Every Christ-follower needs to be able to speak on behalf of Christ but not every Christ-follower is an evangelist. Most local churches have some evangelists among their people – Lockwood certainly does – but not everyone is an evangelist nor does God expect everyone to act like one.
Evangelists are a gift to the church, just like pastors (Ephesians 4:11). They have a special role in articulating the gospel to people outside the church. In Greek, the word for “evangelist” (euangelisteis) is closely related to the word “gospel” (euangelion). English usage would better reflect Greek if we called evangelists “gospelers.”
When Jesus sent out the 12 and later the 72, he sent out gospelers. Paul was a gospeler. Some of the colleagues with whom he traveled around the Mediterranean were gospelers. Philip (in Acts 8) was known as The Evangelist – the gospeler. Peter reminds his readers of the people who evangelized them – the gospelers who reached them before he did.
Evangelists are able to make the gospel clear. They know what the good news is and they know why it is important. Not all evangelists are outgoing extroverts, but many of them are. Yet it is not their personality that makes them evangelists. It is God’s work in them that fits them for the job.
Think of a gospeler/evangelist as the kingdom’s version of a military recruiter. He is constantly telling people why the kingdom is important, why it is good, and why they should join. He thinks about that a lot and he is able to speak about it persuasively.
That is what evangelists do. They think about what God has done and is doing in Christ. They think about how to make that clear to people and they look for opportunities to do so. Speaking about Christ does not embarrass them.
But not everyone is an evangelist and not everyone is expected to act like one. I’ve seen estimates that suggest 1 out of 10 people in the church is an evangelist. My own observation would suggest that the ratio is lower than that. But whatever the ratio, it is clear that most of us are not evangelists. That takes the pressure off. I don’t need to be Billy Graham. I can be Shayne Looper.
What a relief! I don’t need to put myself out there. I don’t need to be an extrovert. I can avoid those awkward conversations. I don’t need to talk about God and his Christ.
I’m not sure about those first three statements, but I am sure about the last one: it’s false. We don’t all need to be evangelists but we do all need to speak on behalf of God and his Christ. Evangelists make openings for the gospel. They can somehow create opportunities where there were none. We may not be able to do that. But when an opportunity does arise – and it will arise if our life with, and as part of, the church is playing the right soundtrack – we need to be ready to give people an answer.
Both the Apostles Peter and Paul gave instructions about this. They knew that if we follow Jesus’s directions, people will ask questions. When we get the chance to answer those questions, they want us to have something worth saying.
This is the Apostle Peter. “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:13-16).
Now listen to the Apostle Paul: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:2-6, italics added).
Peter and Paul are calling plays from the same playbook. Peter’s, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks” sounds a lot like Paul’s, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” These instruction are for ordinary believers, not just evangelists. Every follower of Jesus should be prepared to answer questions about Christ. That includes us.
All of us, not just pastors, evangelists, and church leaders, have a responsibility to give an answer when asked. The apostles are not telling everyone to “Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). They are not saying, “be ‘ready to preach the gospel’” (Romans 1:15, KJV). They don’t order us to initiate conversations. They tell us to be prepared to give answers.
Again: That means they were expecting questions and that is where the church comes in. When the church is the contrast society that God intends, people will ask questions. Being a contrast society means, among other things, that we love and forgive each other, love our spouses and our enemies (and our spouses when they are our enemies), renounce vengeance, operate by a sexual ethic that honors God’s creation and respects others’ rights, are true to our word, refuse to condemn and shame, and put others’ welfare above our success. When a group of us lives like that, people will ask questions.
(More on this tomorrow.)