What makes an evangelist?

by
01 May 2020

The public’s image of an evangelist is not flattering. Five evangelists give a definition

istock


Wole Agbaje, leader of IMPRINT Church, London

Wole AgbajeWHAT makes an evangelist? This was a question that I struggled with for a long time. It’s often perceived that an evangelist is someone with great charisma, eloquent in speech, and amped with biblical knowledge. Because of these reasons, we can often disqualify ourselves from evangelising and sharing our faith with people. To be honest, I have met great evangelists who did not fulfil any of these “requirements”.

One feature that I’ve seen in all of them, however, is a general intentionality in sharing stories and testimonies; and this is something that I’ve utilised as well. We don’t have to be the most eloquent: let’s seek to be the most authentic, telling our genuine stories of how God has stepped into our situations and what he did.

Some time ago, I did an interview on BBC Radio, and they asked me: What attracts so many young adults to your church? And I responded: “We don’t have a particular strategy: people in our community tell their friends what God did in their lives, and it stirs up their friends’ interest in God.” Society views God as an imaginary creature; so that’s why there has to be extra intentionality in telling our stories of God at work — it reminds and educates society of the reality of God.

My favourite biblical story is the one about the Samaritan woman. I love it because, by the end of the story, John 4 says that “many Samaritans from that town believed in him — Jesus — because of the woman’s testimony.” It’s phenomenal, and all she did was tell her story of what Jesus did when she met him. And my question is: What did Jesus do for you?

I think, when you can highlight what Jesus did for you, the next part is articulation. There are several ways to give a testimony, but choose a way that’s authentic to you. My friends always call me a storyteller, because I paint a vivid picture of the scenes and the event so that they can really understand what happened. In our church, we have an evangelistic production that tells someone’s story and what God did, and we tell it through creative means, like music, dance, poetry, and visuals.

We find this to be a great way of sharing Jesus, because, first of all, it’s contemporary, and people can actively watch one person’s story of God bringing redemption to their life. In our showcases, many people have seen the mercy and the kindness of God on display. I remember one person saying that “they didn’t know God was so forgiving — especially of our darkest sins.”

So, my encouragement to everyone reading this is to be real and honest. Despite how big or small you think your testimony is, it has the power to ignite someone’s faith journey. God bless.

london.anglican.org/articles/24-year-old-plants-his-second-church

 

The Revd Dr Stephen Hance, National Lead for Evangelism and Witness

The Revd Dr Stephen HanceI WAS interviewing a priest from a northern city who had been nominated for membership of the Archbishops’ College of Evangelists, and who said that she didn’t know why her name had been put forward. “I’m not an evangelist,” she explained. “Tell me about your ministry,” I said, and she did.

I heard about an inner-city parish church in the liberal Catholic tradition which was growing among non-churchgoing families, exploring faith through toddlers’ groups, baptisms, and confirmations, all inspired by a desire to help people come to know Jesus. “It’s just normal parish ministry, isn’t it?” the priest said. “I wish!” I responded. “Welcome to the College.”

What makes an evangelist? It isn’t the ability to deliver an inspiring talk from a platform, although I praise God for the ministry of J. John and others with that gift. It isn’t a thorough grasp of apologetics and the ability to debate the foundations of the gospel with others, although we need people who can do that. It is, rather, the special ability to walk with others through the transitional stage of their pilgrimage, when they first begin to think of themselves as followers of Jesus and to place their faith in him.

Of course, that may entail speaking to crowds in a stadium, or arguing for the rational basis of the faith in debate with others. But, for others, it will involve doing parish ministry really well through an evangelistic lens so that people come to faith in Christ; or talking to neighbours and friends and inviting them into the community of faith. If there is someone in your church who always seems to have a friend or two with her at the carol service, or the Alpha supper, the chances are that she’s an evangelist.

Not all of us are, although I suspect there may be more than we think. All of us are called to be witnesses, willing to say something about our faith, to tell what we have experienced of God. Only some of us are gifted as evangelists, and they don’t all show that gift in the same ways.

