Evangelists and Preachers
Often the first representative a person may meet from a church is the evangelist. A person who serves as an evangelists plays a vital role in teaching the gospel. However, the words "evangelist", "preacher", and "minister" have been used differently by so many denominations, it has become necessary that we turn to the pages of the Bible to discover God's original purpose and design for this great work and service.
What Does an Evangelist Do?
The answer to this question is best explained by the apostle Paul, "Preach the Word!" (II Timothy 4:2-5). It is not to oversee and guide the church, which according to the Bible is the work of the elders. Preaching is the central work of "evangelists", "ministers", and "preachers". All of these references denote the same work, or role, but each describes a unique facet of the work involved. Examining the original meaning of these words will help us in better understanding the work of an evangelist.
First, the word "evangelist" comes from the Greek word, euaggelistes, which means a messenger of good news. The second word, translated "minister", is most often derived from diakonos, which means a general servant or helper. Finally, "preacher" refers to one who is a herald for a king, proclaiming the king's message. The original Greek word for "preacher" was kerux. All of these words describe anyone who serves Christ and the church by proclaiming, speaking, or teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The best source of information for detailing the work of an evangelist is contained in the New Testament letters addressed to evangelists, which are Titus, I Timothy, and II Timothy. Each of these were written by the apostle Paul to evangelists, instructing them how to properly perform the work of a preacher. In these letters, Paul, who speaks of himself as a preacher (I Timothy 2:7), commands these evangelists:
"If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed." ... "These things command and teach. ... be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine." ... "Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you." I Timothy 4:6, 11-16
From these verses, we can learn that one of the primary responsibilities of an evangelist is studying and meditating upon God's Word (II Timothy 2:15; 3:15-17). It is from the Bible that he proclaims and "commands" God's will, and by "speaking as the oracles of God" (I Peter 4:11) , a preacher's words bind people, not of his own authority, but because they are God's words, carrying His authority. However, Christians are not asked to blindly follow their preacher, but we should instead be like the Bereans who were commended for double-checking the words of the apostle Paul against the Old Testament scriptures.
How Can I become an Evangelist?
In a general sense, anyone who performs this work could be spoken of as an evangelist or preacher. However, the Bible more often use these words to describe someone who has given up secular work and devoted their profession to that of proclaiming and teaching the gospel. It is in this sense that the apostle Paul spoke:
"If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more?" ... Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel." I Corinthians 9:11-12, 14
When we read through the Scriptures, we find several examples of the apostle Paul, accepting funds from churches to support his preaching of the gospel (Philippians 4:14-16). However, we find that he sometimes preached free of charge, either working himself or being supported by other congregations, whenever it was more expedient and beneficial for the effectiveness of the gospel (I Corinthians 9:14-23; II Corinthians 11:7-9).
How is an Evangelist Selected?
The Bible speaks of the apostle Paul being called, or appointed as a preacher (I Timothy 2:7). However, it was manifested to him through a miraculous vision and inspiration that he was selected to be an apostle and preacher (Acts 26:12-20). Unfortunately, we do not have the benefit of such visions and inspiration today. So, who decides which people should be preachers?
In Peter's instructions to elders, he commands them to "shepherd the flock of God" (I Peter 5:1-4), and Paul gives a similar command in Acts 20:28. Therefore, as "shepherds of the flock of God" , elders are responsible for seeing that the flock is well fed. Moreover, we learn that being "apt to teach" and "able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict", are two of the qualifications of an elder (I Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9). Therefore, elders are the ones who are responsible for overseeing the spiritual feeding and nourishment of a church, which would consequently include having tremendous influence and responsibility in selecting a local preacher.
As we observed in our study of church autonomy, the elders are to shepherd the flock "among them" (I Peter 5:1-4). This passage prevents outside organizations, including outside elders, from selecting a preacher for a church of which they are not a member and whose number they are not "among". Therefore, each church must select its own preacher, led by their elders.
