You've probably heard the term Evangelist before.Most people have. The term most likely brings something to mind. Sometimes positive. Often negative.
Does your idea match what other people think of when they hear the term evangelist?
More importantly, do any of these ideas match what the Bible tells us an evangelist is?
The truth is that most of the popular ideas about what an evangelist is and does are based on the culture, not the Bible.This is a problem.
The cultural idea of an evangelist is so popular that it is beginning to be used by companies. If you go to popular job sites and put the term evangelist into the search bar you will find many non-church jobs looking for evangelists. Many of these positions include the duties of spreading knowledge about a particular company, product, service, or idea.
The Bible tells us that Jesus gave some Evangelists for His church.
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11)The pastors tend to get the most attention in our modern church culture. It's hard to think about a local church without a pastor. Other members of the list can cause some controversy. Depending on your circles and denominational influences, you may have strong opinions about those positions in the church.
But this post is about the evangelists. More importantly, it's about what evangelists are not.
I've done a lot of research on evangelists. I've talked with church leaders. Read a bunch of articles, books, and commentaries. I even wrote a book of my own about evangelists.
In doing that research I encountered ten primary ideas that are commonly held about evangelists. When each of these ideas are examined in light of Scripture, they are all exposed as contrary to the biblical role.
The 10 Common, But Incorrect, Ideas
Here's the list:
- The Church Is The Evangelist
- Evangelists Are The Office of the Gospel Writers
- Evangelists Are Travelling Preachers of The Word
- Evangelists Are Those Gifted With the Spiritual Gift of Evangelism
- Evangelists Minister Primarily to the Lost
- Evangelists Were Apostolic Delegates
- Evangelists Are Church Planters or Missionaries
- The Pastor Does The Work of an Evangelist
- Evangelists Cannot Be Distinguished From Other Leaders
- Evangelists Are Officers With No Defined Office
The Bible Gives Us Enough Information To Avoid These Mistaken IdeasThere are three passages in the Bible that speak directly about evangelists. These passages are Ephesians 4:11-16, Acts 21:8, and 2 Timothy 4:5.
It may seem that such meager biblical evidence would cause problems in defining the role, purpose, ministry, and character of evangelists. The opposite is true.
If we pay careful attention to these passages (and their context) we have a true wealth of information. We can then allow the biblical data to renew and transform our minds, instead of simply allowing ourselves to be conformed to the cultural views.
So How Do These 3 Passages Refute The Commonly Held Incorrect Views?The biblical refutation is actually short and swift for most of them.
The real question is: Are we willing to change our minds if we are shown to be in error?
I hope so. If you find me to be in error, I hope you'll let me know in the comments. Be sure to explain how the biblical data better fits with your position. Please and thank you.
1. The Church, The Whole Church, and Nothing But The ChurchThe first inadequate view is one I have a lot of appreciation for. The sentiment is on the right track. It just needs minor modification.
This is the view that the whole church is the evangelist.
The idea is that the whole church, every member, exists to proclaim the glory of God.
The problem with this view is not the aim. It's the terminology.
Yes, the whole church exists for the glory of God. That is our purpose. This is made explicitly clear in Ephesians 1:12. Paul writes that God has made known His plan in Christ, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:12). The existence of Christians, our very being, is for the praise of His glory.
But does that mean that the whole church is an evangelist?
It does not.
If we allow the Bible to define its own terms (which we should), then the Bible tells us in all three of the passages that evangelists are individuals, not fellowships. The work of an evangelist is the work of a person, not a congregation.
Acts 21:8 tells us, On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him (Acts 21:8, bold added).
In Caesarea, Philip was the evangelist. Specific. Singular. The phrase that comes after - "one of the seven" - speaks about his former ministry as a deacon when he was still in Jerusalem (Acts 6). The church in Caesarea had an evangelist. His name was Philip.
Likewise, Paul instructed Timothy (who was in Ephesus at the time), But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:5, bold added). Paul is writing to an individual. The "you" at the beginning of the verse is you singular. Paul is not telling Timothy that he has to do the work of the whole church. That would be quite a burden!
Finally, Paul wrote about Christ's gift to His church in Ephesians 4:11, And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11, bold added). Christ gave some as evangelists. Not all.