They do have some things in common, though. In addition to the gift or ability that we have spoken about already, they have a passion. It’s a passion for God and a passion for people: that more and more people would come to know the love and grace of God for themselves, and to experience the transformation that God works in us. That passion can sometimes make them a little impatient with others who don’t quite share it.

They also have courage. Don’t imagine that for the gifted evangelist the task of speaking of Christ with gentleness and wisdom is easy. For some it may be, but not for all. Rather, they draw on the gift of courage to do the thing that is sometimes hard, and trust that God will do the rest.

My prayer is that God will raise up more evangelists in our day, and that we, as a Church, will know how to support, encourage, and use them.

 

Caz Pinder, a student of M:Power, the diocese of Blackburn’s school of urban leadership

Caz PinderEVANGELISTS are just ordinary Christian people living everyday lives, serving the Church and the word of God and showing love and acceptance to others, while speaking naturally about Jesus from the scriptures. I believe that there is a spiritual gift of connection and a big passion to spread the gospel to non-believers.

I love the word “guidance”: when you split it up, you find “G[od] U” and “I dance”. I see mysef as dancing with Jesus daily, and, as with any dance, when I began, I only knew the basic steps and wanted to lead. It does not work when two people are trying to lead: the steps are all over the place and it feels so rigid. When you let go and allow God to lead you in the dance, then everything becomes as one, the steps flow, and you become free to express yourself.

Being an evangelist is dancing with God for others. When you are free and you know the steps, you are able to express yourself authentically and transparently, being open and honest, connecting with how society lives today.

I am new to evangelising, and I’m probably not your “normal” run-of-the-mill wannabe evangelist. I have a funky hairdo, a lot of tattoos, and a few piercings. But, hey! what a conversation starter the tattoos are — especially those of Jesus — and most people want to know more. Talking about the tattoos has opened up various opportunities to reach out to people who are on the fringes of society: to offer to pray with individuals, explain the gospel story, and talk about how Jesus has made a difference to my life — and I just love it.

When we pray for someone continually, we increase their chances of finding Jesus. I have recently been persistently praying for someone I met by chance in a shop. This person stopped to say she loved my tattoos, and that’s where the conversation began. We kept bumping into each other, and, through the odd “hello”, kindness, love, and acceptance, a trusting relationship began to develop, to the point where we have met for coffee several times. She might not be quite there yet, but she is seeking and wanting to find Jesus. She is considering coming to church, which is just glorious. In these few small stepsm we see the spirit of evangelism — the gospel starting to come alive.

I am currently undertaking M:Power training, which has contributed to my transformation and confidence, along with the urge to be an evangelist. The course has also provided skills in listening attentively to what someone is saying, which promotes a transition through the different layers to deeper honesty and openness. Relating my own story of spiritual transformation and identifying the appropriate opportunities to talk about the gospel is becoming more natural to me.

Being an evangelist is God’s love in action; and we are all responsible. “I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, for ever: with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.” God intends for us all to be his evangelists, wherever we are. In Godfrey Birtill’s song “The Truth is True”, he tells us: “The gospel cannot be locked on a page; so let it play, let it play.” Amen.

 

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell

The Rt Revd Stephen CottrellI WORKED as an evangelist for the best part of ten years. I was a complete flop: I didn’t convert anyone. But I did — if you get my meaning — have the great privilege of being the midwife at quite a number of safe deliveries. Let me explain what I mean.

God is the evangelist, not St Paul, not St Francis of Assisi, not John Wesley, not even J. John. The people we call “evangelists” are those with a particular gift and a vocation to invite people to respond to the summons and beauty of the gospel. They exercise this ministry in many different ways: it is just as likely to happen while chatting at the school gates as while delivering a big, upfront talk.

When I was a parish priest, the best evangelist in the congregation was Margaret. She came to faith in her seventies. Being a new Christian, she hadn’t been told that in the Church of England we keep faith to ourselves. She did the opposite: she told everyone, and, through her testimony and witness, many people in her network of friends and acquaintances came to faith as well.

