Understanding the Office
"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:” (Ephesians 4:11-12)
Over the years God has allowed me the joy and privilege of serving Him in the ministry, I have found there is little understanding of the office and ministry of the Spirit-gifted, God-called evangelist. The evangelist is mentioned only three times in the entire Word of God, but a very clear and precise description of his ministry is given in Ephesians 4:11-16. For several reasons, however, many misconceptions and misunderstandings have developed over the years that have created confusion as to who he is and what he does.
Not all who call themselves an evangelist are doing the work of an evangelist. I recently heard of a fellow who calls himself a “musical evangelist.” He goes from church to church singing and playing several different instruments, but this is not doing the work of an evangelist. One would be hard-pressed to find any such thing in the Word of God as a "musical evangelist.” According to Scripture, there is no mistaking what the role of the evangelist is as that role is clearly and specifically defined.
There are several things that an evangelist is not. For example, though some good men have supposed the evangelist to be a church-planting missionary, there is no evidence in the Scriptures describing the office and ministry of the evangelist as such. Certainly the evangelist will have a vision and burden for church planting, will assist those who plant churches under the sending and organizing authority of a local church, and lend their support to such an endeavor. It would be good to note here that men do not plant churches, churches plant churches. Men are merely the instrument, the vessel through which God works in the establishing of local New Testament churches. But it is ever and always local churches that plant local churches.
The work of the biblical evangelist, along with pastors and teachers, is found principally in one verse of Scripture (Ephesians 4:12). Without any question, the evangelist’s ministry encompasses three specific areas in which he will be engaged within the local churches where he ministers in his itinerant ministry, as well as his sending home church. These areas are:
(1) The perfecting of the saints.
The example of Philip provides us with yet another facet of doing the work of an evangelist. He was engaged in reaching the lost through the preaching of the glorious Gospel of Christ. Certainly the evangelist will be engaged in a soul-winning ministry, and will be specially equipped in persuading the lost of their need of the Savior. The evangelist is a euagelion, “a bearer of good tidings” (appearing over fifty time in the New Testament). He is also a euaggelizo, a verb that is used seventy-seven times in the New Testament, meaning “to preach the Gospel.” The Greek word euaggelistes literally means, “evangelist” and identifies his office. Surely soul-winning is a part of the evangelist’s gift, but not the sum total of it. We will take a more in-depth look at the ministry of the evangelist as a “Gospeller,” or preacher of the “Good News” in a later article. But consider with me the following interesting quote regarding the ministry in which Philip was engaged as did the work of an evangelist.
The only example of an evangelist in the New Testament who was identified as such is Philip. A close examination of what is said about him and his ministry is important to our study.
In Acts 21:8 we read, "and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven.”
Acts chapter eight records Philip’s ministry in Samaria. His preaching was evangelistic and Christ-centered (verse 12). It was directed to the public (verse 5). The crowds paid attention to Philip’s message because they witnessed the miracles that he did (verses 6 and 13). These miracles included casting out demons and healing the palsied and lame (verse 7). The people believed and were baptized (verse 12)But the Holy Spirit had not fallen upon any of them (verse 16); this happened when Peter and John arrived, prayed, and laid hands on them (verses 15,17).
Also, Philip engaged in personal evangelism (verses 26-39). He was snatched away by the Holy Spirit, itinerated through the cities, and settled at Caesarea (verse 40).
Philip had progressed from a deacon to an evangelist. This reminds us of 1 Timothy 3:13. The record of his ministry in Samaria leaves some unanswered questions. How long was he in Samaria? Where did he preach and how often? Before Peter and John arrived, what did Philip do, if anything, to organize the converts into a structured body?
References to Philip’s later life and ministry indicate that he settled in Caesarea and raised a family. Acts chapter 21 records that he lived in a house large enough to accommodate Paul and his group. Philip was there himself, and Paul and his party stayed with him "many days." The context informs us that Philip was in full fellowship with the church at Caesarea ("they of that place... certain of the disciples of Caesarea"). The picture is of an evangelist fully a part of the church at Caesarea receiving Paul and his company into his house and at the same time into contact with the church. That he is still referred to as an evangelist in Acts 21:8 implies that he continued to exercise that ministry.