No matter how commendable the sentiment, this view is contrary to all of the biblical data.It would be better terminology to say that the whole church exists as an ambassador for Christ, or a witness for Christ. Not an evangelist. This biblical term means something different. More specific.
2. Gospel Writers
At some point in history, the term evangelist definitely expanded to include the writers of our canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). If you read commentaries and other research helps you will almost certainly come across this more than once.
Our interest is not in what the term has come to mean. We are primarily interested in what the biblical definition is.
If you ignore the modern notions of what an evangelist is you will open yourself to misunderstanding. That would be bad.
However, if we misunderstand the biblical meaning then we open ourselves to improper leadership in the church. We open ourselves to missing out on a gift given by Jesus Himself. That's worse.
You can find many well-respected authors and commentators who refer to the Gospel writers as the evangelists. No dispute there.
But let's once again consider the biblical testimony.
Acts 21:8 tells us Philip was the evangelist in Caesarea.
Did Philip write one of our Gospels? No. He did not.
Paul instructed Timothy to do the work of an evangelist in 2 Timothy 4:5.
Did Timothy write one our Gospels? Nope. He sure didn't.
Therefore, no matter how many scholars use the term evangelist this way, we must admit that the Bible does not. Accordingly, this view is inadequate and should be discarded.
3. Travelling Preachers
This view is one of the most common. But majority opinion isn't always correct.
There have been many wonderful travelling preachers throughout the history of the church. There are many wonderful ministries of this type today. Often, these ministries label themselves as evangelists.
When critiquing this view I want to be clear: I am not critiquing travelling preachers in general.
The disagreement is with the terminology, not the model.
The Bible tells us that travelling teachers are a valid biblical ministry. Good travelling teachers are worthy of your support.
You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth. (3 John 1:6-8)
But are these travelling teachers rightly called evangelists?
The Bible never does.
When we first met Philip, he was in Jerusalem (Acts 6:5). As a result of the persecution that started after Stephen's death (Acts 7), everyone but the Apostles were scattered into Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1).
We get to see some of Philip's experiences on his way to Caesarea in Acts 8. A final summation is given after he preaches to the Ethiopian eunuch: But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea (Acts 8:40, bold added).
Philip is not doing anything special during this time. Acts 8:4 says, Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. Philip, like the rest of the church, is fleeing persecution and acting as a witness and ambassador along the way.
He continues doing so until he came to Caesarea. We don't hear anything about Philip again until Saul and his team arrive in Caesarea about twenty years later. This is what we saw in Acts 21:8 because Paul and his companions stayed with Philip in his house.
We must be clear that nothing in the text tells us that Philip did or did not travel again.Based on what the text does say, we know that Philip was in Jerusalem. He scattered when the persecution began. He preached all the way on his way to Caesarea. And that's where we find him twenty years later.
Perhaps most interesting is that the text doesn't call Philip an evangelist while he is travelling. It saves this term for when we find him settled in his house exercising hospitality to the travelling workers.
Most travelling "Evangelists" require hospitality from others. Here Philip the evangelist opens his home to the travelling workers!The typical modern idea is reversed. Instead of needing hospitality, Philip shows hospitality. Instead of relying on someone to give the evangelist temporary housing during his travels, we see the evangelist providing housing for those who are travelling.
If this was the only passage, it wouldn't be enough. Taken together with 2 Timothy 4:5 the case becomes stronger.
Paul instructed Timothy to do the work of an evangelist in Ephesus. Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to help correct some problems there.
As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines (1 Timothy 1:3, bold added)
How could Timothy remain at Ephesus to do his work if he was supposed to travel to other areas and preach?Paul's instructions to Timothy assumes a stationary post. This was not itinerant work.
When viewed together, these biblical examples show us that the travelling ministries of many brothers and sisters in Christ are not accurately termed "evangelists." Travelling teachers are an important part of Christian work. But they are not what the Bible describes as evangelists.
4. The Spiritual Gift of Evangelism?Many people assert that evangelism is a spiritual gift. I've taught that myself in the past. Spiritual gift tests often include evangelism.
But is this assertion valid?
