KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP) — Gospel ministers, myself included, tend to identify most readily with the apostle Paul’s exhortation to “preach the Word” in his parting words to his understudy Timothy.
The scriptural emphasis on preaching, and the romance of God’s call to preach, prompts most pastors to conceptualize themselves fundamentally as a preacher, and their most urgent responsibility, to preach.
Paul’s series of exhortations in 2 Timothy, as he faced death and Timothy faced discouragement, not only strengthened the letter’s namesake but also have instructed and fortified Gospel servants throughout the centuries. Second Timothy drips with application for every minister.
While not minimizing Paul’s exhortation to preach the Word, a different one of his charges has held my attention most recently — “do the work of an evangelist.” Doing the work of an evangelist is a charge every pastor must hold fast, and every church must expect of its ministers. This is especially true in my own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention.
As reports have consistently indicated, the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention have reported declining baptism rates for years. While such statistics don’t tell the whole story, they do tell enough of the story to be concerned.
Shockingly, last year 25 percent of our churches reported baptizing no one. Of those who are baptized, a high number are of young children who may fail to grasp the Gospel and may fail to experience true repentance and saving faith.
The solution is not programmatic, nor should we encourage rushing more people into the baptistery in order to prop up soft denominational numbers. Sloshing the unconverted in water does not a baptism make. But we ought to be burdened, and ought not be afraid of numerical goals.
For example, what if every Southern Baptist pastor sought to lead to Christ, baptize, and disciple one more person each year? What if, by God’s grace, every Southern Baptist pastor did this once a month? The results would be staggering; the effects on our churches — and the lost — would me massive.
A personal burden
In nearly 20 years of ministry, my highest points have not been preaching in large settings, meeting distinguished individuals or even leading a seminary. I can truly say that my most memorable moments have been in living rooms, around kitchen tables, sitting in a pastor’s study, or on an airplane leading someone to Christ.
But I must confess, doing the work of an evangelist is harder for me these days. As a seminary president, I live life mostly surrounded by believers, with little marginal time. Over the past year, I have been burdened by my personal lack of evangelism and have had to learn the key of intentionality in my personal witness, like every other area of life.
In any organization, the maxim, “When everyone does it, no one does it” is usually true. General responsibilities, initiatives and goals usually fail because there is no built-in expectation or accountability. The same can be true with our witness. When we intend to witness to everyone, sometimes we witness to no one.
When I intentionally pray for certain people, I find myself more intentional about witnessing to them. When I intentionally engage attendants at the barbershop, gas station or restaurant, I find myself more intentionally witnessing to them. When I intentionally set personal evangelistic goals and hold myself accountable, I find myself, well, doing the work of an evangelist.
In every church, God blesses certain people with exceptional financial resources and a generous spirit. They give generously and bless the church. But that does not absolve every other Christian from their stewardship responsibilities.
Likewise, God calls and gifts certain men as evangelists, as referenced in Ephesians 4, to draw the net, plant churches and serve as missionaries. The fact that God calls and gifts some in extra measure, however, does not absolve every Christian, and especially every minister, from doing the work of an evangelist.
Evangelism is not primarily about a gift, or even one’s gifting, it is about being a faithful Christian — and a faithful minister. Brother pastors, let us do the work of an evangelist.