The work of evangelism is not only for a pastor. All believers should evangelize; they should share the gospel of Christ with the unbelievers. In that sense, along with their pastor, they become evangelists. The title “evangelist” comes from the Greek word which simply means a messenger of the gospel. For instance, in Acts 21:8 Philip is called “the evangelist.” Philip was not an ordained pastor. But he was an evangelist because he “preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts. 8:12 ESV). Thus, broadly speaking, anyone who faithfully promulgates the good news is an evangelist. However, strictly speaking, an evangelist is a divinely gifted person whose primary calling is to proclaim the gospel in a place where the gospel has not yet been proclaimed before (Eph. 4:11). Acting as a missionary, an evangelist does not stay in one place, but moves on to another place to continue his work of evangelism. The pastor, on the other hand, remains in his congregation to shepherd them. Yet, practically, all pastors are evangelists. All pastors should be announcers of the gospel. The Apostle Paul, writing to his fellow minister, says, “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:5). All pastors are called to “do the work of an evangelist” which is to declare the message of the cross. What follows is a brief study of some of the roles of a pastor in evangelism.
Pastors have an important role in the work of evangelism. First, a pastor should pray evangelistically. He should spend time regularly in praying specifically for the lost souls. Paul did this: “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them [people of Israel] is that they may be saved” (Rom. 10:1). With God’s help, a minister should learn to pray with George Whitefield (1714-1770), an English evangelist: “O Lord give me souls, or take my soul!” A pastor should also pray to God for passion for the lost. Jesus, the Greatest Evangelist, had compassion for sinners (Matt. 9:36). The ministry of evangelism will become a burden for a pastor if he does not have passion. He should, therefore, pray with the hymn writer, Herbert G. Tovey (1888-1972):
Give me a passion for souls, dear Lord,
A passion to save the lost;
O that Thy love were by all adored,
And welcomed at any cost.
Jesus, I long, I long to be winning
Men who are lost, and constantly sinning;
O may this hour be one of beginning
The story of pardon to tell.
Though there are dangers untold and stern
Confronting me in the way,
Willingly still would I go, nor turn,
But trust Thee for grace each day.
How shall this passion for souls be mine?
Lord, make Thou the answer clear;
Help me to throw out the old life line
To those who are struggling near.
Second, a pastor must preach evangelistically. He must always present the gospel in his sermons. With care he must address both believers and unbelievers in his preaching. Lovingly he must call the unconverted to repentance and point them to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. A pastor should also teach the believers the mandate of witnessing for Christ. Many do not evangelize because of ignorance. A pastor has a critical role to educate and equip Christians for the great work of soul winning.
Third, a pastor should live evangelistically. The unbelievers should see the gospel in his life. He should create a thirst and hunger for Christ among them. At his home he should share the gospel with his unconverted children. In his community he should befriend his neighbors and reach out to them with the message of the cross. In his congregation, he should set a good example by personally getting involved in the work of evangelism and missions. Church members will be more encouraged to evangelize if they see their pastor making an effort to win souls for Christ. Wherever he goes (grocery store, bank, airport, gym, restaurant, barbershop, etc.), he should strive to share the glad tidings. He should always actively look for opportunities to evangelize.
By nature sinners are not interested in the gospel; sinners are totally depraved, and so, a pastor should be the one to come first to them and bring the message of salvation, confident that God can save them. He should humbly acknowledge that without the help of the Holy Spirit, he can do nothing. If people reject the offer of the gospel, he should not be discouraged, for his business is not to save sinners, but to point them to the Savior—the Lord Jesus Christ. Someone has rightly mentioned, “An evangelist is a nobody who is seeking to tell everybody about Somebody who can help change anybody.”
Finally, a pastor should give evangelistically. As the Lord enables him, a minister should support financially the ministry of evangelism and missions. Paul Lee Tan narrates the story of Robert Arthington of Leeds, a Cambridge graduate. Arthington “lived in a single room, cooking his own meals; and he gave foreign missions 500,000 pounds on the condition that it was all to be spent on pioneer work within twenty-five years.” Later Arthington wrote, “Gladly would I make the floor my bed, a box my chair, and another box my table, rather than that men should perish for want of the knowledge of Christ.” Similarly, David Brainerd (1718-1747), a missionary to American Indians, who died at the age of 29 because of tuberculosis, said: “I care not where I live, or what hardships I go through, so that I can but gain souls to Christ. While I am asleep, I dream of these things; as soon as I awake, the first thing I think of is this great work. All my desire is the conversion of sinners, all my hope is in God.” Indeed, how many pastors today can say with Brainerd, “I care not where I live, or what hardships I go through, so that I can but gain souls to Christ?”
The Greatest Evangelist said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38). Churches today need more laborers. Let us pray that God will give us more laborers who have passion for the lost.
Note: This post, with very slight changes, also appears in Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth 21, no. 4 (2013): 112-13.