The burden of proof is upon those claiming evangelism is a spiritual gift to support their claim biblically.
You'll see verses listed. But if you read the verses carefully, you'll never find "evangelism" listed as a spiritual gift.
Many commentators assert that Ephesians 4:11 says evangelism is a spiritual gift.
But read it again. No, it doesn't.
Ephesians 4:11 lists evangelists, not evangelism. You can't equate the two. They are different words!
Some commentators insist that the persons listed in Ephesians 4:11 are spiritually gifted with the corresponding gifts.
Apostles have the gift of apostleship.
Prophets have the gift of prophecy.
Evangelists have the gift of evangelism.
Pastors have the gift of shepherding.
Teachers have the gift of teaching.
The problem with this assertion is that it rests on the authority of the interpreter. It may sound right, but does the Bible actually say this?
You can read some of the most straightforward lists of spiritual gifts in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. You'll find gifts of leadership, prophecy, and teaching.
But you won't find evangelism.It's not there.
Experience will show us that some people like talking about Jesus more than others. No doubt.
Experience teaches us that some people lead more people to Christ than others do. No argument here.
Experience proves that some people are bolder, clearer, and better suited to proclaim the gospel publicly than others. Absolutely.
But none of these things indicate that the Bible teaches any such thing as a spiritual gift of evangelism. We must be careful when we begin using our experiences and opinions to define things that the Bible doesn't explicitly teach. We can get ourselves in trouble really fast if we don't proceed with caution.
Caution should be exercised any time we are making assertions that have no biblical text that teaches our position clearly. Yes, it is possible to interpret that evangelists have the gift of evangelism. But is this the best interpretation?
Ephesians 4:12 continues to describe the purpose of these gifted individuals that Christ has given: for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). If their task is equipping the saints, then it seems the spiritual gifts of leadership and teaching would be adequate. These gifts are explicitly mentioned in scripture as genuine gifts.
When we have opportunity to choose between interpretations that are speculative or rest simply on the assertions of scholars and commentators OR that rest on explicit teaching in the Scriptures which do you think you should choose?I am content to go with what I know the Bible teaches for sure instead of wading out into what seems right to me based on my own speculation or the speculations of others.
The burden of proof remains upon those who want to include evangelism as a valid spiritual gift to produce one biblical text that teaches this. Every passage that can be pointed to relies upon equivocation of terms and/or relying upon assumptions of the interpreter.
This isn't good enough. As a result, this view should also be discarded.
5. Ministers To The Lost?Almost everyone would agree that the evangelists primary ministry revolves around the conversion of the lost.
Almost everyone is wrong.
That's bold. I know.
The Bible teaches that the primary ministry of evangelists is actually the opposite. Look again at why Christ gave some as evangelists.
And He gave ... some as evangelists … for the equipping of the saints for the work of service... (Ephesians 4:11-12, bold added)
Jesus gave the evangelists (along with the other leaders) to equip the saints for the work of service. An equipped body will then build up the Body of Christ (which is how the verse continues).
An equipped body will continue to build up the Body of Christ: until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13).
We are given a purpose. A direction. And an end goal.
Evangelists, with the other leaders given by Christ, are given to equip the saints.
Redirecting the focus of evangelists away from the saints is a mistake.An equipped body of Christ will be better suited to reach the lost than individuals could ever do. Evangelists are given to help equip the saints to be effective in their individual and collective ministry to the lost.
Any definition of evangelists that redirects their primary task away from the saints should be rejected.
6. Were Evangelists Delegates of the Apostles?
This view was predominant during the Reformation.
Many who hold this view believe that the evangelists died out with the apostles. If there are no apostles, they can't send delegates. Therefore, when the last of the apostles died the office and ministry of evangelists died with them.
It is indisputable that the apostles sent delegates for certain tasks. Men like Timothy, Titus, and Crescens (e.g., 2 Timothy 4:10) were given responsibilities and oversight positions directly from the apostles.
In these cases the responsibilities, duties, and oversight of the delegates were temporary.
The authority entrusted to these men seemed to be on par with the apostles own authority. It extended beyond the normal local church authority.
The problem with this view is not centered on the fact that apostolic delegates existed. This cannot be disputed.
