Pastors, don’t get too busy to “do the work of an evangelist.”

casting net…do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Tim 4:5, ESV)

No one knows the pressures of time management and the constraints upon a pastor’s schedule any more than I do.  Having served as a pastor of local churches for more than 22 years, I understand the demands that are placed on a pastor’s time.  Besides preparing 2-3 sermons per week, delivering those sermons, and counseling with one’s congregants, most pastors are also leading church staff-members and volunteers in service, attending committee meetings, making hospital calls, volunteering for denominational service, organizing missionary support, and spreading themselves thin trying to shepherd their own family and maintain spiritual disciplines in their own lives.

I have no doubt that the Apostle Paul knew and understood the demands of ministry (2 Cor 11:23-29).  Still, in some of his final instructions to Timothy, Paul emphasized the importance of personal evangelism in the life of a pastor/elder when he instructed Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist.” Despite everything else Timothy was responsible for, he was not exempt from personal evangelism.

The text in 2 Timothy 4 begins with Paul emphasizing the imperative of preaching (be ready in season and out of season, v. 2a), then progresses to describing the work of counseling, soul care, and discipleship (reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching, v. 2b) that is both grounded in and promoting sound doctrine. In verses 3 and 4, he gives the reasoning behind such a passionate commitment to biblical preaching and counsel, observing that “the time is coming” when Timothy’s hearers are going to be led astray by false doctrine and false teachers.  In verse 5, he instructs Timothy to set a different pattern.  Unlike the charlatans that he has just described in the preceding verses, Timothy is to live soberly (literally ‘calm and collected in spirit, dispassionate, circumspect’- Thayers).  Timothy is to willingly embrace and endure the ministry of suffering.  Finally, he is to do the “work” (labor, toil) of an evangelist, which will “fulfill” (literally “make full proof”) of his calling.[1]

Paul’s own choice of words under the direction of the Spirit seem to imply that being faithful to this charge would indeed take a certain amount of labor, toil, and strain.  It requires effort.  Being “evangelistic” as a pastor wasn’t easy in Timothy’s day and it certainly isn’t easy in ours.  I fear that far too many pastors will use the “busyness” of ministry or the “hardness” of the culture as excuses for not being regularly engaged in personal evangelism.

But it’s not optional.  It is, in a very real way, the full proof and final test of our calling to ministry.  Perhaps it was this conviction that drove Charles Spurgeon to famously assert that “Soul-winning is the chief business of the Christian minister.”  In this same vein, Mark Dever comments that “the pastor’s great work, our magnum opus, should be the great body of people evangelized by our faithful ministry.”[2]  Is soul-winning important to you pastor?  Is it your chief business?

There is no question that churches today need a revival of the art and practice of personal evangelism.  So many conferences, new materials, and denominational initiatives are rooted in this premise.  Nearly all of the quantitative data points to this reality.[3]  Few in evangelical academia and even fewer who are involved in Christian ministry will deny these trends.  But if there’s ever to be an awakening of evangelistic passion within gospel-preaching churches, it must begin with church leaders.

The awakening begins with you pastor.  YOU must set the example and lead by example.

I’m going to operate under the radical assumption that your preaching and teaching ministry are already evangelistic in nature.  If a pastor is expositional in their pulpit ministry, they should be faithfully explaining the gospel and calling sinners to respond with repentance and faith in Christ regularly.[4] Much more could be said about evangelistic preaching and perhaps will be addressed in another post, but for now, suffice it to say that evangelistic preaching is the bare minimum expectation of your ministry.

But what about your ministry outside the pulpit?  What are some basic and essential ways that you can make time to model evangelism in the midst of a busy and demanding schedule?  I would like to suggest five ways you can model faithful evangelism in your ministry even if you already feel overwhelmed.

