What Is the NT Evangelist?

I think Ryan Martin is on to something:

“What Eusebius is saying points to what the New Testament seems to indicate, that an evangelist was a kind of “missionary,” bringing the gospel to a new area, where he would found a church, appoint pastors, and move on.”

I agree.  I believe that the NT evangelist is a missionary/church planter. The itinerant preachers whom we call “evangelists” may very well have a viable ministry to the church, but I don’t think they are evangelists in the NT sense of the word.  We would probably do better to call itinerant preachers, well, “itinerant preachers.”

Anyway, thanks, Ryan.  Nice post.

(See also Dr. Bill Combs article, “The Biblical Role of the Evangelist,” in the DBSJ.)


17 Responses

  1. I know this is a popular line of reasoning, but I tend to think the the biblical term “evangelist” covers a broad enough spectrum to include the modern concept of “missionary” and “evangelist.”

  2. Isn’t it possible that the evangelist is anyone especially gifted in reaching the lost with the gospel?!

  3. Hi, guys.

    Jason, I don’t think so. Either he’s a missionary/church planter or an itinerant preacher. I don’t think you can have it both ways.

    Jim, I don’t think so. That’s like saying that the pastor is anyone especially gifted at teaching the Bible. Eph. 4:11 is certainly dealing with unique gift/calls, I think.

    Of course, many disagree with me. :)

  4. The present day understanding of the evangelist has caused problems. I think the biggest problem with it is that the evangelists are not under the authority of a local church. Therefore, they can “ride in” and “ride out” without a great deal of accountability.

  5. Coach C, We’ve got to be careful not to let abuses of a model be determinative in accepting or rejecting it. Evangelism (the modern concept) can be done poorly and it can be done well.

    Chris, Here’s the three incidences of the concept of evangelism that I can think of in Scripture:

    -Philip the Evangelist. (Acts 21:8)
    1. “Preached Christ” in the/a city of Samaria. (Acts 8:5)
    2. “Preached the gospel” in many villages of the region of Samaria. (Acts 8:25)
    3. Returned to Jerusalem. (Acts 8:25)
    4. “Preached” to the Eunuch on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. (Acts 8:26)
    5. “Preached” in all the cities from Azotus to Caesarea. (Acts 8:40)
    -Timothy told to do the work of an evangelist. (2 Timothy 4:5)
    -Evangelism listed as one of God’s gifts to the church. (Ephesians 4:11)

    The above references seem to justify my approach to this, but I’m open for things I might be missing.

  6. In Philip’s evangelistic activities, none of them appear to have been going to different cities to do the work of an evangelist in established churches. I’m not sure Jason, if you were using those as proof of the itinerant evangelist’s ministry of today or not.

    I do believe that what you said Jason is correct in that evangelism (the modern concept) can be done poorly and it can be done well. Much of what passes for evangelism today is not true Biblical evangelism.

    An excellent book that helped me along these lines many years ago is “Today’s Gospel–Authentic or Synthetic?” by William Chantry. Three tapes that have helped me tremendously are by Albert Martin of Trinity Baptist Church in Montville, NJ entitled, “Is the Contemporary Gospel the Biblical Gospel?” They are probably about 35 years old, but just as pertinent to today (if not more so) as they were 35 years ago.

  7. Mike,

    Chantry’s book is excellent and I have been listening to Martin for almost twenty years, but it really does not address the question at hand. Assuming that Jason agrees with the fact that the high-pressure, low-doctrine, watered-down decisional type of preaching is not acceptable, it still does not address what is a Biblical, New Testament Evangelist.

    I tend to favor the idea of an evangelist being a church planting missionary, but when you look at the little we know from Biblical references, we do not have things as clear as we would like.

    When Philip went to preach to the Ethopian eunuch, he was not establishing a church. In fact, he was very much “Blowing In and Blowing Out” (without the off-referenced “Blowing Up” in the middle). When he went through all the cities until he came to Azotus, he does not seem to have settled into those cities and established churches in each one – at least the Biblical record does not give us an indication of this occurring.

    Is it possible that if the folks that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word (Acts 8:4) that they may have already preached at some of cities? Is it not likely that many in Samaria had heard the Gospel before Philip’s arrival there (remember the woman at the well, etc.)?

    Unfortunately, I am not providing much in the way of answers in this post, but I do think that the references are vague enough that it is probably not wise to condemn the whole realm of itenerent evangelists as being unBiblical. Now, if we choose to condemn particular evangelists for a watered-down message, etc., sign me up.

    Just my thoughts,


  8. Frank,

    I didn’t say that itinerant ministries are necessarily unbiblical. I just don’t see them functioning as “evangelists.” I’d say they typically exhort believers rather than evangelizing unbelievers. But again, I’m not saying there is no value to itinerant ministry, at least in principle.

    I’d like to look into what Mt. Calvary had Steve Pettit do. I understand that in addition to preaching, he did some evangelism training, etc. I think that makes a lot of sense. I’d still preserve the “evangelist” title for missionary church planters, though.

    And frankly, if I were having a week of meetings, I’d probably opt to have a pastor speak most of the time. That’s obviously not a conviction, just a preference.