The problem comes from calling these delegates evangelists.
The Bible never does. Why should we?
I've read commentators who assert that Timothy was an evangelist. I've read others that insist he was the pastor. This is why the letters written to him are considered pastoral epistles.
I tend to agree with the commentators that view Timothy as neither a pastor nor an evangelist, but as an apostolic delegate. Timothy's role was temporary in his assignments. He did what Paul tasked him with. When he was done he was either available to join up with Paul again or be sent elsewhere.
Part of Timothy's responsibilities in Ephesus was to do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5). This doesn't mean that Timothy was an evangelist. Contrastingly, he was explicitly being told to do the work of an evangelist at this time and in this context.
If Timothy was an evangelist he would be doing the work of an evangelist always and everywhere.
If we rely on what the Bible tells us, instead of on what commentators assert, then there is only one man who is labeled as an evangelist. Philip in Acts 21:8.
Since we know for sure that Philip was an evangelist, we can then ask the question: Was Philip an apostolic delegate?
The answer to this question is, No.
Since the one person we know for sure who was an evangelist is not recorded as being a delegate of an apostle (like Timothy, Titus, and Crescens were), then we ought to reject the view that Evangelists were delegates of the apostles.
7. Church Planters and Missionaries
Another of the most common views is that evangelists are essentially church planters and/or missionaries.
Like with the office of Gospel Writers, the term evangelist undoubtedly took on this connotation. But is this what the biblical term means?
The answer is no. It's not how the Bible describes evangelists.
Let's remember Timothy's role in Ephesus. He was urged to remain there to help the church work out some issues. As Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, the young apostolic delegate had been ministering to the believers in Ephesus.
Paul urged Timothy to do the work of an evangelist. While Timothy was in Ephesus. Where the church had already been planted.
Whatever duties Paul had in mind for Timothy, he was not telling him to plant a church in Ephesus. He was not telling Timothy to go to a place where Christ had not already been preached as a missionary.
Despite its popularity, biblically speaking it is impossible that the work of an evangelist meant planting churches or preaching Christ as a missionary. No doubt church planting and missionary work are important tasks.
They just aren't the tasks of biblical evangelists.
8. Pastors Do The Work of An Evangelist?
If we think Timothy was the pastor of Ephesus, then this view follows fairly naturally. Paul directly told Pastor Timothy, "Do the work of an evangelist!"
But let's stop and think about this for just a minute. This view, if correct, contradicts itself. So, it's wrong even if it's right!
In order to accept this view we must equivocate on our terms. We must blend together things that do not naturally blend. We must admit that unnecessary words are being used and thrown around which only add confusion.
If the work of a pastor is to do the work of an evangelist, then why tell a pastor to do the work of an evangelist? Why not just tell them to do the work of a pastor?
If part of the calling of pastors is to do the work of an evangelist on an on-going basis, then why did Christ give some as evangelists and some as pastors?
If the pastors are supposed to be doing the work of the evangelists, then what are the evangelists supposed to be doing?
The results of this view are absurd.
I am a pastor. I understand the burdens, blessings, joys, and struggles of the work of a pastor. We do not need an extra burden upon us that is not ours to bear.
What we need is for pastors to do the work of pastors and for evangelists to do the work of evangelists. In doing so, the church will be properly equipped and built up to the glory of God.
This view, too, should be rejected as inadequate when examined biblically.
9. Evangelists Cannot Be Distinguished From Other OfficersWhen we read the basic job description of all the leaders listed in Ephesians 4:11, we must admit that it is kind of vague.
Equip the saints.
Since the basic job description doesn't explain how each of these categories of leaders (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor/teachers) contributes to the equipping of the saints, some conclude that their roles are blurry. Indistinguishable. Perhaps even interchangeable.
Based on the vagueness of the description of duties, they propose a general or vague leadership approach. Perhaps the duties and responsibilities overlap. Leadership in a general sense is given and these leaders do what's necessary.
Makes sense. Seems possible.
However, if we take a step back and think about the context this view becomes harder to maintain. It can be agreed upon that the duties and responsibilities of these leaders may be vague to us.
However, they don't seem vague to Paul, Timothy, or the saints in Ephesus who wrote and received these instructions.
