The Evangelist and the Local Church
I genuinely love my local church! Our shared vision, mission, and values mutually fuel each other. It’s like three individual spotlights – my personal relationship with God, our vocational ministry, and our local church – all converging into one spotlight! I feel blessed!
However, I also know that the relationship between evangelists and local churches has frequently been strained and challenging. Evangelists have been hurt or felt alienated by churches which did not affirm or recognize their evangelistic gifts and callings, or which didn’t share their evangelistic passion. From that hurt, we evangelists have too often spoken harshly about the church or acted independently from her… and for that we need to confess. But also, pastors and church leaders have been hurt by evangelists who ignored or took advantage of the local church, using it for their own agendas. And from their own hurt, pastors and church leaders have denigrated the biblical gift of the evangelist. We all need grace!
But what did God intend for the relationship between gifted evangelists and the local church?
The Apostle Paul makes it clear that (along with other leadership gifts) the gift of the evangelist was given to the church “to equip God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” (Eph. 4:11-13). The evangelist serves the church externally and internally – proclaiming Jesus Christ to outsiders (external) and training and building up believers especially in sharing their faith (internal).
At the end of the first International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists (known as Amsterdam ’83) held in Amsterdam in July 1983, about 4,000 evangelists from 133 countries individually and collectively affirmed 15 Amsterdam Affirmations of core commitments and biblical values which we pledged to uphold as evangelists. I vividly remember that holy moment, standing and committing ourselves to them, including one explicitly about the local church:
“We are responsible to the church, and will endeavor always to conduct our ministries so as to build up the local body of believers and serve the church at large.” (from Amsterdam Affirmations)
Additionally, we committed that for those who would come to faith under our ministries, we would “encourage them to identify with the local body of believers…”
Building off the Amsterdam Affirmations, here are 4 aspects of the relationship between the evangelist and the local church:
1. Evangelists are SENT BY the local church
In Acts 13:3, Paul and Barnabas were called and affirmed by their local church in Antioch, being sent out by the church, not just on their own. Timothy’s calling and gift were acknowledged by elders who laid hands on him (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6), and you can’t lay hands on yourself! Likewise, an evangelist’s gifts and calling should be observed and affirmed by local church leaders.
After preaching several times at my home church while I was in college and discerning my calling, I vividly remember an older church leader saying, “I don’t think you’ll be a pastor in a church. I can see you traveling from church to church, from place to place preaching.” I had never thought of that, but over time I saw his words as early affirmation of my itinerant evangelistic calling.
2. Evangelists are ACCOUNTABLE TO the local church.
Besides being accountable to our ministry organizations or boards, we also are accountable to our local church which sends us. (Acts 14:27) We are responsible to them, report to them, and receive their counsel in guarding our lives, families, doctrine, and ministry. Being vitally connected with a local church helps evangelists feel less isolated, having a community where people know you, love you, and care for you.
3. Evangelists are to BUILD UP the local church.
According to Ephesians 4:11-12, evangelists are to equip believers so the Body of Christ may be built up. This is a key part of our calling! The evangelist can be a great evangelistic catalyst for his or her own local church by training believers in evangelism or being an “evangelistic consultant” to pastors and church leaders as they develop resources or strategies. I have thoroughly enjoyed leading an evangelism training seminar and helping our church increase its evangelistic temperature, baptizing 500 people within six months!
When we serve in other locations, we should always seek to partner with local churches, coming at their invitation. We can listen to their visions and needs, and ask how we can serve them. In large scale evangelistic outreaches, we must do everything possible to follow-up new believers and connect them with local churches, so local churches are better off after we leave!
4. Evangelists are to SERVE the local church.
Besides speaking, training, or consulting, how can we serve our churches? I regularly meet with key pastors and leaders in our church simply to share mutually and grow as “safe friends” with no agenda. I’m not selling a plan or solution, simply listening and encouraging. Over years, tremendous trust and synergy have grown as each of us shares from our personal lives and how we’re growing in evangelism. Often in speaking across the country, I share outreach best practices from our church, and bring to our church resources I discover from other ministries. Yes, I’ve served in official leadership positions, but also in these quiet, behind the scenes roles. We need humble hearts willing to serve in small, unseen ways too!
As we see our ministry as overflow from our local churches, we will more likely speak well of the local church, and ask of our local churches: “What does our church need and how can I best serve?”
As we work in, through, and for the local church, together Jesus is exalted and God’s Kingdom is advanced through the Church.
Mark Slaughter (@markaslaughter) has served 27 years as an evangelistic communicator with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, communicating the gospel on college campuses, at conferences, and in churches across the country and abroad. Currently, he is also serving as the National Facilitator of Emerging Generations with the Mission America Coalition (US Lausanne Committee), collaborating with various national ministries and denominational leaders to mentor and empower a new generation of evangelists and leaders.
Mark is a graduate of Taylor University (B.A. in Religion and Bible) and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M. Div. in Evangelism). He is also a graduate of Leighton Ford’s Arrow Leadership Program. Mark and his wife, Dawn, live near Indianapolis. They have two adult children, and two grandchildren.