It goes without saying that not all members of the Body of Christ have the gift of evangelist. The whole body is not intended to be an eye (see 1 Cor. 12:17), much less a uterus. As we suggested in chapter 3, only a minority of the bodily members have been given any one gift. This in itself narrows down the number who have the gift of evangelist to between 1 and 49 percent.
Of course, all the gifts are not evenly distributed. We have two eyes, 10 toes, one stomach, and 32 teeth. That is why it would be foolish to figure that because there are 27 spiritual gifts an average of 3.7 percent of the members of the Body would have any one gift. The spiritual organism is much more complex than that. But I find that the general tendency of Christians enthusiastic about getting certain tasks done in the Body is to carelessly overestimate how many of the members should have one gift or another. If I want my particular job to get done well, I might tend to presume that an unrealistic number of people have the gift it takes. This happens frequently with the gift of evangelist.
So far in this book I have suggested only two figures for estimating the number of people who may have a certain gift. I said that those with the gift of intercession will figure to around 5 percent, and those with the gift of pastor will probably number between 3 and 6 percent depending on some variables, which were explained in chapter 6.
I am much more secure in my present suggestion on the percentage for the gift of evangelist because over a period of years it has been tested in case after case and found to stand the test. The average Christian church can realistically expect that approximately 5 to 10 percent of its active adult members will have been given the gift of evangelist. A mounting quantity of empirical evidence indicates that if a church has as few as 5 percent of its active members mobilized for evangelism, a healthy growth pattern of more than 100 percent a decade is a realistic expectation. If God blesses a church by giving the gift of evangelist to 10 percent of its members, theoretically it is in wonderful shape for growth.
Can Evangelism Be Overemphasized?
Evangelism is so important for church growth that one can understand why many Christian circles tend to overemphasize it. Overemphasize?
Before I answer this, I need to stress that I personally believe in evangelism so much that I have dedicated my life to see that it happens on a worldwide scale. My personalized California license plate is MT 28:19 and my wife’s is MT 28:20—the Great Commission wherever we go. I have already stressed that the gift of evangelist is the primary organ in the Body of Christ for church growth. My objective in this book, as in every book I write, is to advance the evangelization of the world in our generation. I do not want to be misinterpreted on this matter in the slightest, because what I am about to say may be controversial.
To evangelize the world more effectively in our generation, I believe that many evangelicals need to get their heads out of the clouds concerning pronouncements about the degree of involvement the average Christian ought to have in active evangelistic work. We need to recognize certain basic things. For one thing, every true Christian should be in tune with God who is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Most every Christian desires to see people saved and brought into the fellowship of the Body. This is not the issue.
For another thing, every true Christian is a witness for Jesus Christ whether or not they have the gift of evangelist. Furthermore, all Christians need to be prepared to share their faith with unbelievers and lead them to Christ whenever the opportunity presents itself. This is the Christian role that corresponds to this spiritual gift, and I will discuss it in more detail shortly.
Christians Who Do Not Evangelize
Having said this, it is time we admitted that many good, faithful, consecrated, mature Christian people are in love with Jesus Christ but who are not, do not care to be, and for all intents and purposes will not be significantly involved in evangelization in any direct way. Indirectly, yes. They will contribute to the growth of the Body of Christ as the lungs, the small intestines, the kidneys and the thyroid gland contribute to human reproduction. And they will carry out their role of witness when circumstances so dictate. But they won’t go around looking for opportunities to share their faith.
It is a misunderstanding of biblical teaching, in my opinion, to try to convince all Christians that they have to be sharing the faith constantly as a part of their duty to the Master. We do not tell them they have to teach all the time, pastor others all the time; or be an apostle, a prophet, an administrator, a leader or a missionary if they have not been given the spiritual equipment to do the job well. To make people feel guilty if they get gasoline and do not share Christ with the filling station attendant, or if they do not leave tracts for the mail carrier, or if they do not witness to the server in the restaurant may actually harm the Body of Christ more than help it.
A recent study was done of Conservative Baptist seminary students, who we can presume are representative of average or slightly above average Christians in their spiritual life and commitment, if perhaps somewhat lower in maturity. Certainly their honesty is commendable, given the excessive pressures that have been put on Christians to share their faith at all times. Of the sample studied, it was discovered that 10 percent of them share their faith once a week or more, and 10 percent of them have led one to three people to Christ within the past year. The others, in varying degrees, indicated: (1) they have few contacts with non-Christians; (2) they do not desire help so they can relate better to non-Christians; (3) they probably would not bring unsaved friends to most church functions; (4) they do not want to learn to evangelize; (5) they feel they should lead people to Christ, but they do not want to give much time and energy to it; and (6) their prayer concern is high, but they do not spend much time actually praying for the unsaved.
Independent of this, but part of the same phenomenon, is a report from the Conservative Baptist Home Mission Board issued in June, 1973, expressing concern that the missionary candidates coming from the seminaries score high on the gifts of pastor and teacher, but low on the gift of evangelist.
