions arise as to whether such a position really is the best way to sharpen and grow a church's evangelism.
What to look for in an evangelistOf course the baseline requirements for any Christian leader are that they measure up to the biblical standards in passages such as 1 Tim 3:1-10, Titus 1:7-9 and 1 Pet 5:1-4. These qualities and gifts are required of all in Christian leadership. Beyond this, we must also specifically look for a person of both truth and love – someone with a passion for the Word and also for the world around them. It is no good being an evangelist if you are only interested in theology and doctrine and don't have a real heart for the lost.
With respect to the Word, an evangelist should be a quick and astute theological thinker. They need to know their Bible, but they also need to be able to think freshly and sharply about issues and questions that they encounter in the world. Regurgitation of a formulaic dogma won't necessarily engage with unchurched seekers. In addition to this, an evangelist should be competent at reading the culture outside the church. Too often it seems to me that evangelicals are reasonable at giving simple cultural critiques but don't really have their finger on the pulse of their local communities and the real people who live there. An evangelist must be able to do this.
Furthermore, they must be able to affirm and celebrate and get involved with some of the good and positive things they see around them. This is to actually become a part of the fabric of the community that they're trying to reach out to and is critical to credible witness. This returns us to the idea that an evangelist must be a 'people person' as well as 'truth' person. Real empathy, where possible, is absolutely priceless in seeking to win the lost.
All this means that the best evangelists may not be the usual suspects. They may not be the kind of 'up front' ministry person who often first comes to mind. They might be that faithful member of our congregation who spends a lot of their time down at the pub!
The work of an evangelistThe New Testament shows us that evangelists are deployed for several different tasks. The most obvious of these is proclamation and there seem to be three different contexts in which this can happen.
1. Interpersonal proclamation: Philip the evangelist explains the gospel to the Ethiopian official one-to-one in Acts 8. An evangelist should keep their eyes constantly open for the small opportunity.
2. Public proclamation: the apostles Peter and Paul and their works throughout the book of Acts; their roles as sent-ones taking many opportunities to speak of Jesus to gathered groups of people all at once. Of course, the immediate parallel for us is the evangelistic sermon in our churches or other venues and the evangelist should be at home with these types of speaking assignments.
3. Written proclamation: think of the reasons that Luke and John give us for writing their gospels (Luke 1:1-4, John 20:30-31). We must be careful here that we don't ever imagine we can have the same role as the apostles whom God used to pen his very words in the Scriptures. Nonetheless, we can affirm that good writing can be very important in helping people to come to Christ and we see this commonly today as we give people good Christian books to read alongside Bibles or pocket Gospels.
We find in Ephesians 4:11-12 that an evangelist should also train others for ministry. An evangelist is one of the human-resource gifts that Christ gives to his church to equip the saints for the work of ministry, including evangelism. This means that the evangelist works with those outside and inside the church.1
An evangelist should also be someone who can develop mission strategies for the church. Evangelism is not just an ad-hoc venture but something that is most effective when planned and integrated with everything else going on in the church. Paul is a great example of a strategic evangelist as he takes on a particular target group – the Gentiles (Gal 2:7-9) – and then also thinks ahead as to which specific areas he will take the gospel message (eg. Acts 15:10, Rom 15:28). As an important aside, we also note in the passages just flagged that Paul is always following the direction of God following the leading of the Holy Spirit with respect to his mission work.
ModelsGetting practical, we need to ask how an evangelist can fit into our ministry structures. Paul could be thought of as an itinerant evangelist (although he's perhaps better understood as a senior church-planter). This is a model we're all quite familiar with. God has blessed people like Billy Graham and John Chapman with magnificent itinerant ministries. This type of evangelism has yielded a great deal of fruit although nowadays some people wonder if it is less effective among postmodern mindsets.
