Three Must-Have Characteristics of an Evangelist
I offer the following not as authoritative counsel based on years of experience, but as a modest suggestion in light of limited participation and observation. Personally, I wish to employ this advice into my own life.
As Christians, we are all supposed to be evangelists, at least to an extent. “Evangelist” means “one who brings the gospel.” While one may not consider evangelism his full-time vocation, a major part of his calling as a Christian is to be an evangelist (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; 8:4; II Corinthians 5:20). This essay is directed toward all Christians as evangelists – whether as a door-to-door witness or an outnumbered believer among a host of co-workers, friends, family, or neighbors. In any case, a gospel-sensitive Christian will often find the opportunity to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in one way or another. In whatever setting he may find himself, these three characteristics ought to have their place. In no way do I suggest that these are the only characteristics an evangelist must have. However, based on observing the current trends fundamentalism, I have become concerned about how we go about sharing Christ. No one may ever master the art of evangelizing, but we must make sure we do all as is humanly possible to give the gospel with more God and less self. The truth will always be an offense to some, but so be it. If one is turned from salvation because of the truth, let that be his choice. However, we should try to avoid turning people away with things other than the truth. Let them reject the message for what it is, not for who we are or what we did.
When presenting the gospel, a proper balance of these three attributes must abide in the presenter:
It is in style with some in the current fundamentalist movement to have a lack of compassion (Please remember, there are many exceptions). Compassion is seen as effeminate and weak, and too humble to coincide with the vanity that reigns within the minds of today’s leaders and their protégés. This avoidance of compassion is the response to the overemphasis of the same characteristic in many of the circles of evangelicalism. As is the case with any attribute, an overemphasis could be just as dangerous as a scant supply.Compassion is “a feeling of distress through the ills of others.” The word indicates a sharing in the same sufferings of one by another. Our Lord Jesus is the greatest example and very embodiment of compassion. As Lord God, He had no reason to involve Himself in our desperate affairs other than His compassion on us. Why did God send His Son to die? “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16)! His ministry was characterized by compassion. In the ninth chapter of Matthew, verses 35 through 38, Jesus Christ is teaching, preaching, and healing. He is in the midst of His ministry. He then looks upon the people, and “when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.” After the death of John the Baptist, Jesus went away into a desert. Those in the cities followed Him. Ignoring the sorrow of loss that would fill the typical man, Jesus concentrated on the problems of the multitude and healed their sick. The Bible says He had compassion (Matthew 14:14). In Matthew 15, when Jesus multiplied seven loaves of bread and a few little fishes to feed 5,000 men, He explained to His disciples in verse 32, “Then Jesus called his disciples unto him, and said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way.”The parable Jesus gives us in Matthew 18:23-35 unlocks our motivation to have compassion. In summary, a servant owed his lord ten thousand talents. In mercy, the lord forgave that servant of all the debt. That same servant turned around and found a fellow servant that owed him one hundred pence. The forgiven servant did not forgive his fellow; rather he violently demanded his payment and cast him into prison. The lord finds out about the injustice and Jesus continues in verses 32-33, “Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?” Admittedly, this parable deals mainly with the subject of forgiving one another. However, the attitude that motivated that forgiveness is what I would like to highlight. The reason the lord forgave his servant was that he was “moved with compassion” (v27). Likewise, the lord expected that same compassion to be bestowed on others. The “pay-it-forward” philosophy is nothing new – it is a timeless, God-given principle. The point is clear – a defining characteristic of Jesus’ ministry was compassion, and He expects the same from us. I challenge the reader to study more about the word “compassion” because we have only touched the tip of the iceberg. I left my examples in Matthew, but the entire New Testament is laced with examples and exhortations of compassion. Can we not find the same principle in the story of the Good Samaritan? Truthfully, we Christians have been forgiven of so much. How can we not have that same compassion on others? We must see people as God sees them – in need, hungry, thirsty, lost, without a shepherd, and without hope. Too little emphasis on compassion creates a lack of evangelistic effort. Apathy, the polar opposite of compassion, consumes the individual whose heart is deafened toward compassion. An apathetic soul does not want to pursue after those who are lost. He has no desire or passion to see people come to Christ. It does not bother him if the world goes to hell. He may agree while listening to a sermon that the need is great, but he makes no effort to allow God to help him labor for souls. His heart is as cold as one unregenerated.