  9. Chris,
    Many itinerant evangelists have had to resort to more of an exhortation-type ministry because they come into churches who have little being done by the pastor(s) and others “doing the work of an evangelist.”
    We have enjoyed having Steve Pettit at our church in the past. He does make an effort to move the church forward in their evangelistic outreach. He insisted on going out with me and others making evangelistic visits in homes, etc. while here. He did a training seminar on prayer, linking it to evangelism, helped us coordinate special outreaches, etc. It was helpful to our church.
    I think someone like Dave Barba is onto a good pattern as well, spending a longer period of time with new churches and helping revitalize churches. He has had to raise support to do this, but it has been helpful in some of our church plants to have him as a support.
    I agree with Jason’s first comment that the term is broad enough, or there is enough lattitude for the Evangelist to be a MCP or an itinerant. I also agree that his ministry must be connected to local churches very closely and must avoid the “Finneyesque manipulative formulas for successful weekly meetings” approach.
    Also, there is little space at all for the disconnected meetings. In Nairobi, there is a park downtown that some people call “their church” because international evangelists speak there on a regular basis- Graham, Jakes, Hinn, etc.

  10. “High-pressure, low-doctrine, watered-down decisional type of preaching is not acceptable.”

    I’m with you on that.

  11. Chris,

    I agree with your assessment of the Scriptural viewpoint of the NT evangelist. I do not think scripture sets down the parameters for what we call an evangelist today. I know there are some among baptists who like to make it the third office of the church, but I do not know where they come up with that? I also wonder what would disqualify men from being evangelists. I have often seen someone who no longer meets qualifications of the pastor become an “evangelist”.

    I do have one thought that I would appreciate your comments on. What do you do with the purpose clause in Ephesians 4:12? I have always struggled with that one and would appreciate any insight that you or others might have.


  12. O’Brien says, “Here in Ephesians 4 evangelists are given by the ascended Christ for the purpose of building his body, and this included both intensive and extensive growth.” This included “a range of activities from primary evangelism and the planting of churches to the ongoing building of Christians adn the establishment of settled congregations” (299). I think he gives credence to the broader view of the “Evangelist” narrowed by a clear connection to local church planting or strengthening, thus fulfilling the purpose clause here in Eph 4:12.
    (KP- was watching an old HHCS/ICA bball video with my kids last night–had forgotten just how sweet a shooter you were!)

  13. Thank you Pearson for the clarification. I often thought that as the apostles and prophets were part of the founding of the church in the first century that the evangelist was also a part of that category. The pastor-teacher is what God has ordained to carry on the church, thus we have been given the qualifications for such individuals in Scripture.

    PJ-Thanks for thinking that, but one lucky shot out of one hundred or so is about all that went down against such worthy adversaries.

  14. Mike/Frank:
    IMO Chantry’s Today’s Gospel is NOT a good book. I am not alone in that opinion. Dr. Stewart Custer reviewed Chantry’s book. The review appeared in Biblical Viewpoint 7 (1973). Here are a few brief excerpts.

    A Baptist pastor has indicted the entire practice of modern conservative evangelism. Walter J. Chantry, in Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic? (London: Banner of Truth Trust. 1970. 93 pp)., charges that the doctrine and practices of the “evangelical wing of the Protestant church” are unbiblical and dangerous (p. 121). He urges that churches “rethink the way of salvation” (p. 16). He maintains that the sole biblical standard for personal evangelism is the Lord’s interview with the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-27 (p. 16).
    Mr. Chantry rejects the idea of urging the sinner to “accept Jesus as your personal Saviour.” These words are “wholly inadequate to instruct a sinner in the way to eternal life” (p. 48).
    Mr. Chantry charges that “evangelicals have invented the idea of ‘carnal Christians’” (p. 54). He admits that Paul used the term but thinks that Paul was referring to “babes in Christ . . . who had an area of carnal behaviour” (p. 54).
    It is plain that Mr. Chantry has removed himself from the evangelical tradition. He is not an evangelical; he is a dangerous outsider.

    I caution endorsing Chantry’s Today’s Gospel.


  15. Kevin,
    Obrien’s quote shows his view. I lean that way since Timothy is told to do the work of an evangelist while leading an established church or community of churches in Ephesus. I think it is possible to lean your way too, Chris, and still be a nice guy.

    Just tell all the new guys sending out brochures to change them to “Itinerant Special Speaker and Strong Exhorter” :-)

  16. Lou
    In spite of all that was said, I do heartily recommend Chantry’s book. I might “agree” with just about every one of the disagreements that you had. If you read the book, you can get the context of the things that he says and you might understand some of the criticisms. It’s an excellent book.

  17. I find your discussions thought-provoking in my visits here.

    Just a little piece of thought: I’ve sometimes heard of those who think Paul would be the archetypal evangelist. I’ve asked them to consider what Paul did on his 2nd and 3rd missionary journeys. Was he not confirming those churches and exhorting them in the faith? Perhaps we limit the definition of Gospel sometimes to include only the “plan of salvation.” But there is so much more doctrine that I think could be included in the Gospel.

    Just thoughts.

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