Then there's the evangelist-pastor. In 2 Tim 4:5, Paul exhorts Timothy to 'do the work of an evangelist' in his role as elder of the church at Ephesus. It is hard to know if we can generalise from this directive as Timothy is already known to be an experienced evangelist (eg. Acts 16:3a, Rom 16:21, 2 Cor 1:19, Phil 2:22, 1 Thess 3:2) and perhaps Paul was simply telling him not to put his particular gift to rest as he settled into discipling and teaching a local congregation. But it is possible that all local church ministers should have a leading role in evangelism.
What we are trialling at St Jude's is neither of these, but a model where I am the embedded evangelist (or Evangelism Minister) – that is, a permanent member of the staff-team, but not its leader. I only know a few others with this type of role so my thoughts from draw on a pretty narrow range of wisdom. My hope is that it will be enough to stimulate the thinking of other churches as to whether they could or should create a role along these lines.
Our model was born out of the recognition that in a large church such as ours, lots of staff time and energy is necessarily spent on tending the flock (1 Pet 5:1-5) which means that the ministers are limited in the amount of outreach they can oversee. Employing an embedded evangelist who does not have so much week-to-week congregational responsibility was seen to be one way of shifting the mass of our human-resources back towards outreach. In my role, I am not considered to be the expert in evangelism (indeed, we are blessed to have several staff with many years of experience in gospelling), but I am rather an extra resource for evangelism.
As a resource to the congregations part of my role is training them in evangelism and mission either from the pulpit or in other contexts. I am also available to meet and engage with unbelievers one-to-one and members of our congregations sometimes ask me to talk with their friends who do not yet know Christ when they think I might be able to answer some questions that they can't. I also have occasion to preach the gospel publicly in the Sunday services and other contexts.
As a resource to the staff I aim to both lighten their burdens by taking on some of their evangelistic works for them and also to help set direction and develop evangelistic initiatives for the church as a whole. I have also been charged by the vicar to keep holding up the torch for evangelism among the staff and other church leadership.
Challenges of working in a larger church as an embedded evangelistThere are several things that can make working as an embedded evangelist quite challenging. The first is that it can be very hard to keep focus. The reality is that there are so many good things to get involved with at church (as well as any number of invitations to contribute beyond our local setting) that it can be hard to stay on task. I have often thought of drawing a target on a piece of paper with the word 'evangelism' in the middle and pinning it above my desk to remind me that this is what I should be doing and that even other important Kingdom works shouldn't move me off centre while so long as I have this role.
The other difficulty is influence and how to have it appropriately. Rico Tice (Evangelism Minister at All Souls' Langham Place in London and author of the Christianity Explored material) believes that investing in relationships with members of the congregations is crucial. This is because they know unbelievers – church workers just spend too much time at church – and need to trust him with their friends. Rico told me that he had sent over 300 postcards to his parishioners during a three-month trip away from church as a way of keeping up his relationships. This has really worked well for his ministry. He is so liked at Langham Place that he has been asked to marry over 100 couples – and it's at weddings that he often meets and invites unbelievers to Christianity Explored.
The evangelist also needs to have some influence over other staff. There can be some tension here. As someone without a congregation, I cannot presume that my concerns should be listened to. It is easy to feel a little detached from what is going on in the shaping of congregational life and ministry. Also, many staff are themselves passionate about evangelism and lots of their thinking already has mission factored in. Furthermore, when we read passages such as 1 Cor 14, it seems that congregational worship should be one of our great witnesses to outsiders and this is clearly the responsibility of congregational ministers, not a specialist evangelist. We need to think about how the scope of the evangelist's role overlaps and interacts with the roles of the other ministers in the church.
Unfortunately, at this point I can't offer final conclusions as we at St Jude's are still nutting through all this. So far the role has been positive but we have a long way to go before it reaches its most effective. However, we are passionate about keeping evangelism at the top of our priority list and then resourcing it so that it never becomes just a theoretical commitment. Perhaps our model will be useful for other churches to consider or perhaps there are completely different ways of increasing our evangelistic effectiveness. One thing is clear, if we want to see God's name glorified by an ever growing number of people who know his salvation, we need to be always seeking ways of improving our witnessing.