The Work of an Evangelist

I want to share some thoughts this month on the ministry of the evangelist. Although I am a local church leader, I also have the opportunity to ‘do the work of an evangelist’ quite regularly, and I know a little about the challenges that evangelists face. At the time of writing, I am in Brazil where I have had the privilege of preaching Christ crucified in seven different cities. Last night I preached to a crowd of thousands in a public square, with signs following. Oh, that scenes like this would come to Britain! Let us pray and let us work.

As an evangelist, 2 Corinthians is my travelling companion and I commend it to all those in the ministry. In the fourth chapter, we get a glimpse of Paul’s joys and struggles as a missionary. He begins and ends the chapter with: ‘We do not lose heart’. It is probably very easy to grow discouraged as an evangelist. No matter how prayerful, persistent or persuasive you are, many people do not respond to the glorious message of Jesus. Disappointment is a dimension of every ministry, of course, but especially that of the faithful witness. God has granted free will to men and women; to choose Christ or to reject Him, and He will not over ride it.

Fatigue and physical challenge can also cause us to ‘lose heart’. A large portion of 2 Corinthians records Paul’s sufferings (see chapter 11). Last Friday, in less than perfect health, I visited the slums of Rio de Janeiro, where my prayers for the sick were interrupted by the noise of machine guns in the street outside. I was quite alarmed, but as a twenty-first century, western evangelist, I know nothing of the struggles of New Testament men and women. While I may dread the long, uncomfortable journeys, Paul and Silas would have wept and leaped for joy at the sight of a bus or plane. In Britain we may lose friendships for the Gospel, but our first century colleagues lost their heads.

Paul goes on to write that in his ministry he had forsaken ‘secret and shameful ways.’ When you lose heart, there can be a real danger to adopt fraudulent methods in order to obtain so-called results. ‘Come to God and your salary will go up!’ ‘Respond to salvation and your cancer will go!’ ‘Accept Christ and you will be able to have children at last!’ Statements like these are shameful and no such promises can be made in the Name of God. Paul writes, ‘We do not use deception, nor do we distort the Word of God’ (2 Corinthians 4:2). The evangelist is not a salesman that needs to throw in some shopping vouchers and an alarm clock to clinch the deal. Just because sinners don’t realize their need of the divine product does not mean that we should ‘sell’ something else. It is the Cross or nothing, and there are no special deals from the Manager that we can confidently speak of.

Paul spoke of having a clear conscience in his ministry. Salvation numbers should never be exaggerated, nor stories of spectacular miracles. It is true that some are ‘instantly’ and ‘totally’ healed but I believe that a good deal more are ‘gradually’ and ‘partially’ cured too – none the less wonderful and supernatural. How important it is for us to be truthful and not ‘evangelastic’. And even when large numbers of people do flock forward to be saved, let us rejoice to the max, but continue to be sober minded. In the parable of the sower, those who, in time, will fall away at first receive the word with gladness (Mark 4:16). The number of names truly added to the Book of Life may not always tally with the claims of our newsletter!

All this is a solid reminder that the work of converting people is God´s alone. It is not our ministry, but Christ´s. We do not preach ourselves, says Paul. We are jars of clay, not the treasure itself. He informs his readers that the unchurched are spiritually blind – how can they possibly see Christ without the Spirit shining Gospel light into their hearts? When men and women respond, we do not take the glory; when they do not, we should not take the blame! Preach on, man or woman of God! ´For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweigh them all´ (2 Corinthians 4:17). Don´t lose heart!

Originally published in JOY Magazine, November 2009

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