The Evangelist-Pastor

Several months ago my friends at the Kettering Fellowship and I had an extended discussion about the role of the "evangelist" in the NT. I read a quote from Darrell Guder today that I think profoundly impacts this discussion. Let me know what you think.

At the heart of these basic functions of the ministry of the Word stands the work of the "evangelist." For many years, I pondered the term at the center of this five-dimensional definition of the ministry of the Word that equips the saints for the church's mission. If one understands the term "evangelist" too narrowly, that is, if it is restricted only to communication of the gospel to unbelievers, then it is difficult to see how this ministry "equips to saints." If we understand the necessity of the church's continuing conversion, however, then the function of evangelist is essential to the church's missional equipping. The apostolic and prophetic ministry of the Word must constantly evangelize the community so that it can be about its work, its evangelizing witness. The community should experience the constant challenge of the gospel to our reductions and conformities. The gospel itself, through the proclamation and exposition of the Word, will uncover our need for conversion as the Spirit is faithful and makes that miracle happen.

Our congregations today urgently need to be ministered to by evangelist-pastors. That does not mean that they should hear a sermon every Sunday about accepting Christ. They should hear, instead, the constant and empowered message of good news which calls all Christians to continuing conversion, to growth and healing in the life of faith, and to greater and more radical obedience as sent-out witnesses.


Perry McCall said...

I am headed out of town. I will be comment later.

Bo Prather said...

I definitely think there's an ongoing need for the gospel in the Christian life. I also think we could make much better use of the term "evangelist" than we do in contemporary evangelical life -- particularly in the SBC.

I'm not sure, however, that I'd characterize the ongoing teaching of pastors on the gospel as "the work of the evangelist" either. I think I understand the sentiment behind the quote, but if it's true then I'm not sure what would distinguish pastors and evangelists. My preaching and teaching is built around the gospel not because I'm trying to do "the work of the evangelist", but because as I see it that's the work of the pastor. We minister the gospel to people. Within the last several years, I've come to understand that that's not just a trite, general statement about preachers; it really is, or rather has become, the substance of my ministry. It seems to me that linking this with "the work of the evangelist" implies that their can be pastoral ministry that doesn't involve the gospel in this way.

As I've thought more about it in the last several months, I've started to think in very basic terms. First, I don't think the Ephesians 4 passage indicates offices of the church; if it did, I'd expect to find qualifications and responsibilities somewhere in Scripture for apostles, prophets, and evangelists in the same manner as deacons and elders.

Second, the thing that apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers have in common is their task of making revelation known and understood. I think this is Paul's point in Ephesians 4, that the people of God mature as those God has called to lead them in understanding make known the truth of God through Scripture. Consequently, I think Paul uses the terms in a functional sense.

Third, I think itinerant preachers may well have a right to the term evangelist, but they certainly shouldn't have exclusive rights to it. It seems to me that the most natural use of the term in our contemporary context, if we're defining evangelists as those who tell the good news, would be modern missionaries. Certainly, itinerant preachers can tell the good news, and to the degree that they do that they are evangelists. I think that many who claim the title, at least in my experience, might more accurately be called revivalists or culture warriors because this seems to be their focus. But I wouldn't quibble with them over their title unless they were seeking to use that title as warrant for some biblical authority over our churches -- at which point, I would quibble much. Anyway, sorry to ramble; I thought I was getting better, but, alas.


Matt Snowden said...

Thanks for you thoughful comments. I agree with you on Eph. 4. I have come to think of that passage as describing the five-fold ministry of the Word. Doing the work of the evangelist is for all Christ followers and so it follows that it is the work of Christian pastors. Thanks again.

Perry McCall said...

I found myself yesterday telling my people about the need for the constant preaching of the gospel for their spiritual growth. So, I couldn't help but smile when I re-read this post. I agree with Bo and can't add too much to it. Reflecting back on our previous discussion on this issue I think the clarification about having "exclusive" rights to the term is very helpful. The problem I had with the "rebukes" being leveled at Churches and pastors that were not using "evangelists" is the assumption that itinerant preachers who proclaim the gospel were the "biblical" office of evangelist and therefore we were in sinful rebellion for not using them.

I also think it is important to be careful to not equate our weekly gospel preaching as the "work of the evangelist" as Bo suggested.

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