God the Holy Spirit was at work in Margaret. She was doing the work of an evangelist: people were being drawn to Christ. The evangelist, therefore, is like a midwife helping people to understand what’s happening when they have a sense of something that they can’t explain, but which seems to be growing inside them — telling them when to push, and ensuring that the conditions are there for that safe delivery that is being born again into the new life of Christ.

But, when it happens, it is a holy mystery. It is not something that we can create, coerce, or control. None of us can say that it is our work. As Paul put it (and I muddle my metaphors as I go), “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3.6).

Evangelism, like a pregnancy, takes time. Therefore, just as you can’t talk about evangelists without talking about God, so you can’t have the ministry of an evangelist without an evangelising Church. We all have a part to play. We can all be witnesses to Christ; and, alongside the evangelist, there are a whole host of other people, whose ministries of witness and welcome are a vital part of that process whereby individual men and women become disciples of Jesus.

Because that’s what we aim for: not just people born again in Christ, but people grown up in Christ, and working for his Kingdom of justice and peace. There is, therefore, also the ministry of teaching and catechesis and places of nurture — Alpha and Pilgrim courses — where people find out about the Christian faith and where faith can grow.

But that bit of evangelism which is coming to faith in Christ is always the mysteriously beautiful response of the human heart to the invitation of the gospel. It is a new creation into a new humanity, and it is always the work of God. The evangelist points the way.

The Church needs more evangelists. What a relief that the converting itself is God’s department, not ours. The evangelist, as patient midwife, living signpost, and good companion, winsomely uses his or her best gifts of wit and creativity to tell the story of Christ, and invite people to make a response.

 

The Revd K. D. Joyce, Curate for Communications and Evangelism, Saint Philip’s in the Hills, Tucson, Arizona

It seems overly simplistic to say that the work of an evangelist is primarily to tell others good news, but there's nowhere else to start. To be the bearer of good news is an entirely necessary, if not entirely sufficient, component of any worthwhile job description for evangelists.

The problem, of course, arrives when we have to be specific. Even if we could collectively agree on what kinds of news ought to be considered good, and we often cannot, there's the question of truth. The prophet Jeremiah viciously condemns those who would insist on bringing people only the news with which they are comfortable and they want to hear. “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” 

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger expressed the same sentiment in more modern words when he wrote: “Assuredly, the word of truth can be painful and uncomfortable. But it is the way to holiness, to peace, and to inner freedom. A pastoral approach which truly wants to help the people concerned must always be grounded in the truth. In the end, only the truth can be pastoral.”

This might seem a pessimistic way to enter into reflection on what makes an evangelist, but I think it is quite necessary. The news that an evangelist is called to share is not good news in general, but the specific, true, and universally good news of the coming reign of Jesus of Nazareth, who was and is God made flesh. Evangelists are called to proclaim this news relentlessly, knowing that it is good news indeed, whether or not it is received as such.

The will of God is the liberation of all creation from every chain of sin and death, of oppression and bondage. From Abraham to Moses to David to the prophets to Mary of Nazareth, God has been carrying out the plan of salvation and using imperfect human beings to do so. In the incarnation, teaching, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God's final victory has been assured. Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again. Death no longer has dominion over him - or over us. Death has been dealt a mortal wound, and, though it may claim us, by virtue of Christ's resurrection, it cannot, cannot keep us.

As the Body of Christ, liberated from the dominion of death and sin, we are called to take on that work in the world. We proclaim the good news of Christ not only by teaching catechetical facts, but by working to end systems of exploitation and oppression that purchase comfort for some at the expense of many. The ways we act say more about our true theological beliefs than the words we say ever could.

This, then, is the work of an evangelist: to speak and live at all times as if we truly believe that the world can and will be different than it is now, and that death no longer has the final word.

Coronavirus (Covid-19) update

The latest: Daily news updates

Get the free Church Times email bulletin

RESOURCES FOR CHURCHES 

> Lift Up Your Hearts: 22 May (PDF download)

> All our recommended resources for prayer, worship, live streaming and more

SURVEY: CORONAVIRUS, CHURCH & YOU

Record your experience of the pandemic, the ministry that you have given or received, and what you think will happen to churches in a post-pandemic world

> Take the survey

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)