First, “do the work of an evangelist” by diligently evangelizing your own family.  Perhaps this shouldn’t need to be stated, but it does.[5]  Starting with your immediate family, you set the tempo here. Pastors often exhort other parents in their churches, using the foundational text of Deuteronomy 6:1-9, to take responsibility for their own children’s spiritual health.  I often remind my congregation that evangelism begins at home and that every Christian parent should be able to competently lead their children to faith in Christ.  So set the standard.  If you have children at home, gather with them regularly for bible reading and gospel-discussions.  Meet with them regularly and pray for their souls.  Use catechisms to train them in their understanding of the gospel.  And when the time is right, YOU be the one that leads them in their understanding of the gospel and their profession of faith in Christ.  If your children are grown and you are able, take the initiative to share with your grandchildren.  Spiritually nurture your spouse in the gospel.  Look for opportunities in your extended family (grown siblings, parents, in-laws, etc…) to regularly be a witness to the salvation found in Christ alone.  First and foremost, we must model the ministry of an evangelist in our own families.  It doesn’t take much time away from your schedule and these opportunities are frequently before you, no matter how busy you might be.[6]

Secondly, use pastoral counseling opportunities to do the work of an evangelist.  As a pastor, people will often come to you to request guidance, counsel, or just for some light conversation.  When they do, don’t assume that all congregants are Christians.  Naturally, some will exhibit the fruit and assurance of genuine conversion, but in my experience, many others will not.  One of the foundations of many models of biblical counseling is the recognition that biblical counsel must start with addressing one’s own relationship with Jesus as Lord and their willingness to submit to God’s word.  In other words, the issue of one’s salvation must precede logically their discipleship.[7]  When those opportunities arise where congregants come to you, don’t neglect the opportunity to start pastoral counsel with a gospel conversation and settle the issue of their salvation before going further.  Challenge your counselees on the front end of your counsel to consider their relationship with Christ above all other things.  This approach will open many opportunities for you to “do the work of an evangelist” in the course of your ordinary pastoral duties.

Third, you can “do the work of an evangelist” during hospital visits and visits with invalids or shut-ins.  If you shepherd a congregation, you will regularly be called upon to visit the sick or perhaps attend to those undergoing surgery or some sort of health-related treatment. These provide excellent opportunities for you to address the individual’s spiritual well-being and confront them with the question of their own salvation.  This must of course be done tactfully and with grace, with great attention paid to the context of the specific situation. But in my own experience, the hearts of individuals are often very open to discussing eternal matters when they are facing their own mortality.  In fact, many individuals will expect you to address such matters and will take comfort in the fact that someone is there to speak to them about their soul at such a critical time.

You may also often find great opportunities to speak to the patient’s family about the gospel in such contexts.  Don’t be like a pastor I witnessed once who withdrew with his laptop to the far end of the hospital waiting-room and worked on his sermon text while the family sat anxiously awaiting news regarding their loved one.  Use those opportunities for evangelistic purposes.  Likewise, when you are called upon to visit shut-ins and invalids, take advantage of the opportunity to tactfully and thoroughly rehearse the gospel.  Never assume merely because of their age or their circumstance that they are prepared for eternity.  If they are not, “do the ministry of an evangelist” by pointing them to Christ and calling them to faith and repentance before it is eternally too late.  Even those who profess hope in Christ will, in their weakened state, draw great encouragement from rehearsing the promises of the gospel.

Fourth, make time for follow-up visits to local guests who visit your church.  Much fruit can come from these visits if acted upon diligently.  Circumstances and cultures vary, but typically, there is a “window” of sorts following such a visit in which the visitor may even expect some kind of contact from you and a discussion about spiritual matters.  Depending on your church size and context, you may not be able to make all of these visits yourself, but when you can, make some of them.  Arrange a meeting with them to find out what circumstances in their life led them to visit your church recently.  It may be that God is at work on both ends of that visit and conversation to draw them to Himself through an explanation of the gospel.  Perhaps they felt compelled to “respond” to the sermon but weren’t sure how to take the first steps.  If someone who lives locally visits your church and you are able to arrange for a “follow up” visit, take advantage of that opportunity by all means before the “window of expectation” closes.

