The Other Evangelists
Murray C. Wade
In recent times, efforts to spread the gospel have been focused primarily on sending preachers out to areas lacking congregations of the Lord and on providing congregations with "full-time" evangelists. The idea is also prevalent that without "fully-salaried" preachers the Lord's work will not be accomplished and a congregation is not doing its job. The point of this article is not to de-emphasize the importance of "fully-supported" evangelists in the Kingdom of the Lord. They are and will continue to be an important part of the Lord's work. However, while focusing so much of our time and effort on the full-time evangelist, we may neglect and overlook the importance of the other evangelists.
I have known many preachers and teachers of the gospel who have chosen to provide for their families by working an occupation in the world. For myself, there came a point in my maturing as a Christian when I had to think long and hard, spending time in prayer and Bible study, to decide whether I should pursue the occupation of an evangelist. My decision was to support my family with a secular job (as a biologist) while working as hard as I could as a preacher and teacher for the Lord. I do not think this decision was inconsistent with the apostle Paul's decision to provide for himself at certain times in his life as a Christian while still preaching and teaching at every opportunity (Acts 18:1-3; 20:34-35; 1 Cor. 4:12; 1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:7-9).
My situation is by no means unique. I dare say that there are thousands of Christian men who have made a similar choice. But from time to time I have heard brothers and sisters in the Lord belittle the importance of this type of life when compared with the life of a "fully-supported" evangelist. The idea is that if a church does not have a "full-time" preacher they are either unfortunate or failing. Acts 8:4 describes early growth in the church as not necessarily the result of supported evangelists. Yet there remain those who may not appreciate the efforts of the other evangelists of the Lord.
Another group of Christians we sometimes overlook in the work of evangelism are the elders, men who have proven themselves as strong Christians, who preach and teach God's word, and who stand up for truth (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9). Those who rule well are worthy of payment for their efforts (1 Tim. 5:17-18). With the office of elder comes the awesome task of leading, defending, and caring for the flock of God. These responsibilities demand much time, love, and patience. Surely if we can support evangelists for their dedication to preaching and teaching we can support elders for the tremendous work that they do (1 Tim. 5).
Many times we will send young preachers to difficult areas, such as the northeast. I saw in my years in New York that many of those would get discouraged, abandon the work very quickly and relocate, or leave the faith completely. Others would preach conditionally upon obtaining full sup-port. Maybe in such cases where strong mature Christians are needed to spread the gospel we should consider sending those who have met the qualifications of elders. Those who will remain firm in the truth no matter what, who will in-still the wisdom of their years to young converts, who will make sure the gospel is preached, and who have the experience to deal with trying areas (2 Tim. 2:2).
The Bible gives a picture of strong churches with elders sending out preachers (Acts 11:19-26; 15:22; 1 Pet. 5:1). Would a church be a failure if the duties of preaching and teaching were carried out by non-supported elders and the other Christian men of the congregation, while the congregation provided for sending out evangelists? Certainly not, and as a matter of fact there are congregations of the Lord that have decided to do this. To me this describes a mature church. But many today might say, we need a "fully-supported evangelist."
Constantly we stress the importance of the "full-time" evangelist. Yet a Christian is to be full-time in his work to the Lord no matter what his occupation (Lk. 9:23). We are to be subjects of our King whether at work, in our neighborhood, in our homes, or in the assembly. Our lives need to be the Lord's (Gal. 2:20) and our work is to stand for truth as being good examples (Col. 4:5-6; 1 Pet. 3:13-17) that others may be influenced to turn to God (Jas. 5:10-20). Each one of us comes in contact with people every day whose only chance to learn of God may be through our efforts (2 Cor. 3:2-3).
Whether we are working as Christians, elders, evangelists (supported or not), or teachers, we are all necessary to accomplish the Lord's will in spreading his word (Gal. 4:7-16). The "big I's and little you's" that a brother once expressed to me does not apply in the Lord's Kingdom. We all have gifts and should appreciate them, not over or under emphasizing a particular group (1 Pet. 4:7-11). We should all encourage one another in the talents we have (Matt. 25:14-30; Rom. 12:6-8).
There are many Christians working hard in the Lord's Kingdom who are teaching, preaching, and spreading the gospel who would not be defined as "a fully supported evangelist." The Lord needs all of us to accomplish his will (Eph. 4:16). I pray he will continue to provide us with the strength to carry on, for the rest we all long for is not in this world. Our rest remains in heaven where we can all be together someday (Heb. 4:8-10).
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 11, p. 8-9