Most Protestant Christians are encouraged to evangelize; instructed that it’s the duty of all Christians. Indeed, it is the job of all Christ followers to make disciples (Matthew 28:19), but not all of us are evangelists; nor are all of us called to be. Rather, “evangelist” is a church office, like apostle, prophet and teacher.
Today, we use the term evangelist in its broadest sense: anyone who evangelizes (preaches the gospel). We also use it to describe people who are especially good at bringing others to Christ, which gets a little closer to Paul’s definition. For Paul, the definition was quite narrow and involved a particular function, a specific church office. Paul mentions evangelists in Ephesians 4:11–16.
Here, Paul explains that church leadership is about equipping God’s people who are called to be holy. He doesn’t say it’s about telling other Christians (saints) what to do or how to act. “Saints” simply means “holy ones.” The term is used broadly in Paul’s letters to refer to all Christ followers. It’s a title that all people who accept Christ receive. Evangelists are meant to use their gift to equip all saints. We may understand the function of the ministry of "evangelist" now, but we're yet to figure out what the term means. Some further investigation gives us some clues about this.
In Acts 21, the narrator describes entering the home of “Philip the evangelist” (Acts 21:8). This suggests that “the evangelist” was a title in the early church. The apostolic church fathers use "the evangelist" to reference John, who wrote the Gospel, whom they call “John the Evangelist.”
Similarly, Paul encourages Timothy—in the only other occurrence of this word in the New Testament—to fulfill his ministry as an evangelist (1 Timothy 4:5). Paul even notes that Timothy will endure suffering for his role. In the context of this passage, Paul describes the need for Timothy to be ready to teach, reprove, and reproach, as needed and required. This is suggested because of Paul's prediction that there is a time coming when correct teaching will cease or fail. The work of the evangelist becomes all the more relevant when other ministries fail. Timothy is charged with a preaching ministry that combats heretical teaching and confronts people on their problems. By extension, and according to the framework of early Christians, this meant proclaiming Christ as the answer. That’s the work of the evangelist.
Perhaps one of the greatest problems with preaching ministries today is the expectation that ministers be teachers, apostles, prophets, and evangelists. You often hear people say things like, “He’s a great evangelist, but I don’t feel like I learn much during his sermons.” Or, “He’s a great leader, but I just don’t feel confronted when he preaches.” These comments are usually said in the negative, but they point out the intentional polemic set up in the early church. Possessing all spiritual offices or all spiritual gifts equates to all power and authority. And, as we all well know, all power is bad in the hands of anyone but Christ. For this reason, Christ is the only one with all these gifts, possessing all these offices. No one else can fulfill all these roles. We are but pieces of one larger picture; small instruments in a great song.
What’s your role?
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