Paul could write to Timothy that he should do the work of an evangelist and expect that Timothy understood what he meant. Paul didn't have to specify the details because Timothy had an understanding of what Paul was telling him to do already.
Likewise, the saints in Ephesus knew the difference between the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Paul didn't have to define these roles. The saints in Ephesus were familiar with them already.
Our problem comes because we've drifted from the apostolic foundation. We've allowed cultural ideas to influence the biblical roles. Now, when we look back we have some trouble distinguishing the roles and figuring out how to separate and define them.
Hopefully we can agree that even if the distinctions are vague or elusive to us, that doesn't mean they cannot be defined and distinguished.
The conclusion is that these officers can be distinguished. They have different titles. They have different responsibilities. Attempting to define these in full detail is well beyond the purpose of this post. For now, we may simply conclude that the idea that evangelists cannot be distinguished from the other officers is inadequate and should be rejected.
10. Evangelists Are Officers Without An Office?In practice, almost everyone holds to this view. Whatever view is taken about evangelists, the one thing that seems to be consistent across the board is that evangelists operate outside of the local church in the "parachurch."
Evangelists may be brought in for ministry by pastors. They may be relied upon by officers of the local church and supported by the church. But they are not recognized as regular, permanent leaders in a local body.
What is most interesting to me about this view is that most people who discuss leaders in the church have something to say about the apostles. They have a view on the prophets. They are passionate and descriptive about pastors and teachers.
Evangelists are seemingly forgotten. Take 'em or leave 'em. Maybe they are useful from time to time. Other times, the work of the local church is not affected positively, negatively, or even neutrally by the ministry of the evangelists floating about out there in the world.
How do we justify giving an office to everyone else in Ephesians 4:11 and neglecting the evangelists?
How is it that we study church leadership and install pastors in nearly every local church but have no consideration for evangelists? How do we elevate the office of pastor to necessary for the local church and relegate evangelists to optional? Where is the justification for these interpretive decisions?
We have leaders listed in the same context. For the same purpose. Leaders whose roles and importance are then treated completely differently.
I'm calling foul.
There is interpretation bias affecting our conclusions.
The conclusions we reach influence the leadership we submit to. The leadership we submit to influences the direction of our ministries. This stuff is important. We have to talk about it.
If you read the book of Ephesians in its entirety (and you should), you'll see that the Apostle Paul states that the apostles and prophets are foundational (with Jesus Christ Himself) to all church ministry (Ephesians 2:19-22). This means that the ministries of Jesus, the apostles, and the prophets are trans-local, or universal, in their influence.
Every church must be built on the same foundation. Regardless of location, denomination, affiliation, persuasion, or whatever else, every church is under the headship of Christ.
Christ gave the apostles and prophets for the purpose of revealing His divine will for His people. In all places. Everywhere.
As an apostle, Paul received revelation directly from God to describe the leaders given to properly equip and shepherd the Body of Christ. This included evangelists and pastor/teachers at the local level. For equipping the saints. Until we are all built up and attain the fullness of Christ.
All throughout Scripture we see two main tasks in the church. The internal mission and the external mission. Both built upon the timeless, unchanging foundation.
Why wouldn't Christ give an overseer to both major tasks? Why wouldn't Jesus provide overseers for the external as well as the internal? Why would Jesus provide any gaps that may allow one or the other mission to be neglected or placed on the back-burner?
The answer is He wouldn't. And He didn't.
Jesus gave evangelists and pastor/teachers as part of the permanent, on-going oversight of the local church.
To kick evangelists out of their office and into the parachurch is a sin against them and against the Body of Christ. It will negatively impact our ability to grow into the fullness of Christ. It will detract from our unity and knowledge of the Son of God. It will because Jesus gave evangelists (along with the other officers) for these purposes.
These Common Views Of What An Evangelist Is And Does Are All InadequateBut we shouldn't lose hope. We should redeem the biblical term and role from the cultural deviation. By the grace of God, we can.
If we do so, we can expect that God will honor His design and work through His leaders and Body for the purposes of His own glory. There is an ideal church model.
Only then can we expect to see what God promised regarding His church in all generations:
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)