When an Evangelist Tries to Pastor…
When an Evangelist Tries to Pastor...

“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”
– Ephesians 4:11-13

A Place for Everything, Everything in its Place

It’s obvious from the New Testament as a whole that God has gifted his people in a variety of ways. Not everyone has the same role in the body. And this is great news. No one has to do everything. Just as our physical bodies have parts that are equipped to perform certain tasks while being completely inadequate for others (just try to eat with your ear – it won’t be pretty), the body of Christ works the same way. Some people are great at explaining the Scriptures but terrible at comforting the suffering. Others can counsel one-on-one but would be paralyzed in front of a congregation. But when the body works as designed, it functions like Benjamin Franklin’s adage: “A place for everything, everything in its place.”

Unfortunately, things don’t always work as designed. There are times when things in our fallen world become disjointed and out-of-whack – even in the church. In particular, there are moments when people try to fulfill a role that they were never gifted to fulfill. When this happens, it can create problems and cause the progress of a local congregation to grind to a halt.

What exactly am I talking about? I’m talking about when an evangelist tries to pastor.

New Testament Leadership Roles

It’s obvious that Paul saw a clear place in the Church for evangelists and pastors/teachers. Ultimately, each of these roles has the same goal: to equip God’s people for ministry. But none can achieve this goal on its own. They need one another.

So, for example, the apostle enters an unreached land and prepares the way for the Gospel to take root. Then, the evangelist proclaims the Good News and calls people to a life of faith and discipleship. The pastor and teacher comes alongside these new disciples and works with them, training and teaching them just as Jesus did. And then the prophet drops in, speaking God’s word and continually calling his people to pursue what is right.

When these roles function as they should, they complement one another. They equip those who are in the congregation to live faithfully. And they build up the body of Christ.

But what happens when they don’t? In particular, what happens when an evangelist tries to pastor?

A Couple of Caveats…

Now, you might wonder why I’ve specified this malfunction. After all, wouldn’t a pastor trying to do the work of the prophet or a prophet trying to do the work of an apostle also have its problems? Of course! However, in my experience, evangelists trying to pastor seems to be much more common than anything else. And, as I read D.S. Warner’s biography, Birth of a Reformation, last week, I was struck by the fact that he was very much an evangelist. And, I believe, his calling as an evangelist colored the way that he viewed and understood the church – and not always in a good way.

Before I go any further, I do want to say that I don’t believe Paul’s designations of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher are all mutually exclusive. There’s probably more of a gradient between these roles. I’m sure that people have gifts that fit within more than one role. However, I do believe that most people are more geared for either outreach or for building up the congregation. So, in this article, I’m talking about having a more outeach-oriented evangelist in the role of pastor/teacher.

Evangelists Preach to Save Souls

Finney’s Definition of Preaching

For a number of years, I’ve been curious about the history of the practices I grew up with – altars, revivals, campmeetings, etc. I’ve had concerns about some of these things for a while (for a variety of reasons) and I hoped that learning about their history might shed some light on how they could be used well. As I was doing research, I came across a book that covers the history of modern revivalism, beginning with Charles Finney.

I was struck by the way Finney described the ministry: “The great end for which the Christian ministry was appointed is to glorify God in the salvation of souls…all ministers should be revival ministers and all preaching should be revival preaching” (McLoughlin 87). In other words, for Finney and many others in the revivalist tradition, preaching was all about getting people saved. And so, a sermon was good if people got saved (or at least went down to the altar) and it was bad if nobody “moved.”

This is the result of an evangelist trying to pastor. His primary goal is to move people to “make a decision.” But what about when the majority of people that he’s preaching to have already made that decision? He ends up beating them over the head with the same message, week after week after week. And, over the long-haul, they’re left wading in the shallow side of the spiritual pool because they’ve never heard the fullness of God’s word proclaimed. This makes for a frail and anemic faith. It’s a faith that trades in sound-bites and out-of-context scriptures. It’s like walking on a treadmill – you may work up a sweat but you never get anywhere.

Is There More to Preach than “Repent!”?

The bad thing about this is that evangelists who pastor feel like they’re preaching the fullness of God’s word. After all, they preach from a variety of texts, both Old and New Testament. And they’re willing to confront sins that some might shy away from. But the problem is, the message every week is the same: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

And before anyone objects, I’m not saying that this isn’t an important message. It is! It’s vital! It is at the core of our faith. But once people have responded to it – once they’ve recognized the Kingdom and repented – they need to hear the rest of God’s word. They need to hear about who God is, who they are, how grace works, what worship looks like, how to pray, and on, and on. The topics are limitless!

But when you have an evangelist for a pastor, you will hear about those things rarely, if at all. And they will always be tangential to “Repent!” After all, a sermon on a doctrinal topic or the spiritual disciplines doesn’t get people to the altar like one on the dangers of Hell. And evangelists, like Charles Finney, judge the quality of a sermon by how effective it is at getting people to an altar.

