When you hear or read the word “evangelist” what comes to mind? Do you think of Paul, Apollos and Timothy or Bakker, Swaggart and Triton? Do the words honesty, integrity and sincerity come to mind or do you think of deception, pretense and fabrication?
After 23 years as a full time evangelist, I am constantly confronted with the image — both public and private — of the itinerant evangelist. Our team has followed evangelists who rank up there with the former — biblical, God-called evangelists. Sadly, we have also walked into churches where those who identify with the latter have left the church disillusioned, doubtful and suspicious.
I. The Evangelist
The Apostle Paul told his son in the ministry, “Do the work of an evangelist.”1 Exactly what is an evangelist? According to Kittel, the word “euaggelistori” means the one who proclaims the glad tidings.2 In that sense, anyone who brings good news to another is an evangelist. The concept that one who is called into itinerant evangelism can not also possess the heart of a pastor or the mind of a scholar is not biblical. As we read, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things distributing to each one individually as He wills.”3 So the evangelist is to be a bearer of the glad tidings of Jesus Christ whether he serves in itinerant evangelism, the pastorate, the classroom or some other God-called vocation. Every born again child of God is an evangelist if we take the Great Commission seriously.
II. The Image
Why has the image of the itinerant evangelist fallen on such hard times? David Dockery, President of Union University suggests it is because many view evangelists as, “an unregulated group of preachers with little credit. They often come across as untrained and untutored. Many are ranters and ravers who are out of touch with the world and their messages are often superficial.”4 This poor image can be attributed in part to the powerful effect of the media.
I cringe when I see fellow evangelists on television surrounded by gold plated props, sitting on gaudy furniture next to a heavily made up, big-haired woman. The trends of “selling the gospel,” of entertaining rather than enlightening and of preaching cotton candy messages rather than presenting the meat of the Word has produced a generation of spiritual illiterates and shallow believers. Much of the blame lies in the pulpits of evangelists who would rather play to the crowd than please the Lord.
In a recent meeting with James Dobson, President of Focus on the Family, he stated, “Focus’ first priority is evangelism. We need evangelists who bring integrity into every area of their ministries.”5
III. The Integrity
Perhaps it is the integrity factor that keeps many pastors from using the itinerant evangelist. This is not to say that my fellow evangelists are any less men of integrity than the pastors we serve. Warren Wiersbe talks about the prophets in Jeremiah’s day. He said, “They gave the people enough experience to make them happy, but not enough truth to make them holy.”6 The image of the God-called evangelist or pastor should be one of holiness.
Hal Poe identifies a number of reasons why pastors do not use evangelists. He stated, “The old buddy system of a pastor swapping revival pulpits is very common. It gives pastors an opportunity to take a break and also the extra income is appreciated.
Some ministers will ask a pastor of a larger and more prestigious church to conduct their annual revival. The reasons are numerous, but one in particular is to get noticed by the pastor of the larger church. Let’s face it, having a well known pastor to conduct a revival is one way to get ahead in our scheme of things. Also, many pastors do not use evangelists because they do not want a revival to begin with.
If an evangelist comes in and as a result many decisions are made, it can put the pastor on the spot. His people might ask, ‘Why don’t you preach like that?’ Also the pastor must follow-up and begin discipling the new converts. Lastly, many pastors refuse to use evangelists because of the their tactics. Some take advantage of membership rolls, use manipulation during the invitation, and expect to be treated like celebrities. Some spend more time talking about finances than they do preaching.”7
All this and more supports recent revival statistics from the evangelism section of the North America Mission Board which states that only 7,000 of 38,000 Southern Baptist churches had a revival meeting in 1997.8
IV. The Work
The Apostle Paul charged Timothy to, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and teaching.”9 This is the work of the evangelist. He is to faithfully proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ; to make the sinner aware of his sins; to correct with compassion; to encourage with hope and to never lose hope in or belief that man is beyond redemption. This can only be accomplished when one is willing to fulfill his ministry.
Paul challenges young Timothy to be faithful in four basic areas in fulfilling his work as an evangelist-pastor: Hold to sound doctrine.10 Teach sound doctrine.11 Continue in sound doctrine.12 Preach sound doctrine.13
Those words of Spirit-anointed counsel ring as true today as when Paul first penned them from his prison headquarters in Rome. As ambassadors of the great doctrines, it is also our responsibility whether in the role of evangelist or pastor, to beware of the signs of the times. Paul told young Timothy, “Know this, that in the last days perilous times will come.”14 It seems that the history of the church has gone from unity to division. Where being in one accord was the stable characteristic of the early church, it now appears that discord is often associated with trying to fulfill one’s ministry. While mainline denominations split over doctrinal issues, individual churches seem to be adrift in a sea of uncertainty and conflict.
Our work as evangelists and pastors is to have a single-mindedness like the saints who preceded us. Paul instructed Timothy to “do what I told you to do” (paraphrase).15 John Mac Arthur said recently, “We are not the chef. We are the waiters. Just get the Word out of the kitchen and serve it while it is still hot.”16 Single-mindedness means we stick to the basics.
