In the Apostle Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he states, “But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5 NKJV). It is intriguing to me that Paul specifically urges Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” here. Although Paul was primarily an itinerant evangelist – and Timothy had also traveled with him on numerous occasions – Paul had appointed Timothy to the ministry of being a pastor and teacher to the congregation at Ephesus in order to continue their spiritual growth as well as to protect them from false teachers who often came after Paul contradicting what he had taught (see 1 Timothy 1:3-4). Perhaps Paul was concerned that Timothy might become so focused on pastoring and teaching in the church at Ephesus that he would forget to share the Gospel with others outside the congregation. Unfortunately, this is a very real possibility for both pastors and teachers in churches even today.
Having served as a pastor myself for nearly three decades, I understand how easy it is to get caught up in the responsibilities of tending a flock and forget about the importance of sharing the Good News with potential believers outside the local church. I often tried to soothe my conscience in this regard by telling myself that I was evangelizing by preaching and teaching in my congregation each week, because there were always some attendees (such as children, teens, visitors, or even some adults who attended regularly just to please their spouses) who hadn’t made a profession of faith in Christ yet, but I knew in my heart that this was still inadequate to what Jesus required of me. Therefore, I would occasionally visit door-to-door in my community inviting folks to attend my local church. However, even this effort was inadequate because I usually failed to ask them pointedly about their relationship with Jesus Christ. Furthermore, I was occasionally disheartened to learn from some of my faithful congregants who also invited folks to our church or from a pastor of a different denomination that some of these people with whom I had visited had lied to me when they told me they were members of another church. The reason one of those other pastors would share his experience with me was because those same folks would lie to him that they attended my church! It soon became a game with me to inquire further from folks like these what the name of their pastor was or who some of the folks were who also attended that church, because I usually knew both the pastor and a few of the members of those local churches from community interactions. Although I would rarely challenge them on it when they stammered to think of the right response, my smile likely conveyed to them what I was thinking: “Gotcha!” Unfortunately, confronting these people with their lies neither shamed nor converted them. Just as my knowing smile communicated, “Gotcha!” to them, their faintly embarrassed look conveyed, “Touché!” to me. I prayed afterwards for God to convict their hearts and draw them into a saving relationship with Him, but I have no idea how many ever eventually entered the Kingdom, if any. I suppose I’ll have to wait until Christ’s return to get the answer to that question.
While wrestling with Paul’s command to Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist”, there are some in the church who argue that this work is either a spiritual gift or a divine calling. Is the work of evangelism a spiritual gift that some Christians have and others do not or is it a work to which God calls some but doesn’t call others? Well, let’s consider these questions for a moment.
When we read the two extensive lists of spiritual gifts which the Apostle Paul gave in his letters to the churches in Rome and Corinth (see Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-11), it’s clear that there is no mention of a gift of evangelism. However, when Paul mentions the ministry of evangelism in his letter to the Ephesians (the same church where he sent Timothy to be the pastor, incidentally), he describes it as an office (Ephesians 4:11-12). So, does this mean that only those ordained as clergy are tasked with the work of evangelism, teaching, etc.? This always seemed to be the prevailing opinion throughout every congregation I ever served, despite my preaching to the contrary. I wonder if some may have thought I was preaching and teaching on “the priesthood of all believers” as a way of shirking my duty as a clergyman, but others would take the message to heart and begin sharing their faith after hearing me preach and teach on it for a while. Nevertheless, if the work of an evangelist is a particular office for ordained clergy only, why was Paul instructing the Ephesians (not Timothy alone) that God gave the offices of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:11-12)? And what ministry might that be? Could that ministry also include being an evangelist? Moreover, if we truly believe in “the priesthood of all believers” (which we base largely upon 1 Peter 2:9) why do we still make distinctions between clergy and laity? Well, I think we should make these distinctions in order to differentiate between those appointed to these different offices and those being trained for ministry by those in these different offices. Therefore, it is my personal understanding that those described as “laity” are saints in training “for the work of ministry” by other saints in one of these five offices, even though these saints in training may continue to perform another vocation as well, such as a truck driver or electrician or CEO of a major corporation.
So, whether we are clergy or laity how can and should we “do the work of an evangelist”? It’s very easy: simply share the Good News about the saving work that Jesus Christ has done in our personal lives and how He wants to do the same in the lives of those with whom we share our individual faith experience. It’s not rocket science. While it does require courage (especially if you’re an acute introvert, like me), that’s where the power of God’s Holy Spirit comes in. He will give to each of us a holy boldness like unto that which He gave to the Apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost. This same man who, weeks before, had denied even knowing Jesus for fear of his life became one of the most courageous proclaimers of the Gospel ever mentioned in the Bible. The same Holy Spirit will do the same for each of us. In fact, I can personally testify that He has already done so for me or else I couldn’t continue to evangelize, preach or teach or be able to write about this topic with any sort of authority or genuineness.
For those of us dedicated to doing digital evangelism along with our face-to-face evangelism, we have a host of other options by which to share our faith, too, including blogging and social media. Before I conclude this article, I’d like to illustrate that point by directing you to my blog and to an interchange I had recently with a stranger via an online friend’s Facebook page on the sensitive subject of abortion and contraception. I doubt I changed his thinking, but at least I shined the light of God’s truth on the subject. Who knows who else was following our discussion or who else will stumble upon our discussion in the future? Only God knows the impact it will have on saving souls.