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The New Testament Evangelist & 21st Century Church

The life of the local Pentecostal church must center around the biblical orientation of winning the lost

By James O. Davis, D.Min.

Have our evangelism goals in Pentecostal churches become root bound like redwood trees stuffed into flower pots? Are we willing to develop up-to-date, creative approaches to evangelism?

The life of the local Pentecostal church must center around the biblical orientation of winning the lost. When the heartbeat of evangelism slows or dies in a church or in a denomination, there will be more denominational buildup and less soul-winning movements. If the Pentecostal church does not evangelize, it will fossilize.

The ministry of the evangelist is crucial for continued vitality in the local church. Their ministry is as valid today as it was in the early decades of the Christian church. God has called the entire Church to evangelism and has given particular people the gift of the evangelist to the body of Christ. Yet there is often a misunderstanding among leadership and laity as to the identification and instrumentation of an evangelist.

As we enter the 21st century, new maps for uncharted lands will be required to traverse the highly technological landscape of a global community. Evangelists and pastors will need to network to achieve exponential growth in a rapidly changing country. Churches need a biblical compass for effective ministry. Function follows foundation.

The Position of the Evangelist

What were the aims and accomplishments of the New Testament evangelists? What are the biblical roles of Pentecostal evangelists today? Can the local church reach its full maturity in Christ without the functioning gift of the evangelist in its midst? Is the evangelist crucial to the completion of world evangelization?

Calling one's own self an evangelist does not validate his or her ministry. This has created a vagueness in the church about who are the true, biblical evangelists. Consequently, the uniqueness of the evangelistic calling has been watered down. Exegetical parallels between New Testament evangelists and contemporary evangelists are needed for the purpose of rediscovering the biblical function of the evangelist.

The purpose of this article is to portray the life and ministry of first-century evangelists in such a way that 21st-century evangelists and pastors can build their roles and goals on proven biblical principles of evangelism.

The fivefold ministry gifts listed in Ephesians 4:11 are not only representative of distinct people and ministerial offices, but they also reveal five principles for effective ministry. The apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher represent the principles of governing, guiding, gathering, guarding, and garnering. All of these principles are needed for equipping Christians for effective evangelism (see Example 1).

Fivefold Principled Ministry

Example 1

An evangelist is a person with a divine gift and sacred calling from Christ to proclaim or announce the good news of Christ. The person who serves as an evangelist is a "gospeler."1 The evangelist's calling originally denoted both a function and an office. There was not much difference between an apostle and an evangelist. All apostles were evangelists; however, not all evangelists were apostles, since a direct call by the Lord was necessary.2 John Calvin advocated there were times when God would raise up evangelists as substitutes for apostles.3 In a real sense, "the apostles did not know when to stop being evangelists."4 And without the ministry of the true New Testament evangelist, the Church would die out.5

In all three New Testament passages where the term evangelist is used (Acts 21:8; Ephesians 4:11; 2 Timothy 4:5), the evangelist was subordinate to the apostles.6 Evangelist in Ephesians 4:11 seems to "denote an order of workers midway between apostles and prophets on the one hand, and pastors and teachers on the other."7 Sometimes these ministerial gifts can overlap. For example, the apostle Paul functioned as an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher. Christ used him in a fivefold gifting of itinerant evangelistic ministry. For Paul, "the work of the ministry is of much greater importance than any hierarchy of officials."8

Even though the term evangelist appears only three times, the evangelist had an effective and extensive ministry in the New Testament church. This is indicated by the usage of the Greek verb euaggelizo (to proclaim the good news) 54 times and the Greek noun euaggelion (good news or gospel) 76 times. In Luke 20:1 and Acts 8:4, Jesus and the apostles were evangelists in preaching the gospel.9 Since the centrality of evangelism is derived biblically, theologically, practically, and logically throughout the New Testament, it can further be deduced that the term evangelist is located in the center of the five gifts in Ephesians 4:11. Evangelism is the heart of the Church. It seems reasonable to conclude that all of the fivefold ministry gifts focus on evangelism. When evangelists are multigifted (apostle, prophet, pastor, teacher), there is greater diversity in evangelism. These leadership gifts are given by Christ to equip churches for ministry (see Example 2).

Example 2

The21st-century evangelist should have an evangelistic ministry as well as an equipping ministry. The evangelist must be able to appeal to the sinner regarding repentance and to the believer regarding revival. The position of the evangelist is critical to building a bridge between prophetic and pastoral ministries in the church and is a necessary link between repentance and revival.

