Today we hear St. Paul writing his farewell letter to his young protégé, Timothy. In one of his final exhortations, Paul admonishes pastor Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist.” It’s interesting to note that the word “evangelist” only occurs three times in the entire New Testament. In Acts 21:8, St. Phillip—the one who was sent to bear witness to the Ethiopian eunuch—he is called an evangelist. In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul names evangelists as one of the manifold gifts that Christ gave his Church following his ascension to equip the saints for the work of ministry. Evangelists are listed side-by-side with prophets, apostles, shepherds, and teachers—yet, while we see plenty of references to those roles in the New Testament, it seems a bit strange that those called evangelists are not talked about very much. Especially when we consider the fact that an evangelist—a εὐαγγελιστής, by definition, is one who announces the εὐαγγέλιον—the good news that sins are forgiven through the blood of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps the apparent reticence of the New Testament to talk about those who are called to do the work of an evangelist is part of the point. After all, the original usage of the word derives from the ancient practice of sending messengers into cities, towns, and villages to announce the approach or the accomplishments of someone of great importance—often of the emperor himself. The identity of the evangelist who carried the good news was never considered more important than the content of the good news he carried.
Now, it's certainly true that our American culture, which prizes celebrity status and loves to highlight individual achievement, has had an impact on the way we think of evangelists today. We often tend to think that a true evangelist is someone whose personality is larger than life. Or whose gift of communication enables them to speak eloquently to audiences of thousands. Perhaps we think of the dynamic preaching style of a Billy Graham, or even the sound of a familiar voice like that of Dr. Walter Maier from the Lutheran Hour. We have a hard time imagining that an evangelist might ever be someone like us—someone who isn’t good with words, or who doesn’t like speaking to large crowds, whose personality isn’t all that engaging, or someone who isn’t very well known—even someone like young pastor Timothy—someone who was often timid, sickly, and even not respected by others because of his youthfulness.
But that’s exactly why we need to allow Scripture to reform our thinking about evangelists and evangelism. Sure, we can acknowledge that there are some individuals to whom God gives incredible gifts of communication and charisma in order to use them in a special capacity to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. But it seems that God more often prefers to send his good news out through those heralds of the gospel who are not so polished and put together. God loves to choose and call those who are the most unlikely candidates as his ambassadors of reconciliation. Whether through reluctant preachers like Jonah, crass fishermen like Peter, or timid souls like Timothy—God demonstrates the power of the gospel by sending it out through imperfect, unsightly, and tarnished vessels to show that it is God and his Word that is at work in the hearts of those who hear and believe.
May God bless us to faithfully share the good news of Jesus and strengthen us to do the work of an evangelist until He comes.