You Can't Reach the World When All You Have is a Hammer
In 1962, at a banquet for educators at UCLA, celebrated philosopher, Abraham Kaplan, explained his now famous ‘Law of the Instrument’ principle, “Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.”
In the North American Church today, we have one single instrument for leadership—the pastor. Search church positions on any of the many job search forums and recruitment sites and you’ll find there is only one tool churches are searching for—pastor. Senior pastors, teaching pastors, executive pastors, worship pastors, children’s, teens, collegiate, campus, in-take, discipleship and volunteers pastors. We seem to think the only kind of leadership we need can only come in one form—pastor.
To be fair, pastors are important and should be instrumental in leading the Church but it was not God’s design for the Church to have but one instrument. Because we only have one tool, every task, goal, obstacle, vision statement, purpose statement, and organizational strategy typically has just one leadership perspective--a pastor’s perspective. When it comes to leadership, the Church in North America is like a small boy with a hammer and because of that, everything looks like it needs pounding. We cannot reach the world with just a hammer, no matter how great that hammer is.
Ephesians 4:11-13 tell us, however, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (NIV).
Leadership in the Church is five-fold and incorporates an array of tools to achieve missional maturity. Missional maturity is the goal—a maturity that has breadth and depth, that is centripetal and centrifugal. Missional maturity achieves evangelism and discipleship, community engagement and spiritual formation. Missional maturity can only be achieved when we have more tools in our toolbox than just a hammer--as great as hammers are.
What the church needs are apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers and pastors. Even when a church looks for a senior leader who will operate as an apostle (typically a church planter/multiplier) or as an evangelist, they smack the word ‘pastor’ on top of their role and superimpose the additional character/gift traits of pastor onto their expectations. In other words, even when churches are open to a screwdriver, we want that screwdriver to also double as a hammer.
Evangelists in particular are important for missional maturity but they often aren’t great doubling as a pastor. To be sure, many evangelists have secondary gifting in pastoral ministry—I’m not one of them. I’ve met these people, I envy them, but as much as I’ve tried, I’ll never be like them. Most evangelists are extremely externally facing, super-passionate about making spaces and experiences open to non-churched people. They think primarily of the ‘milk of the word,’ or the simple gospel message and how to color everything the Church does with that message.
Evangelists are angular in the best sense of the word. I remember showing up to a leadership gathering with some fellow evangelists some years back and having one of the organizers bemoan our entrance. With a long, annoyed slur, he said, “Oh great! The evangelists, the angular people!” What was then a slight that hurt my feelings has now become a badge of honor. I’m not like the pastor, I’m not the one ‘go-to’ tool in the toolbox but my leadership is important, even necessary, for missional maturity in the body!
While teachers and pastors are celebrated, rewarded and empowered in the Church, the angular leaders—apostles, prophets, and evangelists—are encouraged to look and act more like a hammer if we want to get by. This is to our shame and part of the reason why so often our churches lack missional maturity.
Here are five ways having an evangelist on staff as a senior leader will change the way you think about missional maturity:
1. Evangelists will lead teams differently. Healthy evangelists in positions of leadership almost always lead Spirit-filled, impassioned teams who are thinking fervently about lost people. They instill in their teams and the general body a sense of urgency and primacy in engaging lost people that often pastors do not. They impart the spiritual gift of evangelism to others they lead.
2. Evangelists will create altogether new metrics. We value what we count. What we measure dictates what we value, and evangelists are great ‘counters’ of things related to the mission of leading people to Jesus. Having said this, however, evangelists are often innovators who create new metrics of missional maturity like the number of congregants trained in evangelism, the number of evangelistic events, the number of non-Christian hearers at services….Evangelists are known for counting and counting new and different things relative to mission.
3. Evangelists will press the boundaries. Reaching lost people requires risk and sacrifice, it requires innovating and a willingness to fail. Evangelists will routinely push the boundaries of normal in ways pastors will not. They will risk things and lead congregations to fail but also succeed! Congregations that are ‘fail avoidant’ often resist evangelism leadership but having an evangelist as a senior leader will help instill the value for risk and an appetite for trial and error that can lead to breakthrough and true missional maturity.
4. Evangelists create healthy tension. One of the major reasons why leadership teams don’t hunt for and place evangelists on their senior teams is that we can, after all, be angular at times. We insist on things that often slip through the cracks. The missional drift around evangelism is strong but evangelists have a way of pressing church communities and teams back to a commitment to evangelism. This can frequently be seen as unrelenting or not being a team player but evangelists know that the goal is worth the tension.
5. Evangelists will replicate the gift of evangelism. Many people misunderstand evangelists. They assume evangelists simply lead many to Jesus. Church leaders grossly mistake their responsibility to evangelists, believing that involving them in leadership will diminish their work of winning the lost. We think it is a punishment to tether evangelists to leadership responsibilities. Mature evangelists, however, long to work with other leaders in equipping the Church. While that is true, the true mark of an evangelists is that they replicate the gift of evangelism in others. According to Ephesians 4:11, they, “…equip his people for works of service.”
It isn’t good enough to have an ‘evangelism pastor’ if our default assumption is that she or he ‘shade’ their pastoral performance with evangelism. Evangelists, regardless of what title they end up with from HR, should be empowered to be a part of the senior leadership ethos of a church because of what the pastor can’t bring. They are a different tool in the toolbox of the Church by design. Jesus gave them to us to lead us into missional maturity and without them, we’ll continue to see every problem, challenge and opportunity simply as a pastoral one.
Pastors are great but pastors without evangelists are just not enough to see the body of Christ built up to maturity, effectively reaching our world for Jesus!
Kaplan, A. 1973. The conduct of inquiry: Bucks, International textbook Comp.
 (Kaplan 1973), p. 28.
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. His new book Do Something Beautiful is coming out this year. York is also the creator of an innovative new approach to campaign-oriented evangelism called “Justice Invitationals." For more information on York's ministry, visit tellthestory.net.