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John Piper astutely has noted that “The professionalization of the ministry is a constant threat to the offence of the gospel.” That remains true even now where ‘ministry’ is outsourced to the ‘professional’ Christian. And the effects of the professionalization of the ministry have also threatened (and even undermined) the many duties of the Christian – especially the responsibility to be a witness for Jesus Christ.
The Christian in the pew thinks that the Christian in the pulpit is the professional in everything ‘spiritual.’ Therefore, the pew-Christian hesitates and even shrinks from any Christian duty except perhaps to be the seat-warming audience for the Sunday performance of the pulpit-Christian. After all, they generously pay him precisely for his professional service as the pastor-preacher-teacher-elder-counselor-apologist-theologian-evangelist among the many other roles that he alone is the expert. But is this what the Scriptures teach?
A Very Brief Biblical Observation
The book of Acts begins with Jesus’ commission: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). Certainly, this commission was given to the apostles and the 2nd person pronoun ‘you’ refers to the apostles: all 12-minus-1 of them. They are the ones commissioned to be the witnesses for Jesus. And being a ‘witness’ necessarily included the work of testifying about Jesus — or, what is professionally called, ‘evangelizing.’
Yet, as the story progresses, right after the martyrdom of Stephen (not an apostle!) for trying to evangelize the council of the leaders of Israel, persecution breaks out against the church. And, in Acts 8, we read that the church was scattered “except the apostles” (Acts 8:1). There goes Jesus’ world evangelization project through the professional, commissioned apostles! Or so we think. Acts 8:4, therefore, is discombobulating: “(T)hose who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.”
The reader rightly ought to think, “Wait a minute. These are not the apostles. These are just members of the church! These are those who probably never even attended Peter’s 1-day intensive: Simon Trust Evangelism Workshop. How dare they do what the experts are paid to do! These un-professionals will most certainly ruin the gospel-witness of the church.”
But. Acts 8:5, 8 reads: “Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them … And there was great joy in that city.” Likewise, Acts 8:35, 39 reads: “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to (the Ethiopian eunuch) … and he went on his way rejoicing.” The gospel was being proclaimed to the ends of the world and the professionals (i.e., the commissioned apostles) were still in Jerusalem.
It is rather self-evident that the commission given by Jesus to the apostles was carried out by the church such that it was not the professional evangel-ist who was proclaiming the gospel. Rather, it was the church: the so-called ‘average’, ordinary, members of the church that did the work of evangel-ism.
Sure. Someone could say that Acts 21:8 refers to Philip — one of the seven deacons, who evangelized the Samaritans and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 — as an ‘evangelist’. Could it be that Philip evangel-ized because he was a (professional) evangel-ist? Maybe. But it still stands to reason that Acts 8:4 says, “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.” It certainly cannot be that all who were scattered and were preaching the word were professional evangel-ists. It is more likely that they were ordinary, ‘unprofessional’ church members who were engaged in evangel-ism.
All this is to say that the Christians in the book of Acts evangelized not because they were evangelists but because they were Christians. And it was their God-given, Christ-commissioned duty to do so. So, for a Christian to not evangel-ize because they are not an evangel-ist is to miss this truth in Scripture.
Reasons for not being an Evangelist
But what are some of the reasons why Christians don’t evangelize and hand over the responsibility to the evangelists? Mark Dever lists 5 possible reasons which I agree with. But I also think that there are really only 2 reasons why Christians use the excuse of not being an evangelist: lack of courage or lack of confidence.
Christians think that the evangelist is the brave, face-every-persecution, live-with-abandon-for-the-gospel men and women. And they (wrongly) think that because they lack such boldness, they are probably not cut-out to share the gospel. And to such, may I introduce you to the apostle Peter? This is the one who ran away and even disowned Jesus Christ. Yet, this same Peter was the one whose evangel-ism brought 3000 people to faith. What changed such that Peter went from being fearful to fearless? He was filled with the Spirit (Acts 2:4). Christian, don’t be afraid! You are filled with the Spirit and He will give you the courage to proclaim the gospel.
Likewise, the second reason why Christians don’t evangelize is because they think that the evangelist is the fully-persuaded, brimming-with-bible-references, able-to-answer-every-objection men and women. They (wrongly) think that because they can’t articulate the gospel well or fumble in their speech, since they can’t remember that verse on sin and salvation, since they are unable to give a reason for the existence of God or why bad things happen to good people; since they may be unable to do so, they think that the able ones are gifted evangelists. And to such, may I introduce you to Moses? Yes, the very same one who when called by God said, “Here I am, Lord; send Aaron.” This same Moses who was slow of speech (Ex 4:10) became the chief spokesperson for God. What changed? The Lord was with the mouth of Moses and taught him (Ex 4:12, 15). And Christ has promised the same for you as well that He is with you till the end of the age (Matt 10:19-20). Therefore you can confidently proclaim the gospel.
All this to say: evangelism is not for the ‘professional’ Christian evangelist alone. If you are a Christian, you have the great privilege of being partakers with God in His work of reconciling the world to Himself through evangelism — through the proclamation of the gospel. And the Lord has equipped you to do so by giving you both His Spirit and His Word. So, why are you still here reading this article? Go, evangelize!