Like no other church leader, the name “evangelist” represents a methodology. He represents the primacy of heralding the gospel. Because he believes that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17), the evangelist wants people to hear. His methodology is one of speaking and proclaiming. It is one of initiating evangelism opportunities. Like no other leader in Christ’s church, the evangelist, by his very name, represents an assertive approach. While the title “teacher” is found at every level of society associated with every form of belief, it is not so with the name “evangelist.” While the title “pastor” has a spiritual connotation, it is associated with the work of a shepherd in caring for his flock, it is not so with the “evangelist.” Both deacon and elder are used in a variety of churches and represent multiple means of oversight. But the name “evangelist” represents a specific methodology, that of the assertive proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Like no other church leader, the name “evangelist” also represents a doctrinal position. The title “pastor” does not presuppose a doctrinal position. There are pastors that represent every shade of doctrine. Nor does the title “teacher” presuppose a doctrinal position. There are teachers in every world religion and for every form of science. But the title “evangelist” presupposes belief that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. The title “evangelist” presupposes belief in “you must be born again” (John 3:7). By his very association with the “evangel,” (Gospel) the evangelist believes that Jesus is the only way of salvation: “There is no other name under heaven given by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The title “evangelist” presupposes belief in the Substitutionary Atonement and in justification by faith. All these doctrinal positions are imbedded in the title “evangelist” with very little wiggle room.
So, the title “evangelist” is like a winnowing fork. By its very nature it carries with it a host of presuppositions. God has providentially kept this title very narrowly defined. And for this reason the evangelist suffers the reproach of the gospel. Those who do not agree either with his methodology or his doctrinal position find fault with him. This is certainly why B. H. Carroll said so many years ago when speaking of evangelists, “Deny not fins to things that must swim against the tide, nor wings to things that must fly against the wind.”(1) The evangelist is a divine burr under the saddle of the church and culture, keeping both in check.
Notice the wise words of R. G. Lee as to God’s providential protection of his church through the ministry of the evangelist:
“The Purpose of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists has been to encourage Bible preaching, gospel singing, and personal witnessing. These are the endeavors that have strengthened Southern Baptists when other denominations have moved away from these fundamentals and weakened their position.”(2)
In the history of U.S. denominations, as long as the evangelist was held in high esteem, the gospel radiated forth from those denominations. When their worth and work waned, so did the doctrinal positions of those denomination. R. G. Lee wanted to encourage this group of men and women to flourish in the Southern Baptist Convention. For as go the evangelists, so goes the denomination.
This book examines the worth and work of the evangelist. It represents a cooperative effort between me, a professor of evangelism, and Keith Fordham, a long time vocational evangelist. It is our desire that God will use this book to call forth, mobilize, and encourage multiple dozens and hundreds of evangelists to minister in Christ’s harvest. Truly, the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.
(1) B. H. Carroll, “Shall the Atlanta Board Be Instructed to Employ Evangelists and to Call for an Extra $25,000 for Their Support?” Baptist Standard (31 May 1906) 14:1-2; cited in Charles S. Kelley, Jr., How Did They Do It? The Story of Southern Baptist Evangelism (New Orleans: Insight, 1993), 14.
(2) R. G. Lee, “Foreword,” in John Scott Trent, Evangelists in Action: History of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists. Foreword by Robert G. Lee (Orlando, FL: Daniels, 1971), 8.