From what The Scriptures teach concerning the vital relationship of every believer to the church, and from the record of the early believers’ practice of those teachings, can we come to any other conclusion than that Philip the evangelist was an elder (presbuteros – presbuterion) in the church at Caesarea? If this is the correct conclusion, the New Testament presents a picture quite different from the image of an itinerant preacher without a home or a home church . . . . (The evangelist will not be considered a presiding elder, nor will he assume the position of a senior pastor, but will be under authority in his ministry role, while being accorded the place within local church ministry that the Word of God has established. – ed.)
A productive evangelist will reach out beyond his community to preach the gospel, of course, but he will not detach himself from his home church. (Author Unknown)
The evangelist’s ministry is predominately a preaching ministry. Paul’s admonition to Timothy was, “PREACH the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” (II Timothy 4:2) The evangelist’s gift is a stirring and awakening gift. The evangelist’s preaching will be markedly different from pastoral preaching while complimenting and reinforcing the pulpit ministry of the God-called pastor. The type of preaching common to the evangelist is peculiar to the evangelist alone. But the evangelist’s work is not restricted to only preaching, though that is his principle ministry. He will be engaged in other ministry endeavors assisting in the growth and edification of the local churches he is privileged to minister in. The evangelist is engaged in the ministry of pastoral support, coming alongside the pastor to assist him in the edification and the building up of the local church, working under the direct oversight of the pastor, never usurping his authority. As is the case with the pastor, the evangelist is in the business of feeding the sheep through the operation and administration of his particular spiritual gift.
Some evangelists are specifically equipped for revival work as a “specialty.” As with any spiritual gift, there are differences of administration, and diversities of operation (I Corinthians 12:4-7).
The ministry of the evangelist is also a “stirring and awakening” ministry. God has equipped and gifted him to stir and awaken God’s people in a very definite and special way. The gift of evangelist is strategic in its importance. The evangelist influences unity. He influences fellowship around the message of Christ. Evangelists have great influence on young people. They help people get their lives in order as they cry out in confession of sin and repentance. They are encouragers. They have influence on pastors, and encourage and strengthen their hands to the work God has given them. The evangelist stirs people to win souls. Their preaching brings men and women to a decision – a holy ultimatum. The evangelist gives the pastor something to work with after the he is gone. He is used of the Lord to build up the work. The evangelist is sometimes a “troubleshooter,” helping the pastor through biblical counsel and advice. He helps with church-planting and newer works just getting off the ground. The evangelist seeks to mentor the “young Levites,” and does what he can to help struggling and hurting works. He is a friend to pastors, and comes alongside of them when they are hurting and in need of encouraging words. The evangelist is to have a burden for his nation, and particularly for revival in these last days. The evangelist must be a “weeping prophet” and a “prayer warrior” if he is to see his ministry bear fruit. He cries out for brokenness and repentance in a dry and thirsty land. His is a “ministry-support” endeavor. His is often a lonely vigil, and yet so wonderful a calling. It is part of his ministry to give God’s people a vision and passion for revival, for, “Where there is no vision, the people perish . . .” (Proverbs 29:18) (From “Revival Thoughts”)
The evangelist is not a freelancer, but is under the authority of his sending church. He is sent out by the local church to the local church. Of great importance to the ministry of the evangelist is to be a part of a local church where his ministry is understood, and the work of the evangelist is loved, encouraged and supported. The ministry of the itinerant evangelist can be lonely and difficult, so it is imperative that he be a part of a local church where he knows he is being prayed for, and the people are excited about what the Lord has him doing when he is out on the road.
