Is failing to utilise evangelists properly killing the Western church?

Is failing to utilise evangelists properly killing the Western church? March 2, 2017

Evangelist Billy Graham preaches one Sunday to more than 40,000 worshipers at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. (Edited version of a UCLA image.
Evangelist Billy Graham preaches one Sunday to more than 40,000 worshipers at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. (Edited version of a UCLA image.

Evangelists are the lifeblood of the church. We neglect and alienate them at our peril. Could it be that the fact that so many of them are wounded, and not fully functioning in our churches is one of the main reasons the Western Church is heamorraging members, not growing from strength to strength?

Who are your great heroes of the faith in years gone by?  Chances are many of them were evangelists.  Perhaps you are thinking about Wesley and Whitefield who racked up thousands of miles in single-minded determination to share the gospel, or a man like Spurgeon who, although a pastor, preached in such a way that many thousands were saved. Or one of the great Missionaries?

There is also no question that the single best known Christian of the last century was Billy Graham who was an extraordinary evangelist.  In fact to be an evangelical used to mean largely that you supported his ministry! How can we be evangelicals without evangelists?

And yet today it sems to me that there are few if any evangelists who are widely known and respected in the Church. Indeed, there are also few evangelists clearly recognised and released in most local churches. Churches hire pastors, they hire youth workers, they sometimes hire worship leaders. But few churches seem to have evangelists on staff.

Some will say ‘but the age of mass evangelism is dead’ or ‘there is no point in putting up tents or hiring out stadiums any more.’

To which I simply ask, what sort of evangelism are you doing then?

It is not as though there are no evangelistic systems on offer to the Church today. The global success of the Alpha Course is certainly a remarkable example. And we have to thank God for Nicky Gumbell who pioneered this amazing ministry.  And yet fascinatingly, for the author of this fantastic evangelistic tool, I am not certain if Nicky Gumbell views himself an evangelist. He is the pastor of the incredibly successful Holy Trinity Brompton and leads a vast church planting effort. One wonders if our most successful recent evangelistic tool was not actually written by an evangelist at all. But admitedly it seems strange to argue Nicky isnt an evangelist when so many people have been saved through his ministry.

There are other evangelists who are also pastors. I think of my two very different friends Bob Roberts, who has taken on an evangelist’s mantle, worked out in his personal friendships with  Immams and world leaders, and Rice Broocks who authored the fantastic book God’s Not Dead and The God Test. Both of them in their own unique way embody the gift of the Evangelist.  Rice in fact wrote what is believed to be the first every doctorate on this much neglected gift.

What has happened to all the evangelists?

In my experience, evangelists often have a hard time fitting into many churches. They love the lost more than they love those Christians who think they have got it together. And they sometimes worry about whether your church is a suitable place to bring their as yet unsaved friend along to. And if their friend is a bit shall we say ‘unsavory’ and your church doesn’t welcome them, well to be honest sometimes there is a risk that your aspiring evangelist will simply leave.

Evangelists can also find the rest of us frustrating. After all, Jesus did give us the Great Commission. Evangelists are energised by this, and some may love nothing better than good old-fashioned knocking on doors or open air ministry. They don’t understand our reluctance and fear of failure. They don’t need to be told to read a classic book like the Soul Winner, they live it naturally.

Many aspiring evangelists leave churches and join missionary societies. The Societies do a lot of good, but one side effect is that many of our best evangelists can no longer be found in the church pews. For the budding evangelist, suddenly they feel liberated. And yet, one has to wonder how many missionary societies would we need if the Church itself took the Great Commission seriously?

Sadly, many evangelists are also wounded by their experiences over the years, and become more and more dislocated from Christ’s church. It ought not to be this way.

I still believe that God intends for churches to be equipped by all the Ephesians 4 ministries. It is perhaps a bit simplistic, but I once expanded on something Terry Virgo once said to claim:

A Pastor loves Christians
A Teacher loves books
An Evangelist loves non-Christians
A Prophet loves God
An Apostle loves the Church

Surely we need all these perspectives fully active in our churches? Surely we need Evangelists not just so they can win souls to Christ, but so they can inspire the rest of us and train us to do so too.

HOPEREBORN_ann vonkamp

I co-authored  Hope Reborn: How to Become a Christian and Live For Jesus not just to help people who are at the point of committing themselves to Christ, but because all Christians need to be able to explain a simple outline of the gospel with others.  Yet, despite studying to write that book I find I need someone to preach the gospel to me often or I become complacent about it, and take it for granted, and it loses its impact in my own life. I need to hear the gospel afresh or my faith begins to slowly fade.

May God raise up more evangelists.  And may God give wisdom to the Church to know how best to fully integrate and release their ministry.

What do you think? How should churches be training and releasing evangelists?

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