Evangelist Isn’t a Dirty Word

This year at Coastal Church, we are reading through the classic Christian allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan. An allegory is a story where every character represents a concept, idea, or real-life truth (like George Orwell’s Animal Farm). 

Written in 1678, The Pilgrim’s Progress has been translated into over 200 languages and has never been out of print. The English journalist and author Robert McCrum says, “There’s no book in English, apart from the Bible, to equal Bunyan’s masterpiece for the range of its readership, or its influence on writers as diverse as C. S. Lewis, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Charles Dickens, Louisa May Alcott, George Bernard Shaw, William Thackeray, Charlotte Bronte, Mark Twain, John Steinbeck and Enid Blyton.”

Clearly, it’s a significant book; if you’re unfamiliar with The Pilgrim’s Progress then you can check out these free resources on our website here

The story follows the character Christian who journeys from his hometown, “The City of Destruction,” to the “Celestial City.” This week our church is focusing on the first 13 pages, where we find that Christian becomes aware of the unbearable burden of sin on his back by reading a book (the Bible). Not only does he have this physical burden, but Christian also learns that his hometown is doomed to destruction, and he doesn’t know what to do about it. 

Enter the character named Evangelist, who shows Christian the way to freedom from his burden and gives direction on how to get to the Celestial City (Heaven). 

The term evangelist, which literally means bringer of good news, usually carries negative connotations in today’s world, and it’s not only secular society that has an issue with evangelism. Many Christians are trying to distance themselves from this term, and according to the Barna Research Group, half of practicing Christian millennials think that it’s actually wrong to evangelize those around them. There certainly have been self-proclaimed evangelists with public moral failings that haven’t behaved very Christlike, but my hope is that we could redeem the word evangelist, returning it to its original meaning. 

Evangelists are a blessing. In fact, the Apostle Paul teaches us that evangelists are gifts to the church (Ephesians 4:11-13). Through The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan gives us a beautiful illustration of the role of an evangelist while also showing us how we can practically share our faith. In the book there’s a conversation between the characters of Evangelist and Christian; I want to highlight three things that Evangelist does which we can all apply to our own conversations and interactions with others. 

1. He cares.

He (Christian) looked this way and that as if he would run, but instead he stood
still. He didn’t know which way to go. As he stood there a man named
Evangelist walked up to him and asked, “Why are you crying?”

Evangelist immediately leads with concern about Christian’s distress. Love has to be the motivation behind any form of evangelism. Sharing your faith can feel like a sales pitch if you don’t love someone. But if your motivation is to help, knowing that you have news that brings hope, peace, and life for all of eternity – that will change the tone of your conversation. I realize it can feel awkward, or maybe you feel nervous or anxious when talking to someone else about your faith, but I find it easier to do so when my motivation is driven by love. I’m reminded by 1 John 4:18, which says, “Perfect love casts out all fear.” I don’t want to diminish the reality that it can create social tension when having spiritual conversations, but when your heart is full of love for people, it overrides those fears and concerns. And remember that we can continually ask God to fill our hearts with love, and to reveal His love through our lives to others.

2. He asks insightful questions.

Evangelist doesn’t immediately try to solve Christian’s problems, rather the whole conversation involves Evangelist asking questions. With each of Christian’s answers Evangelist follows up with more questions. This conversation reminds me of Jesus’ tendency to ask insightful questions to which he knew the answers. He did this with the disciples, people who needed healing, and even those who disagreed with him. 

Questions are powerful because they unlock doors of conversation which often lead to thoughtful consideration. We’ve seen this work time and again in the Alpha Course. Each week starts with a big question, “Is there more to life than this?” or “Who is Jesus?” These thought provoking questions have led to so many changed lives. We know that in our downtown context, standing on a street corner and loudly proclaiming that people must be saved isn’t an effective way of introducing people to Jesus. Our area is better reached through conversations prompted by insightful questions. 

It’s also worth mentioning that Evangelist listens to all of Christian’s responses. This active listening allows him to ask important follow-up questions, and through these questions, Christian is able to eventually identify his own spiritual condition. Christian desperately wants to be free from his burden and rescued from imminent destruction. After all of this, he then turns to Evangelist for help.   

3. He shows him the way.

Evangelist has a clear answer for Christian in response to his plea for help. This part of the story reminds me of a verse in 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…” Evangelist shows Christian the path he must take to get rid of his burden. A path that takes him away from destruction. 

As Christians, it’s our responsibility to have an answer ready. You don’t need a degree from seminary or Bible School to respond well; you can simply say, “I follow Jesus because he gives me strength and peace in difficulties, and I’m comforted by the fact that I have a hope that extends beyond this life.” This kind of a response can often lead to an easy way to invite people to a safe place where answers can be found, like the Alpha Course. Do you remember in the gospels when Phillip tells his brother Nathanael about Jesus? He simply says, “Come and see.” Our ‘come and see’ can be “Come to Alpha,” or “Come to church with me!” 

In the Bible, there is a clear gift of evangelism, just as there is a clear gift of being a pastor or teacher. But sharing our faith, as Peter mentioned, is the responsibility of every follower of Jesus. Most of us probably won’t be preaching to mass crowds in stadiums like Billy Graham, but we all have people in our lives who need to hear about the hope inside of us. Evangelists are to be treasured gifts to the church, and my hope is that we can reframe the image of what an evangelist is through the journey of reading this classic book. An evangelist is one who is motivated by love, one who asks sincere questions, and one who is quick to point the way toward Jesus.