The evangelist must, by all means, have a strong bond and working relationship with his pastor. It is difficult to serve under a pastor not having a vision for the work of an evangelist, nor a burden for the revival ministry. The evangelist and pastor must be pulling together in the same harness, and must have a mutual burden and vision for the three-fold purpose of both pastor and evangelist (the perfecting of the saints – the work of the ministry – the edifying of the body of Christ). There are too many evangelists with no real local church oversight of their ministry, nor any other ministry connection with their home church other than their membership. This is detrimental to the evangelist and the local church where he attends when he is home. When the evangelist is ministering in other local churches through his ministry, he should serve as a representative of his sending home church. I do not believe it is biblically correct for the evangelist to freelance or work as a free agent in his ministry. We independent Baptists preach and teach on the importance of the local church, and then countenance maverick evangelists working under the banner of their own name. This just is not right. I have also known of local churches and pastors who do not want an evangelist working under the umbrella of their ministry. This too is absolutely wrong, and shows no respect for the God-gifted evangelist and his work. It must be remembered that the gift of the evangelist is a gift to the local church where God has placed him, and to reject his gift is to do despite the Spirit of Grace.
I shared the following thought in an article appearing on the Revival Thoughts website:
I believe that the evangelist is an extension of the ministry of his sending local church. Like a missionary, he is commissioned and sent out to others to reach souls for Christ, and assist pastors with the spiritual needs of his people. He directly represents his sending church. As their representative, he is also their responsibility. Dr. Ron Comfort told me, “I feel that early in the ministry of the evangelist, somewhere along the trail God will put you in a place where you at once feel a kindred spirit with the pastor and the people. It will be a church to which you frequently go and the people and pastor develop a love for your ministry . . . I encourage young evangelists out of ABC (Ambassador Baptist College) to wait upon God to show them that church that will be a help and support to them in their ministry.”
Some local churches gifted with an itinerant evangelist consider him a part of the pastoral staff, and accord him the privilege of serving in that position. When the evangelist is not actually deployed in his itinerant work, he takes a vibrant part in the ministry of his sending home church, working alongside his pastor for the benefit and blessing of the church family of which he is a part. Today there are few local churches with a God-called, God-gifted evangelist serving out of those churches for the benefit of other local churches of like faith, walk, order, doctrine and discipline. Though God is certainly still calling men into this much needed ministry, yet their numbers are fewer than at other time in our history. I noted when in the Philippines last year that there are next to no evangelists working out of local churches in that country, and this is true of many other countries on the foreign field. This has been perplexing to me, and I pray that this situation would change in the days ahead.
When Paul admonished Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist,” I do not believe it was soul-winning alone that Paul had in mind, nor the ministry of the evangel alone that was at the forefront of his admonition. I believe there is something else here in II Timothy 4:5 that has been missed. Note that Timothy would have already been engaged in soul-winning and Gospel preaching as a pastor, and, in general, as a faithful Christian and servant of the Lord. Paul had been engaged in missionary work, establishing churches, and had an itinerant ministry whereby he went from church-to-church instructing and encouraging God’s people. I believe Paul was extending a call to Timothy to serve in his stead as an itinerant evangelist as he knew he was now at the end of his ministry and life’s work. He was about to suffer a martyr’s death, and was concerned that someone take his place in working with, and encouraging the established churches, as well as preaching the Gospel to the lost, and seeing new works planted as men and women were converted and in need of a church home. Again, the three-fold work of the evangelist is described and delineated simply and precisely in Ephesians 4:12.
The following quote has been helpful to me in developing a better understanding regarding the office and ministry of the evangelist. I trust it will be helpful to you as well.
Of the ministry gifts (Ephesians 4:11), the one that is least understood and that suffers the most from both abuse and neglect is the evangelist. Instead of making a definitive study of the Biblical function of the evangelist, we have been content with general assumptions and the conclusions that follow from those assumptions. If a hundred Christians were asked, "What is an evangelist?", one would likely receive a hundred different answers.
A search through scores of books on evangelism written over the past one hundred years reveals a variety of assumptions about evangelists.
Many earlier writers considered evangelists to be outside of the "regular clergy," fervent but unschooled lay preachers not qualified to undertake the more serious work of the "settled ministry."
One has only to consider some of the outstanding American evangelists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to see how deeply this idea was imbedded in many minds. Charles G. Finney had to struggle for ordination. D. L. Moody, the shoe salesman, never received ordination. Billy Sunday was considered to be primarily a converted baseball player.
