by Jim Reapsome
Except possibly for not writing home often enough, nothing adds more guilt than failure to evangelize.
"Do the work of an evangelist,” Paul told Timothy. “But I don’t have the gift of evangelism,” Timothy replied. No, I’m not sure Timothy said that, but I have a strong hunch he thought it. We do know that Timothy traveled with Paul’s evangelistic team, but I suspect that Paul sensed Timothy was not too comfortable with evangelism, so he reminded him to keep doing the work.
Whether Timothy had the gift of evangelism or not was beside the point. He was supposed to do it anyhow, along with all of the pastoral duties Paul placed on him.
Here was Timothy, the overworked missionary, trying to get a focus on his job description, and Paul told him to do evangelism along with everything else. This is the dilemma confronting every missionary—how to do evangelism. How not only to find the time and energy to do it, but how to do it so that it makes a difference and leaves some fruit.
Except possibly for not writing home often enough, nothing adds more guilt than failure to do evangelism. We can say we are not called to do it, but that is too easy. We can say we don’t have time to do it, but that’s a lame excuse, because we find time for what we feel is important. We know we ought to do it, but somehow we never get around to it.
Sending agencies know they ought to recruit more missionaries to do evangelism, but it’s a lot easier to recruit and send secretaries and soccer players. For one thing, the U.S. churches don’t excel in doing evangelism, so it’s not likely that very many volunteers for missionary service will have done much evangelism before embarking on their overseas assignments.
We must distinguish between doing evangelism and being an evangelist. Evangelists are gifted and called to proclamation. Every Christian is called to do the work of an evangelist, that is, to make friends with non-Christians and tell them the good news. The apostle Paul was an evangelist, but when he was in chains he told the Christians to do evangelism in two ways at least, by their behavior and by their speech. “Make the most of every opportunity,” he said. That is not a matter of giftedness or calling, but of obedience.
Missionaries mount many good reasons not to do it: language, culture, other duties, and “the nationals are better at it.” In some countries, if the missionaries do it too often and too obviously (and some people are converted), they face expulsion, or perhaps prison. However, none of these reasons discharges missionaries from doing some kind of evangelism.
I recall the deep regret expressed to me by one missionary who had spent 25 years in a certain country. The years had been filled with all kinds of typical missionary responsibilities, but she had not come to know any nationals well enough to have an evangelistic Bible study with them. I wondered how many other missionaries would confess the same truth.
It’s time to be much more selective. If a missionary applicant—regardless of what assignment he or she may be seeking—has not engaged non-Christians here at home, please do not send them overseas. “Do the work of an evangelist” begins with giving people the opportunity to do it here. It means training them; it means showing them how to do it in different settings; it means thinking evangelism in everything the church does.
Cross-cultural evangelism can be done in virtually every city (and most small towns) in America, because God has brought people from all over the world to our doorsteps. Some mission boards capitalize on this and give their candidates pre-field training in evangelism among these people. This is something every agency can and should do.
“Do the work of an evangelist” should be the ethos of every agency, regardless of what else it does. The kind of survey done by one mission board (reported in this issue) could very well be done by every board. We have to recognize, as the apostle Paul did, that it is very easy to slip into a comfort zone in which we do good church work, but fail to engage unbelievers with the gospel.
Timothy had a huge work load, and I suspect his personality made it hard for him to break out of the Christian ghetto. But in the end I believe he did the work of an evangelist to such an extent in the pagan Roman world that they threw him into prison. No, it’s not personality or calling. It’s doing the threatening work of asking God to open doors for the gospel, and then moving in when he does—person by person, small group by small group, community by community. That’s how we can and will evangelize the world.
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