The Evangelist’s Vocation
As part of her MA, Beth Burras, Formation Lead and Tutor in Church Army’s Training Team, conducted pioneering research on evangelists’ vocations.
Beth says, “I’m the formation lead for Church Army’s training team, and I also sit on discernment panels for candidates exploring a vocation to be a Licenced and Commissioned Evangelist. I’ve observed over the last few years that the concept of vocation or calling to be an evangelist takes on many different forms amongst the potential trainees that we speak with, and I wondered whether our institutional Anglican understanding of an evangelist’s vocation (if indeed we have an agreed or shared definition of the calling of an evangelist) is the same as the one held by the evangelists who come to train with us and join our mission community”.
As well as conducting a literature review, surveying what has been written about discerning a vocation within the church, the role of the evangelist and how evangelists can be identified, trained and encouraged, Beth also conducted semi-structured interviews with 10 evangelists who had started their training with Church Army between 2016 and 2020.
Beth’s research generated two major conclusions: there is a vocational spectrum among evangelists, there is still confusion around the term ‘evangelist’, and noted some implications for the discernment of evangelists.
Beth found her participating evangelists could be divided into two different categories: firstly, those who viewed their vocation as simply who they were, they could not help but be evangelists; it was how God had made them. They would have shared Jesus anywhere and everywhere regardless of whether or not they had the title of evangelist, and would have been just as satisfied living out their evangelistic vocation in the secular workplace as in the church. They had followed God’s call into licensed ministry, and mostly had found encouragement, affirmation and belonging in joining Church Army; but this was secondary to their call to proclaim the gospel to the unreached. Secondly those who saw their vocation through an institutional lens, and who spoke of their discernment journey in terms of the recognition of the Church or Church Army. These tended to be the ones who had had a longer journey of discernment, who had sensed a call to some kind of ministry before finding their fit with Church Army, sometimes after they had considered ordination first.
Beth says, “If I were to do further research in this area, I would be interested to discover if there is a spectrum of evangelistic vocation consisting of these two categories with points in between, with some evangelists closer to the church and their ministries being in close orbit with the church, and some with looser ties to the church who are ministering more ‘out there’. Do we currently expect all evangelists to be able to function well at both ends of the spectrum, and if they are called to different things should we recognise and affirm that within the umbrella vocation of evangelist?”
What is an Evangelist?
Beth’s research also found that there is confusion around the term ‘evangelist,’ with different evangelists choosing that label at different stages along their journey, and some making it all the way to their commissioning with Church Army and still “not seeing themselves as evangelists” (Evangelist C). Beth says, “One of two things needs to happen here: either the word needs to be reclaimed or ‘re-endowed’ with a clearer meaning. Or we need to find a different term altogether. I would strongly urge for the former, agreeing with the writers of Good News People that it ‘needs to be rescued from caricature and honoured’”.
Implications for Discernment
Beth’s findings indicated strongly that evangelists recognise other evangelists, and they know how they would encourage them to grow in their vocation, and she recommends that evangelists should be encouraged and released to raise up others and should be involved at every stage of the discernment process.
Finally, Beth says, “At all levels of the church, we need to be aware of the stereotyped image of evangelists that we have. They are not always loners, but they can be. They are not all mavericks, but they can be. They are not all extroverts, but some are. Some will run ahead; others will focus on equipping the church to bring them along with them. There is variety amongst evangelists.
“In those I interviewed I found passion, enthusiasm, depth of understanding and a strong sense of call. It has been such a pleasure and an honour to spend time with these ten evangelists. I will close with a reminder of the ultimate goal of all evangelistic endeavour, as shared with me by Evangelist H: ‘The evangelist is valuable, necessary, needed, wonderful. Seeing people respond to the beauty of Jesus in the good news is just the most marvellous thing. A precious thing we should continue to value and treasure’.”