And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…–Ephesians 4:11-12
Most of us are likely familiar with the term “evangelist.” Certainly we have heard about Billy Graham and his crusades, and if you grew up in a Southern Baptist church you likely experienced more than one “revival” in which an “evangelist” came and spoke. Maybe it even had musical evangelists.
Much of our modern conception about evangelists ties to the notion of revivalism in evangelical church life, but does this conception match the Bible’s description?
The Bible does not actually say much about the role of the evangelist. In Acts 21:8, Luke calls Philip “the evangelist.” In Acts 8, Luke presents us with the story of Philip going various places and sharing the Gospel, most famously with the Ethiopian eunuch, but is this what Luke meant years later by the term “evangelist”? After all, Philip was not alone in his ventures. Saul brought persecution to the church at Jerusalem, and the text tells us the body of the church scattered throughout Judea and Samaria, except the Apostles. And, “Those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (8:4). Philip was not unique in this task, but was simply the one mentioned by Luke likely because the reader was already familiar with him from Acts 6 and the account of the seven (and also, certainly because the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to write about Philip).
In 2 Timothy 4:5, Paul charges Timothy to do the work of an evangelist, this along with faithfully preaching the word. Though we base this most on history and tradition and only hints in Scripture, many commonly understand Timothy to be a pastor in Ephesus at this time. If so, then Timothy would not have traveled around like Philip did in Acts 8.
So all the Bible leaves us with in terms of a sure description of “evangelist” is Paul’s statement in Ephesians 4. The victorious Christ gave certain gifts to his church—and in this case, gifts of “office” including the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. For the life of the church, Paul stated two chapters earlier that the apostles and prophets laid the foundation of the church. Therefore, we can conclude their ministry has not continued throughout history but has come to an end.
Pastor-teacher is simply a synonym for the office of elder/overseer as we find in other texts (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, Acts 20, and 1 Peter 5), which is a continuing office for the church. But what do we do with the “evangelists”?
I contend, based on Ephesians 4, the primary work of the evangelists is not to preach the Gospel to the lost. Now this might seem odd, since the term “evangelist” essentially means “one who tells the good news,” but consider how Paul describes them. They, along with pastor-teachers, equip the saints for the work of ministry, so the body is built.
In other words, instead of mainly preaching to the lost, the evangelists are there to equip the saints (the church body) to do the ministerial work of preaching to the lost. This does not mean that an evangelist never evangelizes, but instead of having a ministry based on “revivals,” “camp meetings,” or “crusades,” the evangelists work within the established church to help the whole body scatter into the world (work, school, home, play, etc.) to preach to the lost.
Now how does this happen exactly? (And this is a bit more speculative, so feel free to disagree and suggest your own ideas!)
I come from the camp that believes God designed each church to have a plurality of elders as its leadership (if you’re uncomfortable with the term “elders” substitute “pastors”). I believe that both evangelists and pastor-teachers fall into the category of church elders. In other words, where a plurality exists some will be gifted more towards issues of evangelism and others will be gifted more towards areas of teaching. This does not mean the teachers do not evangelize or the evangelists do not teach, but their strengths lean to one side or the other.
The teachers oversee the bulk of the teaching ministry in church life (sermons, Sunday Schools, small groups, etc.) while the evangelists oversee the bulk of the evangelistic ministry. The teachers disciple Christians to help other Christians grow, and the evangelists disciple Christians to boldly share the Gospel with the lost.
With both the teaching side and the evangelistic side working together, the body truly is equipped to focus externally by reaching out to those who do not follow Jesus, and to focus internally by investing in those who do follow Jesus.
This is a bit of a straw-man yet also seems to have some validity—a criticism I have heard about churches in several areas: it seems that some are very evangelistic and outward focused but have a rapidly revolving backdoor and provide few avenues of spiritual growth for those within the church; and others are very inward focused and may produce people who know a lot about the Bible and theology but do very little out in the world.
So why don’t we try lifting up the pastor-teachers and the evangelists within local church leadership so as to strike a balance between the external and internal so the saints truly are equipped, do the work of the ministry, and help the church grow?