If evangelistic crusades are built upon the celebrity value of a person's name, the cynic might say that the least likely way to become a successful evangelist is to enter the ministry!
Some regard an evangelist as a messianic being who appears on the horizon once each generation. Others associate the term with sensational, even unethical, practices. A reflection of this is found in Baker’s Dictionary of Practical Theology. There only one column is given to the evangelist, and most of that consists of warnings. It is true that many who have been labeled evangelists have brought the office into disrepute. But much of the problem is the result of the failure of the Church to provide adequately for the evangelist’s training, utilization and accountability.
The evangelist is commonly thought of as an independent preacher, ministering over radio and television through a para-church organizations . . . .
The fashion among contemporary writers on evangelism is to regard the evangelist as an anachronism with little or no relevance to modern church growth. Even a cursory examination of current evangelical literature reveals that almost without exception when the "vocational" evangelist is mentioned, the reference is pejorative . . . .
. . . . The true Church has always had a place for the ministry of evangelists. Without this ministry there has been faltering, waning, and decay. The evangelist sustains a highly important relation to the progress and development of the Church in spiritual life and power. The Church cannot afford to suffer the loss of this ministry.
Some hold that the New Testament evangelist was something like a pioneer missionary, going into places where the Gospel had not yet been preached. However, we believe this is too limited an idea of the work of the evangelist.
1. Evangelists are a gift of Christ to the churches and are not to be despised, rejected, neglected, or unjustly criticized. Their work is just as important in its relationship to the whole program of Christ as the work of the other gifts mentioned...
2. Evangelists are not limited to the work of seeking to win the lost to Christ, but are associated with the other gifted leaders in the work of perfecting the saints unto the work of ministering for the purpose of building up the body of Christ...
3. If the order of listing these divine gifts means anything, then evangelists are next in importance to apostles and prophets, and are more important than pastors and teachers. We would regard the work of the evangelist as built upon the foundations laid by the apostles and prophets, and as preparatory to the work of pastors and teachers...(Note here that Dr. John R. Rice took this position, though it is not necessarily the hard and fast position that I might be willing to take. – ed.)
4. The gift and work of evangelists is age-long like that of pastors and teachers...
5. The evangelist has a divine gift, or perhaps he himself is a divine gift to the churches. He is thus divinely equipped to do a work that no other official leader can do. The churches . . . need his ministry.
6. The work of the evangelist is not one of self-appointment but, rather, of divine appointment. No man can make himself an evangelist merely by training and experience. Only the risen Christ can give him the gift of an evangelist. Once received, the gift should be developed and used to the limit.
...evangelists are God-chosen and Spirit-gifted men to lead out in the work of evangelism. They are God’s firebrands to kindle evangelistic fires in the churches, to inspire pastors, to teach and to lead others in the work of evangelism... Evangelists are Christ’s key men in His mighty evangelistic program for the world, and it is a sin to ignore them.
Even when the evangelist is recognized, he is likely to be regarded as having a vaguely-defined ministry somewhere outside of the normal life of the church.
Thus the evangelist is looked upon generally as an irregular person with an irregular ministry, leading an irregular and unnatural life. So he tends to regard himself. Adopting a culturally and historically developed concept of his office, he struggles with a ministry in tension. He tries to fulfill his and others’ expectations, assuming them to be God’s expectations.
Here is the doleful way one writer expressed some of these ideas:
"It has been estimated by one authority that the man who preaches as an evangelist should preach... for two hundred nights a year, will rarely reach the age of fifty if he starts his work at twenty five years of age.