Now, I do not propose that compassion on others is our chief motivation to evangelize; obedience out of a love of God should constrain us to do His will, for His glory. However, the Christian who obeys the Lord also possesses His desires, one of which is compassion. Philippians 2:13 says, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Psalm 37:4 declares, “Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” Significant truths are understood from these two verses. First, we can do nothing without the Lord. Secondly, as we abide in God, He literally works in us, not only to perform our tasks, but to will or desire to do them. Thirdly, living for the Lord is a delight. Finally, the zenith of the Christian life is to have our desires equal to those of God’s. Therefore, this Bible principle teaches us that the only real source of compassion is God Himself. If compassion is sought for elsewhere, it is only temporary and forced – something many people can see through.
Another result of a lack of compassion is the failure to understand that we are all sinners. Sure, an evangelist may relay that thought to his prospect during his course of presentation, but the one who is void of compassion does not really apply himself to Romans 3:23. In doing so, he elevates himself above all others and forgets from where he has come.
All Christians have a testimony of salvation. Whether one was saved from a life of drugs and violence as an adult or saved as a child in a Christian home, we are all sinners saved by grace. We henceforth should walk as Christ walked and live holy lives, but that does not mean that we should neglect the grace and love of God that saved us from sin and hell. We still have the old flesh that wars with the spirit, which ought to remind us not only of a needed dependency of God, but also of who we are. For example, the apostle Paul was saved from a wicked life. He went on to be revered by many as possibly the greatest Christian example in history. In contrast to today’s weak version of Christianity, Paul’s holiness was light-years ahead of ours. Nevertheless, Paul says, “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake” (I Corinthians 9:19-23a). This attitude cannot derive from a soul who has no compassion.
Let us rejoice in our salvation. But let us never forget the scores of those who have yet to hear the gospel. We may feel more holy than they and more significant to God, but remember the only begotten Son of God, who de-robed Himself of His glory and was made like us that He may be the Ultimate Sacrifice for us (Philippians 2:6-8). That is the mind of Christ. Now “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (v5).
An overemphasis of compassion could be dangerous. Although we are told that love is the Christians’s greatest attribute (I Corinthians 13:13) and covers a multitude of sins (I Peter 4:8), elevating love and compassion to the neglect of other important characteristics leads to a lack of evangelization, unbiblical toleration, and an attitude constantly in fear of offending.Teresa of Calcutta was one of the greatest examples of an overemphasis of compassion this world has ever seen. Even today, her accolades are lauded by both the religious and secular world. Obviously, her mother Church venerates her dearly. Many evangelicals have embraced her example as well. Her image has also been used as a motivational factor utilized by secular companies and public services. “Mother” Teresa is certainly revered by the world, a quality spoken of against by a wise man who said, “what evil thing have I done, that I have gained the praise of this world?” Teresa had a theological problem, however. As one who claimed to be a follower of Christ and member of the true Church, she had an obligation to preach the gospel. Many doors were opened for her to do this as she traveled the world, most specifically to countries with people who have never heard. Her humanitarian efforts were indeed noble, but she failed to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. She even summarized her approach: “my goal is to make a Catholic a better Catholic, a Hindu a better Hindu, and a Muslim a better Muslim.” Some would agree with her attempt to share only the love of Christ and not be politically incorrect. Certainly, her followers were not “offended” by her message. As a result, many of them have passed into eternity without hearing the gospel, even though they were right next to one who claimed to know it. This sad story is a consequence of an overemphasis of compassion.As stated earlier, compassion for people is not our highest motivation for evangelizing. We preach the gospel because we are told to. The love of Christ constrains us to obey. We can set time aside to go “soul-winning”, but if no souls are won, it may seem like a failure. The conversion of souls is not our business, but God’s. Ours is to preach the gospel. Sure, as we obey and stay in God’s will, He will give us His compassion for others. We can then see people as God sees them: as sheep having no shepherd, lost, dying, and on their way to hell. Putting compassion over obedience, however, has led many to tolerate sin and false doctrine.This pragmatism is manifest mostly in the ecumenical movement. The reasoning seems to be, as long as we are seeing people come to Christ, we can ignore the commands in the Bible to separate from error and be holy. Of course, everyone will draw a different line when it comes to ecclesiastical separation, but there is no excuse to yoke with any man or sect that denies the true Christ and the true gospel just for the sake of evangelization. If fundamentalists wish to avoid the ecumenical movement, we must have compassion, but only put in its proper context – a byproduct of obeying God.