This explains how a church selects a preacher, but how does one decide to become a preacher? There are two parts to this answer. First, a person, like the prophet Jeremiah, must feel a strong responsibility and motivation to proclaim God's Word to a lost and dying world that so badly needs the gospel (Jeremiah 18:9). Part of this motivation, or reason for deciding to become a preacher may be the recognition of opportunities and talents that obligate one to fulfill this needed task. Although directly instructed to preach, the prophet Ezekiel was warned that he would share in the punishment of the wicked if he observed their wickedness, but refused to teach them (Ezekiel 3:17-21; 33:1-11). This same principle is evident in Jesus parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Opportunity implies responsibility.
Not only must a preacher be properly motivated, but he must also be diligent to perform his work as directed in God's Word. This includes constant study, meditation, and proclamation of God's Word - even when the audience does not want to hear the truth (II Timothy 4:1-5). If a person does not want to bear this responsibility, then he should heed the New Testament warning and not become an evangelist, or teacher (James 3:1). It should only be undertaken by men driven to serve the Lord in this capacity and are willing to do the service necessary to "fulfill your ministry" (II Timothy 2:1-5).
Evangelists are often recognized as a "pastor", or maybe as a "priest". In conjunction with the role of "priest", many evangelists are also called "Father" or "Reverend". This has become a common tradition among many churches, but what does the Bible have to say about these practices:
"But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." Matthew 23:8-12
Jesus strictly forbid the use of titles such as "Father", "Teacher", or "Rabbi" (meaning "Master"), explaining that these are titles and names for God, not people. In the Old Testament, we learn of another description or title for God.
"He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name." Psalm 111:9
Using such titles defies the direct command of Jesus, and it encourages the very attitude that He warned against. Christians are not to exhalt themselves or seek the recognition of men. Jesus made application of this principle specifically to the use of titles.
As we studied earlier, the word "pastor" means "herdsman, or shepherd", and it is most often used in conjunction with the office of elder. An evangelist may also serve as an elder, but being an evangelist does not necessarily make one a pastor. The elders are the ones who "oversee" and "shephed" the flock of God (I Peter 5:1-5).
During the Old Testament, God selected the tribe of Levi as a holy tribe from which "priests" would be chosen. The duty of these priests was to work in the temple and teach people about God and His will. However, in the New Testament, all Christians are to be priests. All Christians are to study and understand God's will for themselves, and they are to offer up their own spiritual sacrifices (I Peter 2:5; Hebrews 13:15). Jesus Christ alone serves as our High Priest and mediator between us and God (I Timothy 2:5). Therefore, recognition of evangelists as "priests" separate from all Christians is a misuse of the Bible term and an unscriptural title of exhaltation (Matthew 23:8-12).
Though the Bible forbids titles such as "Father", "Reverend", or "Priest", it does use the following designations for the role of one spreading the gospel: preacher, teacher, minister, and evangelist. Although they should never be used as titles of exhaltation, any of these terms can scripturally be used to describe this work and those who assume this role.
Each of us can serve as an evangelist and preacher whenever we proclaim the gospel. However, the Bible typically uses these words in a special sense to refer to men who choose to preach the gospel as their profession and live by it. Although we have specific authority for men receiving compensation for preaching, the Bible teaches that men should be willing to "labor with their own hands" whenever it increases their effectiveness in proclaiming the gospel, such as Paul (I Corinthians 9:14-23; Acts 20:33-35). Moreover, preachers must consider their responsibility to study so that they "speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine" (II Timothy 2:15; Titus 2:1).
Because of this influential role of a preacher, it is important that the elders of a local congregational be diligent in selecting an evangelist that will be faithful in performing his tasks. An evangelist is chosen at the intersection of men who are willing and capable to serve the Lord as ministers of the gospel and of the decision of a local congregation, led by their elders.
Let us never ignore, minimize, or pervert the important role of the gospel preacher and evangelist. It is one part of the many gifts that Christ has given His church to promote its "building up". When a congregation selects a preacher who diligently proclaims God's Word, then each of its members will be able to personally relate to the apostle Paul's statement:
"How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!" Romans 10:14-15
Please consider the desperate need for this great work:
"But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest." Matthew 9:36-38
Will you proclaim His Word today?
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