The Evangelist’s Ideal Audience

But it’s not just the fact that robust preaching suffers when an evangelist tries to pastor. Evangelists, by their nature, focus on sharing the good news and calling people to repentance. Because of this, their ideal audience is a crowd of unbelievers. The problem with this should be obvious – in today’s world, most people who bother showing up on Sunday morning are wanting to encounter God and grow in faith. Sure, you may have some unbelievers in the crowd but the vast majority of people are likely there in good faith.

And yet, I’ve heard evangelist-pastors rail against the lack of faithfulness in churchgoers during a service on Wednesday night! The people who attend on Wednesday night are the core. They are the true believers. Why then, would you preach about a lack of faithfulness to the people who are most faithful? Because you are an evangelist who sees every crowd as a potential altar opportunity. Unfortunately, when you preach to the church like they’re a bunch of unbelievers, your understanding of the church (and theirs) will inevitably be impacted.

Evangelists Can Lose Sight of the Local Body

This is exactly what I saw in the life of D.S. Warner. From what I could gather, Warner never attended a particular congregation for any length of time. According to A.L. Byers, Warner got saved and within two years was doing the work of an evangelist, all without ever committing to a local congregation. Warner was a gifted evangelist. But he didn’t seem to have much of a concept of the local church – a place where a pastor (or elders) consistently preached the whole word of God and intentionally discipled his parishioners over the long haul.

How D.S. Warner Missed the Trees for the Forest

Warner’s understanding of the universal Body of Christ was robust and wholly Biblical – there’s only one church and it was founded by Christ; we enter the church via salvation; division is sinful and should be rooted out. Warner painted a beautiful picture of God’s people. But for years I’ve felt as though there’s something missing. And recently I’ve realized that the missing piece is the local congregation. Warner, ever the evangelist, was so focused on getting people saved and sanctified that he didn’t seem to give much thought to where they’d spend most of their time while on this earth – in a local congregation. I think part of the reason he didn’t give this much thought was that he himself didn’t spend much time in a local congregation.

Every NT Church Wasn’t the Same

And so, when he preached about the church, he almost always meant the whole body of Christ, not a local congregation. But these are two different things. Warner seems to have believed that, in the first century, every local congregation across the Mediterranean was completely uniform except for their longitude and latitude. But this simply isn’t true. There was tremendous diversity between congregations. And if you don’t believe that, just read the New Testament epistles or Revelation 2-3.

People Are Involved in the Organization of the Local Church

And though God oversees and organizes the body as a whole, how could we deny that he uses individual men and women at the local congregation level? After all, Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders in all of the cities where he went (Titus 1:5). As you read Warner’s writings on the church, it becomes apparent that he only saw the universal body of Christ. He paid little attention to the local congregation and how it would function on a day-to-day basis.

But this makes perfect sense once you realize that he was an evangelist. He was focused on preaching two messages – sanctification (the fullness of salvation) and the unity of all believers (that big vision of the church as a whole). He wanted to get people truly saved. But as I read his biography, I cringed when I came across places where it seems like he rode into town, preached the gospel, and rode out again without helping people develop or get plugged into a local congregation.

The larger body of Christ needs local congregations. And local congregations need pastors and evangelists who will work together to accomplish what neither can do on their own.

My Big Takeaways…

Anyway, these were just a few thoughts that I’ve been having as I’ve studied the history of the Church of God Reformation Movement and the larger American revivalism that helped give it birth.

What are my big takeaways right now?

  • Evangelists and pastors are both needed but they need to do what they’re gifted to do.
  • Because of the last point, we need to reevaluate the modern role of pastor. Are we asking pastors today to do things that they really haven’t been gifted in? Should some modern pastoral positions be split up into multiple roles?
  • If we, as pastors, lean more evangelistic, how can we make sure that we’re truly discipling our congregations? If we lean more pastor/teacher, how can we make sure that we’re reaching out and not becoming totally inward-focused? How can we balance these two?
  • Finally, I believe that the Church of God Reformation Movement needs to go back to the Bible. We need to reexamine what it says about the church – especially local congregations. I feel like this has been a major weakness in our understanding of the church.

Anyway, I’ve been enjoying this history of Modern Revivalism and I hope to have a review up by the end of the week. In the meantime, let me know what your experience has been with evangelists and pastors. Have you seen some of the same things that I brought up? If you’re a pastor, how do you balance the outward and inward focus? How do you make sure that your preaching proclaims the Gospel – and is accessible to the uninitiated – while still giving more seasoned believers something to chew on?

Bibliography

  • McLoughlin, W. G. (1959). Modern Revivalism: Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham. New York, NY: The Ronald Press Company.
  • Warner, D. S. (n.d.). The Church of God: Or, what is the church, and what is not. Guthrie, OK: Faith Publishing House.

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Thoughts from Canaan by teslathemes