Boldness has become the premier concept in fundamentalism today. It has become so prevalent that it has turned to harshness. This problem comes from both without and within. From without, the idea of fundamentalism brings to mind a sort of fanaticism associated with religious intolerance, jihad, Bible thumping, or intense protesting. From within, the idea of fundamentalism nearly brings the same things to the minds of its adherents – very proudly! I recently listened to two random messages from “fundamentalists” about the nature of being a fundamentalist. There was no emphasis on doctrine, but a heavy emphasis on boldness, or in the context of their messages, harshness. Both were well received by their audience with “bold” cries of amen. These may have been extreme examples, but I have personally witnessed this kind of pandering, at least in some form, behind the pulpit several times.This article concerns evangelism, but I would like to address the role of boldness in the fundamentalist movement as well, because it has become the main item in the fundamentalist’s briefcase which he will eventually carry during his approach to evangelism.Boldness, in the biblical sense, can carry a few distinct but related meanings. The kind of boldness that the Christian should have is found in Acts 4:13 - “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” This form of boldness is essentially being unreserved and free in speech. This liberty comes from a confidence in the truth. From verses 8 to 12 of this chapter, Peter speaks the truth of God’s Word boldly by declaring the power of Jesus Christ to the rulers of Israel, and plainly proclaiming the exclusivity of salvation in Him. In the context of his audience, Peter was indeed bold – he left no options, no questions, and no doubts. Why could he be so bold? He was preaching the truth! He was filled with the Spirit! He was giving God’s eternal message, not his own. As a result of his own personal faith in this truth, he can declare this message with unreserved liberty, or boldness. The consequential marveling did not testify directly to Peter’s bold manner of speech; rather it highlighted the one element that made this all possible – “they had been with Jesus.” The only effective boldness in the Christian life, and especially evangelism, is that which comes from God, given to the evangelist as he abides in Jesus Christ and preaches His truth. This is a far cry from pounding a pulpit and preaching against culottes.I would submit that the wrong kind of boldness in fundamentalism today is confidence in the flesh. If I can go anywhere – behind a rescue mission pulpit or behind a 3,000 member traditional church pulpit; amongst skeptic co-workers or in the midst of a home bible study; on somebody’s porch during church visitation or behind the door encountering a Jehovah’s Witness; on national television or on the phone with a family member – and with confidence proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ unashamedly, this boldness will be with me so long as my relationship with Christ is right and I preach His Word. I know His Word is true. That is biblical boldness. It is confidence in God. Unfortunately, some want to be bold just to be bold. Several times during his “message”, Jeff Owens said something like “if you wanna hate me, so be it.” His inspiration came from his pastor, who “isn’t used to gettin’ permission to speak” (at a civil meeting concerning a store’s acquisition of a liquor license). Of course, hearty screams of agreement filled the auditorium. Alan Domelle claimed that he liked “red-hot preachin’…that’s loud…the preacher’s face turns red a lil’ bit.” I personally have sat through services in which preachers did not really “get to preachin’” until their handkerchiefs came out and jackets came off. Usually, about this time the crowd sits up and gets ready to shout. And what is all the shouting about? Is it about the deity of the Lord Jesus, His substitutionary atonement, the love of God, salvation, the resurrection, or other doctrinal truths? It hardly ever is. This is not to say that these kinds of preachers do not loudly preach on doctrine, but most of the time, the shouting is about dress standards, “false” teachers (other preachers that agree 99% with the preacher except on one thing), women’s roles, the King James Version, or the bus ministry. This kind of preaching really is not preaching at all, but a dissertation of disgust. The manufactured boldness of the preacher and those listening is man-centered.Now, I am not against enthusiasm. If the distinct way in which a preacher gets excited is to get loud and animated, that is his style, and in no way do I suggest he stop. It does not take a professional observer to realize, however, that most young preachers simply parrot their heroes. It take more true boldness to quietly inform your relative, over a cup of coffee, that he is a lost sinner than it does to preach on women wearing pants to a group of Bible college students who agree with you. Let us carefully draw the distinction between excitement and boldness.
