Evangelism is a gifting that the church at large expects Christians to be good at. Now before we flesh out this example, let’s remember that there are things all Christians are obviously expected to do and evangelism is one of them. There’s nothing in the Bible that even remotely implies that if you’re not gifted for evangelism, you no longer have to lead people to Christ. But there is a verse that shows us that there is a special anointing on some to evangelize; for Paul says that Jesus “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12).
When we read this statement we don’t even blink an eye at the idea that only some are called to be apostles, prophets, shepherds (pastors) and teachers. By all means, most contemporary Christians raise an eyebrow when someone identifies themselves as a modern day apostle or prophet. Likewise, we often don’t think that just anyone should be a pastor, rather, we consider it a special calling on a person’s life. And while we know that we all have something to teach another person, by no means do we think everyone should therefore be a teacher.
Yet for some reason many of us have the expectation that every single Christian should be an excellent evangelist. Why is that? Missiologist Michael Frost points out the ultimate problem with this mentality.
The fact is, gifted evangelists telling the rest of us that we should behave like gifted evangelists has a debilitating effect. We look at confident, articulate, theologically trained evangelists preaching in our churches, and we hear their stories of sharing the gospel on the back of a napkin in a restaurant or a plane, and then we hear them tell us that we, too, can (and indeed, should) do what they do—and we freeze! We know we can’t do what they do.
But I don’t hear Paul telling his congregations to preach in the Areopagus like he did. He doesn’t berate them for not creating opportunities for bold, clear proclamation. He does want them to talk about Jesus, but…. he assumes it should be in the context of wise socializing, prompted by the questions of others. (Frost, Michael. Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People. Colorado Springs, NavPress, 2016. p. 6-7.)
If this sounds blasphemous, then you haven’t seen the wrong people try to evangelize before. There are some who scare me to death when they try to walk in this gifting which they very obviously don’t have. Some of them just look a little foolish and I can’t help but smile at their devotion and uncomfortableness, but others do incalculable harm to people and try to condemn them until they get saved. This is a problem that the church needs to start acknowledging more adamantly.
We know that if someone tries to be an apostle, prophet or pastor when they’re not, they will severely mess up the church. The same is true for those who try to operate as an evangelist when they’re not. Certainly God does have the potential to use these people’s broken evangelistic words, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes their words are just too far out there or too condemning to work with. We’ve certainly all heard stories of people who have come in contact with such evangelistic experiences.
So in the end, God expects every Christian to be telling the world about Jesus—but by no means does He expect all of us to be Billy Graham. Honestly, we just can’t do that kind of thing without God’s gifting and when gifted evangelists assume that we can and should, they overlook the diverse context of the church and teach us to be who they are and not who Jesus has designed us to be.
That being said, however, I would suggest that most of us can grow in our ability to evangelize and that we shouldn’t be so cautious and shy all the time.