The E Word: Who Is An Evangelist?
We’re continuing to explore what evangelism really is and what that means for our lives. In our previous blog our series on The E Word, we looked at what evangelism is. We asked Annie O’Connor from our Training Team to expand upon this by helping us understand whether it’s just some of us, or all of us, who are called to be evangelists…
One of my friends is an artist. A few years ago, a group of us were in an art gallery looking at some very ‘modern’ art. Some of us turned to her a bit perplexed and asked, ‘what makes this art?’ And she replied (rather frustratingly), ‘we know it’s art because it’s made by an artist.’ We pushed her, ‘but what makes someone an artist?’ ‘Oh’, she said, ‘an artist is someone who makes art.’ We left the gallery none the wiser!
- I wonder if the question ‘who is an evangelist?’ can produce similarly frustrating exchanges:
- ‘Who is an evangelist?’
- ‘Oh, an evangelist is someone who does evangelism.’
- ‘But what makes something evangelism?’
- ‘Oh, it’s evangelism because it’s done by an evangelist.’
- ‘…Right, thanks…’
I wonder how we might answer the question ‘who is an evangelist?’ in a way that tells us a little more…
Let’s start with some Greek!
We get the English word evangelist from the Greek noun euangelistes, which means ‘bringer of good tidings’, or ‘announcer of good news.’ You might spot the word angel lurking in the middle of both the English and the Greek words, and (in terms of the etymology of the word) you’d be right to make this connection.
An angel is a messenger, or an envoy, and when the message they bring is from God, it is good; (eu is the Greek word for ‘good’). So, the evangelist is one who, like the angels, brings a message of good news from God. And I think we can understand something of the evangelist’s message by looking at the message of the angels in the New Testament. What is their message? Nothing less than the infinite God of love come down, God-with-us, peace on earth, joy to all, reconciliation, new life…
There is a broad sense, then, in which all Christians are called to be evangelists. We are all called to speak, live and act in ways that bring this good news of God-with-us to those we meet. We are all messengers of glad tidings.
What does scripture say?
Of course, scripture gives us another, more specific, way of answering the question ‘who is an evangelist?’ In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul describes how Christ gives to some the gift of being evangelists (and to others the gift of being apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers, all for the building up of Christ’s body – Ephesians 4:7-12), and this leads to the understanding that some people are specially gifted and called to be evangelists.
A good biblical example of such a person is Philip (in Acts 8), who seemed to see in the persecution of the Jerusalem church not a cause for despair and looking inward but an opportunity to go and spread the good news in Samaria, and who ran to catch up with the Ethiopian’s chariot in order to talk with him about the Lord, such was his enthusiasm for spreading the gospel.
Such people love telling stories, hearing about and sharing new ideas, and gathering others around them. They often have more non-Christian friends than Christian ones; they are often more comfortable being outside than inside, more comfortable with difference and challenge than with uniformity; they naturally use conversations and encounters to talk about Jesus.
Perhaps it is true that in order to understand ‘what is evangelism?’ we need only to look to such people and we can say ‘oh, yes, it’s doing what they do.’
There’s no fixed mould – evangelists come in all shapes and forms and we see this among Church Army Evangelists! If you’d like a few examples of our Evangelists, have a read of our Catalyst magazine.