In evangelism, then, too much of an emphasis on boldness creates a man-centered, manufactured enthusiasm that immediately turns off those that may receive the gospel. The listeners will not walk away because they say, “this is an hard saying, who can hear it?”, rather they will walk away because the red-faced evangelist was too harsh in his approach. May God help us not to turn any away from salvation because of us!
Too little boldness allows the unregenerate to feel an upper-hand in the evangelizing process. The one carrying the gospel is seen as weak in his convictions and lacks confidence in the message. Again, this is not due to a lack of enthusiastic speech, but in his content. Many times, I have told someone at their door, “well, we’re not trying to take you away from your church or anything…”. Well, unless they go to a decent church, of course I am! Otherwise, I am only looking for a profession of faith and have no desire to see the candidate discipled. This is not that I have to say, “I want you to leave your church”, but there are other ways to get away from the church thing and dive into the issue of eternity. If the person I am witnessing to sees my lack of boldness, he will only spotlight the things on which we agree – God, love, being good to all people – and I will be forced to agree with him. From that standpoint, there is hardly an opportunity to elaborate on sin. If I am not bold enough to say, “the Bible says you’re not a good person!”, I have failed to provide the first step in knowing God.
Too little boldness can create a dull atmosphere in Christianity as well. This may be the thing that drives Charismatics to their unscriptural worship practices. Charismatic tendencies exist in fundamentalism as well. To some, a meeting in which no one shouted or ran around the church is one in which the Holy Spirit did not “show up.” This is ridiculous. One may preach the Bible with confidence in it and receive nothing but silence, but if the next day the meetings’ attendees obeyed that which they have heard, then God certainly did show up and get a hold of their hearts! We should never measure our faith with excitement. However, if the awesome truth of God’s Word grips you, and your natural tendency is to be enthused, then be yourself. There is something about a lively, vibrant spirit when God’s Word is being proclaimed.
Boldness is not necessarily an easy thing to achieve. It is something for which we must strive. Time passed without an intimate relationship with God in prayer and His Word will only produce Christians with no boldness. If, for example, I have a prayer-less week, I will not have the boldness I need to stand up for right in the work place. I will cave in to the tasteless jokes, carnal conversations, and avoidance of spiritual things. If I am involved in a weekly outreach program, I will not have the confidence in the message that changes lives because it has not changed me this week. Outside the Word of God, our personal testimony is the most powerful tool we have. Of course, God can still save the lost – His Word will do its work. However, we miss out on so much if we approach evangelism with no boldness. It is a scriptural principle.
Proverbs 28:1 says that the righteous should be as bold as a lion. Acts 4:29 and 4:31 both reveal the priority of boldness in preaching the Word of God. In fact a simple word study on boldness will reveal that it is always in the context of proclaiming God’s eternal truth (Acts 9:29; 14:3; Ephesians 6:19). Christians will suffer persecution and encounter people who are hard to evangelize, but we must press on with confidence – not because we are great, but because we have a great God! Let us stand up for Jesus, even if we are standing alone. Let us proclaim his truths, even his hard-to-hear sayings, with all boldness. I Thessalonians 2:2 encourages us: “we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God.”
