The hot sting of water hits my hands again as I stand in the back of a Seattle coffee shop washing dishes. I pridefully think to myself, “I have a masters degree and I’m washing dishes! What am I doing?” These were the thoughts that streamed through my mind when God gently reminded me that the pastor is an evangelist.
After our time of training in Kansas City at Midwestern Seminary, my wife and I began to pray about where God would send us next. For us, seminary was like a few years in the Shire. A beautiful land where everyone wanted to discuss theology, and everyone had a longing to serve the Lord. We loved the Shire and are still good friends with many fellow “hobbits.” But we always knew we wouldn’t live there forever. We knew eventually we would go, for the kingdom of God has arrived and more citizens have yet to be called into his kingdom. We know that God calls new citizens through his embassies, local churches. So, in February of 2018, we moved to downtown Seattle to help plant a church. In December of 2018, City Center Baptist Church was born.
Over the last year and a half, I have learned many lessons, but one of the most prominent is this: the pastor must be an evangelist. In 2 Timothy 4:1-5, Paul writes to give Timothy a template and a foundation for faithful pastoral work. He pens the words that have echoed through the centuries in churches and seminary classrooms: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to Judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word…” These last three words are the essence of pastoral ministry. Essentially, Paul counsels his young disciple to give people the gospel. But, it is the rest of Paul’s statement that is most important for our discussion.
In verse five of chapter four, Paul writes: “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” In Paul’s legendary charge outlining the work of the pastor is this admonition: “Do the work of an evangelist.” Pastor, gospel sharing, good news heralding, and evangelizing is part of what it means to “pastor.” Paul goes so far as to say this is part of what it means to “fulfill your ministry”. Read inversely, for the pastor to ignore evangelism is to have an unfulfilled incomplete ministry.
If this is true, how should this shape the pastor?
1.) It shapes his sermons.
I remember sitting in my college dorm room talking to my friend about a sermon I was about to preach, hoping to hear his thoughts. He asked me one question, “Where is the gospel?” I was struck and ashamed all at the same time. I had overlooked the most important aspect of any sermon, the declaration of how the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus changes everything. But I would take this a step further.
Do we preach the gospel to all, including the lost? Do you write your sermons in such a way that if someone was there who had never heard the gospel would hear it clearly? Do you write your sermons as thought an unbeliever was there listening? When you seek to apply the text, do you gracefully engage with the worldview of the unbelieving in your own context? Finally, do you plead and urge them to turn to Christ? There may be no one who does this sort of cultural engagement/evangelism in their sermons quite as well as Timothy Keller. I would highly recommend his book on preaching. Brothers, may evangelism echo from our pulpits.
2.) It shapes his prayers.
Salvation is the miracle of the gospel seen in real time. When our unbelieving friends put their faith in Christ, it is nothing short of a dead man getting out of the grave. When we witness salvation, we are in the delivery room of the new birth. The Bible is rich with metaphors about the salvation of sinners and in all of them, it is clear: this is the work of God. If this is true, we must realize that without God’s intervention we are totally hopeless to save the lost. No amount of apologetic knowledge, charismatic personality, or pavement pounding can turn a heart of flesh into a heart of stone. God must do it.
To this end, if we want to faithfully evangelize the lost, we will participate in an activity that highlights our dependent station–prayer. Brothers, do you pray regularly for the lost? Do you know the name of lost friends in your own life, or in the lives of your members that you are asking God to save? Here at my own church in Seattle, we have a corporate prayer gathering every week. And every week, we ask our people to tell us about who they are evangelizing and we pray for them by name. Lastly, I would urge you to pray for the lost in your worship service. When you gather together as a body to worship the Lord, lead your people to pray for your city, your nation, and missionaries overseas. Teach your people through your praying that God loves to save sinners and it is our privilege to tell them the good news. Brothers, may evangelism ripple through our prayers.
3.) It shapes his time.
A simple and yet profound question, I have learned to consistently ask myself is this: who am I evangelizing right now? Personal evangelism is a gift, but it will require friendships–and friendships require time. Evangelism is not easy. Paul calls it “work” in our text. Jesus likens evangelism to laboring in a field. Make no mistake, evangelism rarely “just happens.” But, if we are willing to spend our time building relationships with the lost, we will find that much more often, we have the opportunity to share the faith. I’m not talking about a one-time chance meeting with a stranger, but rather a relationship, a friendship that takes time. In this context evangelizing is not a one-time conversation, but an ongoing conversation, perhaps over years. Years of questions, listening, prayer, and fellowship. To hide away in our studies, or to only make our time available for fellow Christians, is not simply an inevitability of ministry; it is, according to Paul, a diversion from our calling. Brothers, may evangelism change our calendars.
After we moved to Seattle, I was required to take up a part-time job to support our family of four. I wash dishes in the back of a coffee shop. But it is in the back of this coffee shop that I have had many conversations about the gospel. At first, I resented my dishwasher position, but I have come to see is as a gift. I practically work in the “break-room,” doing a job that is easy to do while having conversations. Could there be a more perfect scenario for evangelism in the workplace? God has humbled me. He is at work. As a pastor, I have been given this unique opportunity every week to share the gospel in our city. What a privilege. What a gift that God calls his undershepherds to the work of evangelism.