How do we react to such a situation?
Some tend to throw up their hands, dress in sackcloth and ashes, and lament the low spiritual condition of our young people today. On the other hand, I tend to regard the situation as something that can and should be improved, but not something that is necessarily devastating to church health and church growth.
Who Should Feel Guilty?
A key to relating the dynamic of the spiritual gift of evangelist to church growth lies in the question of the location of guilt. Guilt can be a blessing or it can be a curse, depending on where it is located.
First, Christians who have the gift of evangelist and who are not using their gift should be made to feel a responsibility for using it. If 5 percent actually have the gift, in probably the majority of churches that are plateaued or declining, only about 0.5 percent of the people are using the gift, if that many. This means that 4.5 percent of the people should rightly feel guilty if they are not evangelizing and evangelizing strenuously. Those who have the gift of exhortation should identify these people and help them discover, develop and use their gift. They will be happier and more fulfilled Christians and the church will grow better. If this produces guilt, it will undoubtedly be a blessing.
Second, 95 percent who have gifts other than that of evangelist should not be allowed to feel guilty if they assume secondary roles in the evangelistic process. This is where God intended them to be, or He would have given them the gift of evangelist. In some evangelical churches, the guilt trip for not evangelizing is so severe that when the 5 percent do evangelize and bring new people into the church, the new converts are often turned off by what they find. The general tone of the body, the negative self-image of the members, the gloom and defeatism that can be felt in the atmosphere of the church makes them think everybody must have been baptized in vinegar! They quickly decide they want no part of such a crowd and soon vanish, unnoticed, out the back door.
Projecting the Gift of Evangelist
In light of what has been said, it is easily understood why the gift of evangelist is probably the most frequently projected of all the gifts.
In my experience, the most common technique used for projecting the gift by those who have the gift of evangelist is to deny that they have the gift. Most American Christians who are aware of their ministry agree that two of our most outstanding Christian leaders who have the gift of evangelist are Bill Bright, president of Campus Crusade for Christ, and James Kennedy, senior minister of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and founder of Evangelism Explosion. They are both personal friends of mine. I have observed them carefully. My considered opinion is that they both have the gift of evangelist, they have developed it to a high degree, and they are using it for the glory of God and the growth of the Church. I love them both. I love to spend time with them. I love to hear them tell of their experiences in sharing Christ and inspiring others to do the same. I publicly endorse the programs they have developed as excellent methods for local church evangelism.
The reason I mention these two leaders, however, is that I have heard each of them say he does not have the gift of evangelist. For a long time I was haunted by the question: Why would they deny such an obvious thing?
As I write this, I know they both will disagree with what I am saying. We have discussed spiritual gifts at length one-on-one, and both of them believe my way of presenting the hypothesis that 5 to 10 percent of the members of the Body of Christ have the gift of evangelist will be snatched up and used as a cop-out by Christians all over America. They basically believe the notion that only those with the gift of evangelist ought to be evangelizing in a planned and structured way is erroneous, and that every Christian worth his or her spiritual salt ought to be using the Four Spiritual Laws regularly or be active in an Evangelism Explosion program, or the equivalent of either. To them the question is not gifts, but obedience.
Virtually every time I am with Bill Bright for more than 10 minutes at a time he tells me moving stories of how God used him to lead people to Christ. Once he told me about a waitress in a restaurant in an Asian country who met Christ while he and his wife, Vonnette, were eating there. He told me about a hotel maid who prayed to receive Christ. He has told me about several people on airplane seats next to him whom he has introduced to Jesus.
And here I am, an ordinary seminary professor who has the gift of scholar-teacher, completely at a loss to match him story for story. Who wants to hear about the outline for a new magazine article, or a difficult concept simplified on an overhead slide, or a doctoral student who made a theoretical breakthrough in a Ph.D. dissertation, or a new book just released by a faculty colleague, or that 50 students enrolled for a new seminar in church growth? If I were back in the days before I had come to terms with my own gift-mix, I might still be choked up with guilt when I hear these soul-winning stories and cannot respond by telling many of my own.
But no longer. Perhaps Bright and Kennedy will say, “I told you so, Wagner’s copping out!” But here’s what I do on an airplane.
Seeing an Airplane Seat as a Library
As I said previously, I believe that a Christian who knows his or her gift-mix ought to structure as much time as possible to use that gift or gifts. Whenever I get on an airplane, I consider myself in a library. For three or four or five uninterrupted hours I have a beautiful chance to use my spiritual gifts. No telephone calls, no mail delivery, no knocks on the door. I take 8 to 12 pounds of reading material in my briefcase, because if I am going to use my gift of knowledge (scholar) I must invest quality time reading large quantities of books, journals, magazines and newsletters, which I do voraciously. I look for a seat where no one is in the same row and consider it a good flight if I am all alone.