I put wisdom as the last of these characteristics not because it is least important, but because it should follow the above two. Motivated by compassion and empowered with boldness, the Christian could then exercise wisdom as an evangelist. If the first two attributes are employed, the one bringing glad tidings has a proven heart for God. He is compelled to witness out of obedience to the Lord. He does not want to be an offense and wants to do it in the right spirit. His compassion on people and boldness with the message shows that he has a great reverence for what he is doing. As Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” There are two main words in the New Testament used for wisdom, sophia and phronesis. The first is theoretical, as it means the insight into the true nature of things (Matthew 11:19). The second is practical, as it means the ability to discern modes of action in view of results4 (Luke 1:17). The Christian needs both. As an evangelist, he must get insight from God so that he may better understand all the details of any situation. He must also know how to be a discerning person, and weigh the outcomes of his decisions. This is vital in the evangelizing process, for prayerful consideration must go into everything said.Too little emphasis on wisdom produces a lack of doctrinal knowledge and depth. This causes a lack of credibility given by those who are listening. Now, accreditation by the world should not be a desire for any Christian, but what kind of testimony is it if they know more about the Bible than we do? This problem is not 100% solvable, for there will always be secularists that study the Bible just to discredit it, as well as new Christians who want to be a witness but have little discipleship under their belt. However, the problem can be lessened if Christians determined to know as much about God and His Word as possible. This includes basic Bible stories and doctrines, but can be as broad as knowing a bit about other religions. God will use that attained knowledge.Fundamentalism has overreacted against the New Evangelicalism’s desire for worldly honor. It is true that some in evangelicalism substitute carnal scholarship for faith. Many times preachers and authors seek the approval by secular scholars, and in an effort to do so neglect basic Bible truth so they may seem credible. As a result, some evangelical ministries have become heretical. In response to this, many fundamentalists have shunned any deep understanding of theology. It would not be surprising to hear, “I don’t know much about that theology, but bless God, I like preachin’!” behind a fundamentalist pulpit. Because of this, the very last place one can go for systematic, developed theology is a fundamentalist bookstore. Fundamentalists wonder why many young minds “turn to the New Evangelicalism.” It is a simple answer. Those “New Evangelicals” have the good stuff. If I want help with evangelism, I go to Ray Comfort. If I want a good premillennial theology, I go to Charles Ryrie or Dwight Pentecost. If I want some good doctrinal studies, I go to John MacArthur, John Piper, or RC Sproul. If I want some practical exposition, I go to James MacDonald. If I want apologetics, I go to James White. Obviously, I would not agree with all the views held by these men – but they provide deep understanding of the things of God. On the other hand, fundamentalist literature is virtually void of anything other than shallow sermons put together into a volume. I even heard a visiting professor say, “I don’t write anything. There are two kinds of people. Those who write and those who do. The reason fundamental Baptists don’t write is that their too busy doin’!” That is an absurd line of reasoning. By “fundamental Baptist” he really meant “good Christians”, discrediting anyone who writes. A brief look into history tells us that is simply not true. I wonder if he knows Charles Spurgeon wrote a few things in his life, and he certainly was, at the same time, someone who “did”. Paul might object to that, as well as John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, Roger Williams, and John R. Rice, just to name a few. One reason fundamentalists do not write is that they are afraid of being accused of being too critical or academic or associated with those who are. Another is that knowledge takes a backseat to zeal.Paul said to Timothy, “thou hast fully known my doctrine” (II Timothy 3:10). Drawing near is Paul’s departure, and he brings to remembrance the things Timothy must gain from his mentor. The first thing is doctrine. Manner of life is second. The only reason we have a “manner of life” is because of our doctrine. What we believe produces how we act. If we have a nominal understanding of what we believe then we do not act in a way that glorifies the Lord. Doctrine cannot be watered down to mean “the five fundamentals”, soul winning and bus ministry, or KJV. It must go much deeper. The more insight we have into the truths of God’s Word, the more effective we are in communicating it to others.Wisdom may be enhanced as we study God’s Word and conduct ourselves in a discerning manner, but it is gained even more easily: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering” (James 1:5-6). God wants us to have wisdom. If God wants me to have it, then I think it is important.Too much of an emphasis on wisdom produces the sort of knowledge that puffs up. If wisdom is the apex of achievement, the Christian will depend on his knowledge. “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect” (I Corinthians 1:17). The idea Paul expresses in the entire chapter of I Corinthians and repeated again in his epistles is that men do not trust in other men, but in God. An overemphasis of wisdom makes preaching void. To the world, the preaching is indeed “foolishness.” This does not mean that we must make ourselves as fools to conform to the biblical standard. It means that the truths expressed in what we are proclaiming are foolish to the world. The fact that all men are sinners and Jesus died to save the world is foolishness to the unregenerate heart. The wisdom of God and the wisdom of this world are two different things. We must have the first and reject the latter. An evangelist putting confidence in his wisdom lacks a confidence in God, and therefore forfeits the power behind evangelizing. He would also appease the questions given to him by those who want to convert for fear of looking dumb. If he were into apologetics, he would want to win an argument, rather than win over the person. These are dangerous tendencies. Evangelists must have wisdom, and it must be of God. Theses are characteristics only, not all that is needed. Evangelists have tools such as the Bible, prayer, and our testimony – most of all we have God Himself. Trust in Him.