Evangelists as Shepherds // Part 1
I am not sure where it started, but as far back as I know, evangelists are viewed as those who share the good news of Jesus with people outside the faith. When you ask most Christians about evangelists, Billy Graham, John Wesley, or George Whitfield (to name a few) usually get mentioned as examples. To be sure, these are some great examples of people who boldly proclaimed the faith. This is to be celebrated. Yet, when we think of evangelism as something we do only with people outside of Christianity, I think we may be missing the deeper significance of the ministry of the evangelist.
The Ministry of the Evangelist
The Greek word evangelion (εὐαγγέλιον) means “good news” or “message”. Specifically, the message of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His life for our life, His death for our death. This truly is news that is good.
If the gospel is good news of who Jesus is and what He has done, it is news that is needed for all people, at all times. It isn’t just something shared with people to get them to believe in Jesus, but it is news that reminds us of the source of life. For both believer and not-yet believer alike.
I believe Tim Keller said it well:
We never “get beyond the gospel” in our Christian life to something more “advanced.” The gospel is not the first “step” in a “stairway” of truths, rather, it is more like the “hub” in a “wheel” of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A-Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make progress in the kingdom.
Since the gospel is good news for EVERYONE, then to evangelize shouldn’t be limited to sharing only with people who do not follow Jesus. In fact, we could see the work of an evangelist as proclaiming the good news of Jesus, something we do whether we’re discipling someone to Jesus (unbelievers) or discipling someone in Jesus (believers).
“Wide” and “Deep” Evangelistic Ministry
This healthy and helpful framework destroys the idea that the ministry of the evangelist is ONLY for the spreading of the gospel outwardly, to people who have not yet believed. Seeing the evangelist as the “good newser”, reclaims the ministry of evangelism as bringing the gospel to bear in life, for all people.
While experience shows that the ministry of evangelism will have a primary impulse toward seeing new people hear and respond to the good news, it is the immature evangelist who does this to the neglect of the church body. As an evangelist matures, there will be a growing desire to see the gospel move out to new people (wide) and growth in belief in the gospel for those within the Church (deep). This deep and wide movement of the gospel is a way the ministry of evangelist serves the Body. It’s with this in mind, that we dive into how the evangelist may better shepherd people.
Jesus, the Perfect Wide/Deep Evangelist
Jesus, as the true Evangelist, demonstrated this deep and wide use of the gospel throughout His ministry. Consider two portions of scripture in John to see this wide and deep action. In John 6:35-40, see how Jesus shares the good news with people who have not heard it (wide):
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
To a crowd of people, Jesus proclaims that the good news is Him. Looking to and believing in Him will lead to resurrection life. This type of proclamation is the “wide” work of the evangelist. But before you narrow your thinking to speaking in front of crowds as the only form of “wide” work, consider that any time the good news is shared with someone who does not yet believe as the wide work of the evangelist. Whether it is with a crowd in the ancient Capernaum or with one person in a pub in modern Philadelphia, taking the gospel to new people is the wide work of the evangelist.
Compare this to how Jesus also declares the truth of the gospel to one of his followers, Martha, in John 11:21-27:
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
Amid the confusion and doubt that came with seeing her brother, Lazarus, die, Martha is questioning Jesus’ love for them. Into this doubt and confusion, Jesus speaks the good news of the gospel (which, He is). Martha claims to know this and still, Jesus tells her that hope is found in Him. As the perfect Evangelist, Jesus is proclaiming the good news to her; He’s doing the deep work of the evangelist.
In part 2 of this blog, we will discuss what could it look like for evangelists to mature in the work of a shepherd. Additionally, I’ll share some of my story of how the Spirit of God is shaping me in this.