If someone sits next to me, I make it a habit to pray and ask the Lord to keep that person quiet unless he or she has a heart that God has prepared for the gospel message at that moment. If so, I ask the Lord to open a conversation about Jesus. I have plenty of opportunities because people can tell I am a Christian immediately when they see what I am studying and see me say grace when the meal is served. When we do converse, the other person has usually figured out that I am a minister of some kind.
But more often than not, I do not converse with the person beside me because I am too busy using my spiritual gift. The Lord is not going to hold me responsible for what I do as an evangelist, but He is going to hold me responsible for what I do as a scholar-teacher. On the other hand, those who have the gift of evangelist should make every effort to converse with the people next to them on the plane, and expect them to accept Christ before the next landing.
Rick Yohn’s Frustrations
It is difficult for those who have a gift to understand the feelings of those who do not have it and who are thereby made to feel guilty. I have talked to several Campus Crusade staff members, for example, who are suffering guilt feelings for not having the gift of evangelist but who feel that they are expected to show on their weekly reports that they are witnessing with the same effectiveness as other staff members who do have the gift. One person who has explained in writing how this has worked in his life is Rick Yohn, author of an outstanding book on spiritual gifts.
Rick Yohn tells about the frustrations that plagued him while he worked on the Campus Crusade staff. “I would hear about other staff workers introducing students to Christ,” he says, “and I would compare their results with mine. They always saw greater numerical results.” This bothered Rick deeply, and he searched his heart before God. “Was I lacking faith?” he would ask. He honestly did not believe so. Some did respond to his efforts, but not many. Then he asked, “Was my message deficient?” The answer to that question obviously was no because he used the same Four Spiritual Laws the more successful staff members used.
At that point Yohn had to conclude, “Either I am a complete failure as a minister or my gifts are in an area other than evangelism.” He found that his basic gift mix was pastor-teacher, and he has enjoyed ministering his gift for the glory of God ever since. Although he has served in three pastorates since leaving Campus Crusade, he still sees few new people coming to Christ through his ministry. But he is liberated. He now thinks it is a shame when spirituality is judged on the basis of how many souls a person has won.
I myself consciously try to avoid gift projection. I would not want to judge the spirituality of other Christians on the basis of whether they had a Ph.D. or whether they had become fluent in the vernacular of a second culture, qualities that my gifts of knowledge and missionary require of me. I try not to get disturbed when I see some people teach and know that they are not communicating well with the listeners. I try not to be disdainful if someone I am conversing with does not understand the meaning of “ethnotheology,” “homogeneity,” “centered set theory,” “assimilationist racism,” “the excluded middle,” “spiritual mapping” or “dynamic equivalence.” They have not been reading and studying the books I have been studying. If I did engage in such gift projection, I might suspect that I was not obeying the Golden Rule and doing to others as I would have them do to me.
Is This a Cop-Out?
I agree with Leighton Ford, an evangelist who is willing to recognize his own evangelistic gift. Although Leighton admits that God makes certain people evangelists through spiritual gifts, he also says, “We must not use the teaching of spiritual gifts as a cop-out to avoid our responsibility to share Christ with others. You may not be called as an evangelist, but you and every Christian, by an attitude of love, by compassionate concern, and by well-chosen words, can have the privilege to lead others…toward Jesus Christ.” This is timely advice.
Leighton Ford refers here to what we have been calling the Christian role. Every Christian is called to be a faithful witness of Jesus Christ. David Hubbard, president of Fuller Seminary for 30 years, explains it this way:
“Not all of us have the gift of evangelism. I admire people who can lead others to Jesus Christ right on the spot, who have the ability to turn every conversation into an occasion for sharing God’s plan of salvation. I am not one of those, but I have a story to share—and so do you. I have a relationship with Christ that I can describe—and so do you. Evangelism will best take place when all of God’s people have learned to express their winsome witness.”
I have found this to be true in my life. If, when I am on an airplane, God answers my prayer by opening up a conversation with the person next to me, all the books, notes and magazines go back into the briefcase and I give my full attention to witnessing. Out comes the Bible I always carry with me, and I share Christ. I know how to do this (sometimes I use the Four Spiritual Laws, sometimes I use the Evangelism Explosion questions) and I know how to lead people to Christ. I have led a person to Christ right there on the airplane seat next to me, and have marked it down as a red-letter day.
My role as a Christian is to be a witness for my Lord at any time, and I am delighted when God gives me the opportunity. But I have found that whenever I force it, I blow it. So I let God do it for me. When He doesn’t, I stick to exercising my spiritual gift rather than my Christian role.
Whoever uses his or her lack of having the spiritual gift of evangelist as a cop-out from witnessing displeases God. But whoever insists that another person divert valuable energy that could be used for exercising a spiritual gift into unproductively fulfilling a Christian role likewise displeases God.
–Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow. Peter Wagner