In his second letter to Timothy, Paul wrote: “But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.” (2 Tim 4:5) If we stopped anyone in the street, Christian or atheist, (OK anyone over 40 who has lived in an English-speaking country), and asked them to name an evangelist and say what they did, we would almost certainly hear the name of Billy Graham and be told that they stood up in public places and preached about Jesus/ God/ the Bible. I think this image of “the evangelist” is still prevalent in the church today, and that “evangelism” is a special activity carried out at special events by a few gifted people, often in full-time ministry and “living by faith; and that the rest of us can only expect to occasionally “witness” or “share our faith” now and then, “sowing seeds” that we do not necessarily expect to see coming to fruition. But I don’t think this is the truth. In fact I think that it is an enfeebling dilution of the legacy that Jesus left to the Church, and doesn’t really help anyone to fulfil their ministry. If we combine the “Great Commission” verses in Matthew and Mark into one paragraph, we get the following:
“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover. Teach them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.” (Matt 28:18-30 combined with Mark 16: 15-20)
Just as the church has specialist prophets but “All can prophesy,” (1 Cor 14:31) and has specialist pastors and teachers but we are all called to love one another and to “teach and admonish one another in all wisdom;” (Col 3:16) we are all called, as Timothy was, to do the work of an evangelist and preach the gospel, even though the church also has specialist evangelists. (See Ephesians 4. It’s not the subject of this article, but leadership in every church should comprise all these specialist ministries. I’m just saying… ) So here ere are eight principals, eight “pillars of evangelism,” that we can take from Christ’s command. To do the work of an evangelist properly I think we need to take all of them seriously.
- All the world
We Go into all the world. Our workplace as disciples of Jesus is primarily the world. We don’t expect the world to come to the church; we take the church into the world.
- Every creature
We preach to every creature – old, young, rich and poor. God is no respecter of persons. In the parable of the wedding feast Jesus said: “Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.” Our commission is to make sure that the hall is filled with guests: whatever they are wearing, rags or riches, is all replaced by the wedding garment.
- Saved… condemned
We preach the full gospel: salvation and condemnation. To preach is to proclaim, with authority, something that has been done, in the manner of a herald. (From the Strong’s definition.) We are heralds of what Christ has done for us and its consequences, both for those who believe and those who don’t believe.
- Baptizing them
We baptize converts in water and we baptize in the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands. “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. (Heb 6: 1-2) The Ephesian church was birthed through baptism and the laying on of hands: “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.” (Acts 19: 5-6) Being filled with the Holy Spirit has experiential results. If we do not ourselves have the faith and the personal experience to pray for someone to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to experience some consequences of that infilling, we need to leave that ministry to someone who does. In the case of the Ephesians, it was Paul. Otherwise we are offering a hungry person cornflakes and just giving them an empty packet.
- I am with you always
We go, therefore, knowing the presence of God, who with us always, because we are in Christ, baptized into Him, into His death and His resurrection (Romans 6:3). We operate “in the name of Jesus” because we have been baptized into His identity. A Christian is a “little Christ,” not a partial Christ.
- All authority
We go in His authority: When Jesus sent out the seventy, He said “Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” (Luke 10:19) This was before Pentecost. Whether or not it is in the realm of our current experience, we are now in the day of the Greater Things; we are raised together with Him and seated with Him in Heavenly places. We have more authority now than the seventy, not less.
- These signs will follow
Knowing what it means to be sent in His name, we go in the full expectation of signs and wonders following the preaching of the gospel. Paul writes: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16) To preach the gospel is to proclaim Christ’s authority over all of heaven and earth, over all the works of the enemy including sickness and demonisation. If we have no expectation of His authority being manifested when we preach “the power of God unto salvation,” we are like people who get into their company car and don’t start the engine. Not only are we going nowhere, but we are not honouring the One who paid with His life for us to have the car in which we have been told to “Go.”
- Teach them
Finally, as “fishers of men,” we keep those whom we have caught. Jesus said “Those whom You gave Me, I have kept. And none of them is lost, except the child of perdition.” (John 17:12) God will give us as many as we can keep, therefore we make sure that we teach them all the things that Jesus has commanded us, so that they in turn can go and make disciples.
Jesus said that it’s the harvest field that needs workers, not the seedbed. It’s time the Church took seriously the work of the evangelist, and started reaping.