Don’t take this the wrong way, but you might be [gasp!] an evangelist

I’ve been taking copious notes lately from JR Woodward’s Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World, about half of which focuses on how the five kinds of leaders listed in Ephesians 4 (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors & teachers) can work uniquely and in unity in a church wanting to be the church for others. I’ve read about these ministerial gifts before and taken probably half-a-dozen of the dozens of self-assessments available to tell you where your gifts lie. If you’ve grown up in the Protestant church, I’m guessing you have, too. (If you haven’t then cast your mind back to your teen magazine years and those quizzes that helped you determine what bubblegum flavor you were. These assessments are a lot like those except these tell you how the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is raising you up “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” Very similar, yes? ) I ended up writing my own self-assessment quiz based on Woodward’s book, which I’ll post in a few days. I don’t generally accord gifts and personality assessments too much weight, especially not ones I’ve written myself, but they are good team-building conversation starters for church leaders. Particularly if you’ve already analyzed your respective bubblegum flavors to death. It was also a useful exercise in examining the slight to significant differences between how I heard these gifts described growing up and how Woodward saw these gifts operating in the context of a church committed to being church for the world. He doesn’t spend time calling out all the abuses that can happen when these gifts are assumed as mantles and titles, but he offers quiet correctives to them all the same.

The definition that seemed most altered when viewed through a missional lens was that of the evangelist. It would have had to have been a big difference for me to notice, because I would tend to gloss over that section. Based on my scores on other gifts assessments I have come to self-identify very strongly as not-an-evangelist. At times that has bothered or mystified me – I’m sociable. I care about people. I’m not ashamed of following Jesus. I believe in putting words to our faith. I want the world to know that God loves the world. While I think of my primary calling as helping the church be the church, I consider demonstrating and articulating this faith to our larger communities in credible ways to be one of the signs of the church being the church. So why wouldn’t this register on the tests?

Reading Woodward’s description of an evangelist I realized how many other descriptions I’d read that were based on narrow and rather stilted models of sharing the good news. Of course the accompanying lines of questioning used to identify the evangelists among us reflected those models as well, e.g. Would you rather hand out tracts on a street corner or prepare a Bible study? On a scale of 1-10 how willing are you to tell your friends they’re going to hell? Does at least one of your everyday accessories double as a device for sharing the gospel in five minutes or less? Do you cold-call people for a living and hate going home at the end of the day? Yes, I’m dangling a couple of toes over the deep end here, but our images of evangelism have been indelibly colored by evangelical notions of “witnessing” that differ both from simply being a witness and from what an evangelist, in the Ephesians 4 context of church leadership, would be concerned with – the witness of the church as a whole and serving as a messenger/ ambassador between the church and the rest of the world.

Assumptions that verbal assent constitutes faith and that commitment to following Christ bears no relation to our human relationships also taint our assumptions of what evangelism and evangelists look like. These assumptions actually screen out those with the gifts necessary to tell the story of God convincingly to a skeptical public and to draw people toward the community of faith. Our shift toward thinking that evangelism involves demanding an answer from the unprepared discourages those the Spirit keeps preternaturally prepared to give an answer for the hope within them from thinking of themselves as evangelists.

The true evangelists among us would be the folks who have the best handle on the gospel as good news rather than those who consider it a tough sell. According to many assessments, if you can move product and close deals you may be an evangelist, but they shunt away others who can best give the gospel away. If you think of salvation in terms larger than individual souls, you’re an apostle. If your commitment to truth leads you beyond warning sinners about judgment to calling the systems of the world and the church to justice, you’re a prophet. If you’re equipped to care for other people relationally, you’re a pastor. If you want others to recognize the heights and depths, and not just the breadth of God’s love, you’re a teacher. This tends to leave those whose faith is unusually exuberant and simple and – not always, but often – still immature, uninformed, or unexamined to communicate the gospel to the world. Yeah, how’s that workin’ out for us?

By equating one’s willingness to offer a shallow salvation through artificial methods with the spiritual gift of evangelism, we unwittingly anoint as evangelists the garrulous, who prefer being right to having right relationships and for whom the propositional truths of Christianity assure them a winning argument every time; the gregarious who can turn anything into small talk, including the staggering news that God died for you; the spiritually anxious who bear their responsibilities for the fates of others’ souls with potentially crippling fear and trembling; and the socially anxious for whom conversations with strangers never get easier, so they might as well turn them toward something important like accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior in the hopes that some greater good will come of them. The church, thank God, has very few evangelists by this measure. But we do have the real deal. We’ve been promised them. We’re not able to do the work of the church without them. Who knows, but you might be one of them – even and especially if the thought of knocking on a stranger’s door to show them your corny beaded bracelet makes you physically ill.

If you’d like to find out, I’ll post the assessment I drafted up based on Woodward’s descriptions in a couple of days – let’s say Saturday. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for you getting all prophetic on your co-workers at the end of a long week.

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