“But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions , do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.” 2 Tim 4:5
Here, Timothy the pastor is getting some last minute instructions from his father in the faith, the Apostle Paul. In addition to being told in other passages to “reprove, rebuke and exhort with all long suffering and doctrine” he is told to do the work of an evangelist. In addition to continuing on in the things he had learned, he was to do the work of an evangelist. While being strong in the grace that is in Jesus Christ, and committing the things he had learned unto faithful men, he was to do the work of an evangelist, and in doing so, his ministry would be proved. In fact, without doing the work of an evangelist, there would never be a “full proof” of Timothy’s ministry. So what is the work of an evangelist?
If you ask the average church member to define the work of an evangelist, at least in my circles, I have no doubt what the answer would be. The answer would be that an evangelist travels around the country preaching to mostly church folks at revival meetings and mission conferences and youth rallies and prophecy conferences and tent meetings and just about any other place that will have them. They travel from place to place and live off of the offerings that are taken up at these meetings as they try to encourage, strengthen and edify the brethren. There is nothing wrong with that, but that cannot possibly be what Paul meant here, because it would have been impractical, and maybe even impossible, for Timothy to pastor a local assembly while traipsing all over the countryside preaching everywhere else. So what is the work of an evangelist?
The Bible actually only refers to one person as ‘the evangelist’ and that is Philip the evangelist in Acts 21:8. Not even Paul receives such a title. So rather than accept our modern usage of the word, I think it behooves us to take a look at Phillip and see what’s different about him, and from there, decide what the work of an evangelist really is.
In Acts 8:1-14 we have a great work going on between Jerusalem and Samaria. This is no doubt an exciting time. Literally every ‘big name’ preacher in the world at the time is there. But God never referred to any of those other guys as ‘the evangelist’. Instead, in verse 26 God takes Philip away from all the exciting ministry work and fellowship and dispatches him to the backside of a desert to ‘preach Jesus’ to one guy who doesn’t even have a name recorded in scripture. Phillip was out there where nobody could see him. Nobody could take up an offering for him, and nobody could pat him on the back for what a good job he had done or was a powerful preacher he was. He was sent out to do this with no recognition and no spotlight. That work is what earned him the title of ‘the evangelist’.
So in our modern time we have people claiming the mantle of 'evangelist' who spend their entire ministerial career preaching to people who already are saved and who already agree with them. There are no trips out to the backside of the desert to give the gospel to a nobody, or a group of nobodies. They run from meeting to meeting and talk about what a great job they are doing for God. What they are actually doing is preaching to a voluntary audience for pay instead of an involuntary audience for free. They will preach the revival meeting, but not give a tract to the lady at the gas station when they stop to gas up. They will hang out and play golf with their preacher buddies while waiting for church to start that night without trying to reach a single lost person. They won't stand out in the highways and byways of whatever town they are in and compel the lost. They won't even go door knocking. Then they will have the audacity to stand in front of the pre-assembled crowd that already is saved and already agrees with them and call that 'evangelism'. They will preach their convictions or just a 'stir em up ' message and say that's 'preaching the gospel', when it plainly is not. According to Paul, people who do that will never have a full proof of their ministry; there will always be something missing from their ministry. They will have no perspective on how much the average person is opposed to the gospel. They won't be bearing any reproach.
But they'll have one heck of a golf game.