For so many women and men today, passion and gifting for evangelism emerge long before they self-identify as ‘evangelists.’ There are lots of reasons for this-the culture doesn’t affirm the office of the evangelist, there is shame around the title, or there may be ignorance of the calling and identity of Biblical evangelists. For whatever reason, none of this seems to stop the Holy Spirit from dispensing this gift and office on this emerging generation.
The gift and Biblical office of evangelist are the Spirit’s to give and He gives them in each and every generation but how they show up and how they are expressed can change depending on the culture and nature of the times. I’ve been joyfully calling out the gift of evangelism and mentoring evangelists for 20+ years. Here are what I perceive to be the five marks of evangelists in this emerging generation today:
- Integrative: Emerging evangelists are rarely thinking about just evangelism. To have a discussion on ‘souls,’ ‘decisions,’ or ‘calls to faith,’ without simultaneously talking about planting churches or ministry, social justice, political ideas, or economic needs would not make sense to emerging evangelists. They see all of these things, and much more, as intertwined. They are inclusivists, compatiblists, and integrators. These evangelists are different from previous generations who sought to be purists, focusing exclusively on proclaiming the good news and believing that is the greatest expression of social action. Emerging evangelists strive for integration in their expressions of evangelism.
- Messy: Emerging evangelists are ‘in the weeds’ with the stuff of culture. Human sexuality, drinking and drug use, abuse and trauma-you name it, evangelists care about it. In the past, the assumption amongst evangelists was that most, if not all, of people’s mess would get fixed if they would give their lives to Jesus so the focus was on getting people to give their lives to Jesus. While emerging evangelists still call people to Jesus, they assume that the mess in people’s lives will not be fixed after making a decision and they are willing to traverse the conversion spectrum, the process from decision to true followership for new believers in a way most older evangelists left it to the local church. In this way, the line between evangelism and discipleship gets blurred more quickly and that is just fine for these young emerging evangelists.
- Vulnerable: Emerging evangelists have less to prove and less reputation to protect than their older counterparts. They struggle actively with sexual temptation, internet pornography, excess drinking, misuse of money, and other things. Because of the ‘nearness of sin,’ grace in the life of emerging evangelists is a daily contour of faith, not a theological construct. Emerging evangelists are conflicted, convicted, and confused in ways hard-core evangelists from the past never were. This makes the reality and nearness of the gospel message more palpable for emerging evangelists. They long for holiness and are committed to righteous living in Christ but are under no delusions that they are anywhere near where they should be, making them extremely vulnerable and teachable.
- Connected: Emerging evangelists are more connected to the people they lead to Jesus than at any other time in human history. As evangelists travel, jumping from audience to audience, context to context, even country to country, they are bringing their impact and relationships with them through technology. It is not uncommon at all for many emerging evangelists to maintain long-term, active and meaningful relational contact with many people who’ve come to Christ through their ministry as a result of social media and mobile technology. In the past, evangelists would entrust new believers to local churches and networks in their local markets for follow up and growth. While emerging evangelists still strive to connect new believers to a local church, they often maintain relational connection to the specific people they reach long after the initial encounter and/or decision was made. Not only is this possible but for emerging evangelists, it is expected and would seem strange not to capitalize on.
- Open: Emerging evangelists are dramatically more open to mentoring and coaching than many of their older predecessors. In the past, evangelists often presented as rugged individuals, self-reliant, and at times resistant to being led and influenced. Emerging evangelists are broken, needy, wounded, humble women and men who long for older leaders to pour into them. They seek out council and latch on to leaders who can speak life and hope into them as people and affirm them as evangelists. They are often students of other speakers, pastor/teachers, evangelists and others who they then pattern themselves after. They have little to no interest in going it alone, always gravitating toward community and accountability.
In many ways, the five marks of emerging evangelists mirror the relational and emotional needs of emerging culture. It should be no surprise that the next generation of evangelists are native to their own culture. Evangelists from previous generations were native to their time and place and while the culture and expression of the gift of evangelism has changed, the Good News of Jesus has not! The Spirit knows what He is doing and as He calls and empowers women and men to the work of evangelism, He does so to make Christ known in a way that makes sense to our time.
R. York Moore (@yorkmoore) came to faith as an Atheist Philosopher at the University of Michigan. York is the National Evangelist for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA. He is also the author of Growing Your Faith by Giving it Away, and Making All Things New: God's Dream for Global Justice. York is also the creator of an innovative new approach to campaign-oriented evangelism called “Justice Invitationals." Invitationals bring together cultural leaders from business, medicine, sports and entertainment, academia, law, government, and the community around social justice issues with an integrative proclamation of the gospel. For more information on York's ministry, visit tellthestory.net.