When evangelists become pastors

It’s trendy now to call preachers “pastors.” Not biblical. But trendy.

Once we regularly referred to them as “evangelists.”

I think there’s significance in the switch.

We want preachers who can help our church grow. In Abilene, that primarily means attracting Christians when they move to town, especially if they are young, well-trained, and/or have money. If a preacher can attract those people, he’s growing the church.

If you’ve been around any ministerial searches, how much discussion have you heard about:

  • The minister’s personal evangelism philosophy?
  • The history of conversion of outsiders at places they’ve been in the past?
  • The minister’s plan for engaging and reaching non-Christians while motivating the congregation to do the same?

Probably not much. Because we’re in the business of hiring pastors.

I’m not advocating the model where the preacher (or other staff) is the sole evangelist in the congregation. That’s not healthy. But I do want a church staff that:

  • Is determined to see non-Christians come to know Jesus.
  • Is focused on equipping the rest of the congregation for outreach.
  • Isn’t merely seeking to fill the pews with young lifelong Christian professionals.

And if they can preach a decent sermon as well, that’s a plus.

3 thoughts on “When evangelists become pastors

  1. Paul Smith

    Interesting thoughts, Tim. Don’t know if what follows is worth 2 cents, but here goes:

    In my searches for a new ministry position, one of the most frequent, if not the most frequent, criteria listed in an advertisement of ministry position is proof of evangelistic success. Statistically, however, the Churches of Christ are in a numerical free fall. In every situation where I can reliably check, the congregations looking for a minister admit to having a membership that is smaller than what is listed in my congregational directory (circa 2009). The Christian Chronicle is reporting not just a steep decline in membership within the Churches of Christ, but practically a critical decline in membership numbers.

    Which raises the question – where are these congregations finding legitimate, qualified applicants? Where are the ministers who can honestly claim to have “grown” a congregation through evangelism? And why, if his present congregation is growing through evangelism, would he want to leave for a smaller (or shrinking) congregation? I know I am going on intuition here, but it just does not make any earthly sense to me.

    Either there is a significant amount of resume padding going on here (counting the baptism of children in a congregation as “evangelistic” baptisms) or the request/demand for proof of evangelistic growth is just window dressing in a congregation’s advertisement.

    On a related note, I just do not see “evangelism” as a major focus of the New Testament letters. In particular, Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus reveal a significant amount of “ministering,” but what we have come to regard as “evangelism” in the 20th/21st century is strangely absent (see 2 Tim. 4:5 in rebuttal). I’m just thinking out loud here, but is it possible that due to the near universal evangelistic fervor in which our movement was birthed (2nd “Great Awakening”) that we have inappropriately hung the shingle of “evangelist” on the door of the minister?

    I am not disagreeing with the basic thrust of your post – only suggesting that by making the “minister” the main “evangelist” we have created an atmosphere that is inimical to the growth that we are striving for. Instead of feeding, serving ministers, we have created a cultish concept of a leader who is credited with all the growth, and therefore all of the decline, of a congregation. Therefore, if he does not meet his quota of “baptisms” or, as you pointed out, the influx of bright young transplants, he is summarily fired and the leaders post an advertisement seeking a proven evangelist, with certifiable proof of his evangelistic skills readily available.

    I really, really, appreciate your emphasis on evangelism, and I think you have identified some critical aspects of church growth. I am just struggling with theory vs. reality here, and as regards my present situation, just find myself swimming in molasses when it comes to finding a healthy way out.


  2. Tim Archer Post author

    Paul, I agree that it’s a mistake to make the minister’s job all about evangelism. And that it’s unhealthy to have all evangelism revolve around the minister. My concern is that we’ve moved our ministry staff’s attention from “evangelizing” to “pastoring”… and nobody has picked up the slack.

  3. Paul Smith

    Amen to that. And I should have added, I despise the title “Pastor.” That office/duty/role is reserved for elders. If a minister is also an elder, fine. Otherwise, let us be ministers or evangelists, or preacher/teachers. Thanks for the post and response.

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