The Purpose of the Evangelist

The aim of all ministry gifts in Ephesians 4:11 is for the equipping of God's people for "works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up" (Ephesians 4:12, NIV). Equipping denotes "the bringing of the saints to a condition of fitness for the discharge of their functions in the Body, without implying restoration from a disordered state."10 In the case of the evangelist, this work of service or ministry is equipping for evangelism. And in order for the local church to be active in evangelism, the body of Christ must be spiritually healthy.

In order for evangelists and pastors to function biblically, their message, motives, methods, and ministry must align with the Christ-given functions outlined in Ephesians 4:13–16. These functions are to help churches become mature in stature (verse 13), stability (verse 14), speech (verse 15), and service (verse 16).

Ecclesiastical discussions should not center around categorizing a person as an evangelist or a revivalist. Those with itinerant ministries should be encouraged to fulfill their New Testament position and purpose as evangelists. Evangelists have a dual role: a soul-winning and a strengthening ministry.

The Pictures of the Evangelist

Even though there are numerous examples of itinerant preachers in the New Testament—John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, the Twelve, the Seventy, Philip, Paul—there are three distinct pictures that clarify what an evangelist is to do in the church. Example 3 summarizes the New Testament pictures of evangelists in the life of the 21st–century Church.

 

Preacher-Evangelist
Luke 10:1-19


Dignified Mission
(verse 1)

Difficult Mission
(verses 2,3)

Disciplined Mission
(verses 4-8,10,11,16)

Deliverance Mission
(verses 9,17-19)

Preaching Christ
Pioneer-Evangelist
Acts 8


Supernatural Wonders
(verses 5-8)

Scriptural Work
(verses 9-12)

Submissive Will
(verses 13-24)

Spirit-led Witness
(verses 25-40)

Reaching a City
Pastor-Evangelist
2 Timothy 4:5


Thoughtful Evaluation
(verse 5)

Tremendous Endurance
(verse 5)

Tireless Evangelism
(verse 5)

Total Effort
(verse 5)

Teaching a Church

Pastor's Checklist for Selecting an Evangelist

  1. What is the purpose of the upcoming ministry event? Evangelism (Acts 8)? Equipping (Ephesians 4:11-16)? Both?

  2. Will the evangelist fit the purposes of this crusade?

  3. Is the evangelist known as a solid Bible preacher (Acts 8:9-12; Ephesians 4:11,12)?

  4. Will the evangelist equip believers for the evangelization of the lost (Ephesians 4:11-16)?

  5. Does the evangelist conduct himself or herself as a Christian ambassador (Luke 10:1)?

  6. Does the evangelist live by faith for all financial needs (Luke 10:4-8)?

  7. Is the local church prepared to meet the evangelist's travel needs and provide an adequate honorarium (Luke 10:7)?

  8. Do supernatural signs follow the evangelist's message (Luke 10:17-19; Acts 8:6-8)?

  9. Is the itinerant preacher accountable to fellow ministers (Luke 10:1; Acts 8:13-24)?

  10. Does the evangelist refrain from engaging in sensationalism to attract crowds (Acts 8:9-12)?

  11. Is the evangelist led by the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:26-28)?

  12. Is the evangelist ethical in all areas of ministry (Acts 8; Ephesians 4:14)?

  13. Is the evangelist submissive to authority (Luke 10:1,18,19)?

  14. Does my ministry as pastor complement the work of the evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5)?

  15. Does the evangelist focus on exalting Christ (Acts 8:12)?

  16. Is the evangelist a personal soul winner (Acts 8:26-40)?

Example 4: The pastor's checklist for selecting an evangelist

Endnotes


1. Lewis Drummond, Biblical Affirmations for Evangelism (Minneapolis: World Wide Publications, 1996), 68.

2. Friedrich H. Erlangen, "Euaggelistes" in A Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, eds. Kittel, Gerhard. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 2:737.

3. Richard S. Armstrong, The Pastor as Evangelist (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984), 33-34.

4. Stanley C. Brown, Evangelism in the Early Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963), 69.

5. F.F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 347.

6. Friedrich, 737.

7. Donald Guthrie, New Testament Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1981), 168.

8. Guthrie, 770.

9. John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Ephesians (Chicago: Moody, 1986), 142-43.

10. J. Armitage Robinson, Commentary on Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1979), 182.

11. Ivor Powell, The Amazing Acts (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1987), 120.

James O. Davis, D.Min., is the Assemblies of God national evangelists representative, Springfield, Missouri

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