"It should also be remembered that the evangelist must give up his home life, if he is to be a traveling servant of the Lord Jesus... He must leave his loved ones, and see them at only infrequent intervals. During that period when boys most need the manly care of a father the evangelist’s boy must have the best guidance that a mother can give. If the evangelist looks forward to a home life on this earth, it can only be when he is old and ready to retire from active service. (This is why I encourage young evangelists to always travel with their wife and children at any cost. Having an RV that can serve as a home when on the road can be a great advantage. I do not believe it is wise for an evangelist to travel without his wife. He cannot be a husband to her, nor can he be a father to his children when they are not by his side. I believe it is contrary to the will of God for a husband to leave his wife to fend for herself, and not be present to guide his home. No where, and in no case, do I see anything in Scripture that instructs a man to abandon his family in order to prosecute his ministry. It is neither wise, nor is it necessary to do so. It is disruptive to good order in the home, and does not provide for marital accountability. If and when it is very infrequently necessary to travel alone for ministry work, it should be for very short periods of time, and definitely not the norm. – ed.)
"It is a very irregular life... His meals are irregular... He knows he is breaking all the laws of health... He must sleep in all kinds of places and at all kinds of hours." . . . .
. . . . Evangelists who create para-church organizations can become the slaves of their own creatures. The pressure to pay the bills of an expanding "outreach ministry" and to keep the organizational machinery running can erode the spiritual vitality of their ministry. Administration replaces ministry. Mechanics replaces dynamics. The fact that "money follows ministry" has led more than one servant of God into troubled waters and some into shipwreck. Such are the dangers of building one’s ministry outside the church. The dangers are real enough inside the church, but they are much greater outside of it. (Author Unknown)
. . . . God has given me the honor of serving Him as a God-called evangelist with a God-given gift for that purpose for some 35 consecutive years, conducting approximately 1,000 united and local church revival crusades in about every state in the USA, as well as in many foreign countries, for which I praise Him, so I am not writing as a novice.
We are aware that this office and gift has been abused, as have others, but churches do not stop calling pastors or sending forth missionaries and others because some have abused those offices.
If anyone could do the work of an evangelist without the God-given gift, God has made a mistake and we know that is impossible. I know God’s Word says that Paul told Timothy to do the work of an evangelist, but Timothy had to have had that gift or he could not have done the job. This is true of the pastor-teacher and others as well.
The role of the evangelist, as given in Ephesians 4:11-13, is not just to get lost sinners saved from the penalty and guilt of sin and leave the rest to the pastor-teacher, but for the perfecting, maturing, or building up of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ till we all come into the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect or mature man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
Most independent Baptist churches do not use evangelists, and many that do, do not take proper care of them, when they do have them. Thank God for all the exceptions. Many do not support evangelists as they do missionaries and others who serve God in other roles. Thank God for those that do.
Most independent Baptist schools do not have anything in their curriculum to train evangelists or help them to develop their God-given gifts to play that role. Thank God for those that do.
It is with rare exception that an evangelist is invited to preach at any fellowship meetings, either on a local, state or national level.
There are many different groups within the independent Baptist movement, and if you work with certain groups the other groups will not use you or even have fellowship with you. The walls are getting higher and the issues are becoming more acute.
As God’s Word reveals in I Cor. 12, using the anatomy of the human body, there is not a member of the body that functions for itself or independently of the head. There is diversity yet unity, cooperation and sympathy among and for the other members of the body. The eye does not say to the hand, “I have no need of thee,” and if the eye could hear, God would not have put the ear in the body. None of the members fight with one another, and when one member suffers, the others suffer with it; and when one member of the body is honored, the others rejoice.
This is the pattern that the head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ, has laid down for His church and when we do not do God’s work God’s way, it suffers.
It is heart breaking to see young evangelists starved out and so few entering into this ministry, because so many independent Baptist churches do not use them or take proper care of them. It is also heartbreaking to learn that there are so many independent Baptist churches that are not even having revival crusades any more. Thank God for all that are.
I’m sure that if pastors, who do not use worthy God-called and God-gifted evangelists, were called of God to be evangelists, they would be saying the same thing that I am saying in this article.
My prayer is that God will use this article to help bring about a true understanding of the New Testament office of the evangelist, and to create a better relationship between pastors and evangelists, and that our churches will permit the Head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ, through His Holy Spirit, to govern the functions of His gifts to His church for His glory.
I trust this article has been beneficial and helpful to you in better understanding the office and ministry of the Spirit-gifted, God-called evangelist.