As preachers of the unsearchable riches, we are not called to be inventors or even innovators. We are called to be proclaimers of what has already been written. It is the working of the basics which will fulfill our ministry and further the kingdom.
Thom Rainer, Dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at Southern Seminary, stated, “Few churches are reaching the new pagans of our nations. Most churches are, at best, reaching the children and close relatives of church members. Sadly, too many churches are reaching few or none for Christ.”17 He goes on to validate the practices of the 1950’s when preaching, Sunday School, prayer and visitation were the characteristics of our growing churches.
Our work also calls us to preach without apology the salvation of the scriptures. Paul reminded Timothy, of “the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation.”18 The power of the spoken scriptures is enough to bring down strongholds. It saves to the utmost. It sacrifices. It is all sufficient. It sets men free. Our sermons must be sharpened on the whetstone of God’s Word and wielded with power from on high.
Then the great apostle charged his beloved son in the ministry, “before God and the Lord Jesus Christ,” to do service before God.”19 What a supernatural command! Our call came from the throne room of heaven and was issued by the Judge of all judges. As proclaimers of the gospel, we are tempted to forget who called us to fulfill our ministry. God forbid that we prepare and preach our sermons with the thought of impressing the audience, the denomination or the press. Thomas a Kempis addressed the preacher who caters to the crowd when he said, “The glory of good men is in their conscience and not in the mouths of men.”20
Charles Spurgeon put it this way, “The minister who cares for any man’s opinion when he is doing his duty (fulfilling his ministry) is unworthy of his office.”21 Remembering that our call came not from men but from God Himself, keeps our faces before the throne and our hearts open to His commands. There is no politicking or plagiarizing in the courts of heaven. A fresh word from God will be given the messengers of God when their desire is to please Him and Him alone. As Vance Havner once said, “You don’t need to know key men to get along. You need to know the ‘Keeper of the Keys’.”22
Then to punctuate the need to do the work of an evangelist, Paul challenges Timothy to keep his guard up against the seduction of deception. Paul said, “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”23
That time is certainly here today. People with selfish desires and itching ears are running after every false wind of doctrine. What is so tragic is they do not have to look far to find gospel peddlers who will preach what they want to hear. So many preachers are trying so hard to make the gospel user friendly, they have rendered themselves ineffective in doing the work of an evangelist. I am convinced that the greatest sin being committed today often comes from behind our pulpits where preachers who have been called to be giants have settled for less by preaching unsound doctrine. Many who preach want people to leave feeling affirmed, approved and applauded. Whatever happened to confronted, convicted, and confessed? People want to be entertained when they go to church. Whatever happened to enlightened?
Doing the work of an evangelist means first and foremost that we preach all the scriptures, all the time in season and out of season to all people. Pandering to the people results in prostituting the proclamation.
Dr. R. G. Lee, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee from 1927-1960, was asked about preaching the Word and doing the work of an evangelist. He replied, “When I study, I study the Bible. If a preacher is going to preach the Word of God — and he should preach nothing else — he should go to God’s Word. Then I try to think of how I can move lost men. I organize my work with sinners in need of the love of God in mind. I try to preach evangelistically. I don’t try to entertain.”24
Doing the work of an evangelist-pastor means we preach sin as damning, the cross as necessary, the blood as cleansing, the resurrection as fact and the second coming as expected. It means we preach the doctrines of the scriptures from, “In the beginning,” to “Surely I come quickly.” Forget those with itching ears and preach to those with itching hearts. It is not the teaching of fables that will turn the world to Christ. It is, however, the preaching of the Word by those who are willing to do the work of an evangelist that will turn many to righteousness.
1II Timothy 4:5
2Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 1980) Vd. II p. 737.
3I Corinthians 12:11
4Interview with Dr. David Dockery, President of Union University, Jackson, TN 1997.
5Interview with Dr. James Dobson, President and Founder of Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, CO. February 3, 1998.
6Warren Wiersbe, The Integrity Crisis, (Oliver Nelson, 1988), p. 32.
7Interview with Dr. Hal Poe, Vice President for Academic Resources and Information Services, Union University, Jackson, TN. 1997.
8Don Smith, Evangelism Director, North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, Alpharetta, GA, 1998.
9II Timothy 4:2.
10II Timothy 1:13.
11II Timothy 2:2.
12II Timothy 3:14.
13II Timothy 4:2.
14II Timothy 3:1.
15II Timothy 3:14.
16John MacArthur, Pastor’s Conference, First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, FL; January, 1998.
17Thomas Rainer, The Book of Church Growth, (Broadman and Holman, 1993), p. 222.
18II Timothy 3:15.
19II Timothy 4:1.
20Tony Castle, The New Book of Christian Quotations, (New York: Crossroad, 1984), p. 45.
21Tom Carter, Spurgeon At His Best, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), p. 345.
22Dennis Hester, The Vance Havner Quote Book, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), p. 172.
23II Timothy 4:3-4.
24Al Fasol, With A Bible In Their Hands, (Nashville: Broadman and Holman,, 1994), p. 137.

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