Finally, you might want to consider some creative “marketplace multitasking” to discipline yourself in evangelistic engagement.  Perhaps you could find a spot to study or do your devotional reading one day per week that is public and visible and puts you in regular contact with new people in your community. A local spot such as a coffee shop, popular restaurant, or even a public library will allow you the opportunity to engage unbelievers in your community and build relationships with the unchurched while working.  Because of the demands on your time, you can skillfully use this time to multitask by reading, studying, or writing in a place where you can regularly engage non-Christians by being open to conversation with those around you. In this way, you can engage those who are not coming to you at the church while not putting too much of a strain on your time.  If you don’t currently spend 2 hours or so per week working in a public place, consider starting.

This list isn’t exhaustive. There are many more ways for busy pastors to “do the work of an evangelist” in the midst of busy schedules. Others have written about volunteering to preach at funerals in their community where the family has no minister or church connection.[8]  Still others have written about regularly dedicating time each week for “door-knocking” evangelism[9] and open-air preaching as a way to regularly “do the work of an evangelist.”  All of these are good ideas and while you may not be able to implement all these suggestions, try implementing one or two of them and reporting the results to your congregation or to an accountability partner.

One thing is for sure— “doing evangelism” is NOT optional for pastors, even if we are busy.  It is an essential part of pastoral ministry.  Pastors are NOT exempt from doing personal evangelism.  No pastor needs another task added to his schedule, but personal evangelism is not some “task” to be checked off a “to-do” list.  It must be a priority and it must become a lifestyle.  If the disciples in our churches are ever to see evangelism modeled and if our churches are to develop evangelistic cultures, then we must find ways to obediently and faithfully “do the work of an evangelist” without excuse.

[1] See Vine’s Expository Dictionary entry for “plerophoreo

[2] See Mark Dever’s chapter “Do the Work of an Evangelist” (pp. 155-164) in Tom Ascol, Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry (Cape Coral, Founders Press: 2016).  For quote, see p. 163. Dever’s chapter on this subject is masterful.

[3] On May 31, 2019, Dr. Albert Mohler referenced this decline in evangelistic engagement among Southern Baptists.  See https://albertmohler.com/2019/05/31/the-future-of-the-southern-baptist-convention-the-numbers-dont-add-up.  See also John Dickerson, The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors That Will Crash the American Church . . . and How to Prepare (Grand Rapids, Baker: 2013).

[4] See Roger Ellsworth’s excellent chapter “Preach the Word” (pp 259-272) in Ascol’s Dear Timothy.  Ellsworth notes on p. 262, “…to preach the Word of God you must keep in mind that its theme is God’s gracious redemption of sinners through the saving work of His Son.  We do not truly preach if we do not preach Christ.”

[5] Dickerson laments the failure of Christians in general to pass on their faith to their children noting, “This may be the most disturbing of all the trends we must face—our failure to retain our own children as disciples.” (98)  Pastors are NOT exempt from this trend.

[6] Furthermore, as a wise pastor once said to me, “If you’re too busy to minister to your own family, then you’re too busy…period!”  There is great wisdom in that statement.

[7] See the response to the question “What can biblical counseling offer non-Christians who come for counseling?” in chapter 19 (p. 259) of John MacArthur, Counseling: How to Counsel Biblically (Nashville, Thomas Nelson: 2005).

[8] I really like this article by Dr. Russell Moore about preaching funerals:  https://www.russellmoore.com/2008/09/15/should-a-minister-preach-the-funerals-of-unbelievers/

[9] See this excellent recent article by Al Baker on “door to door” evangelism: https://banneroftruth.org/us/resources/articles/2017/case-door-door-evangelism/

About pastorleap

I have been married to the same wonderful woman since 1996 (my wife Monnie!). Currently, we have 4 children (Lindsey, Ethan, Terah and Lucas) whom we home-school and adore. Two dogs (Bo & Alice), a cat named Catticus Finch and an Axlotl complete our family. I currently pastor the Williamstown Baptist Church in Williamstown, Kentucky. Kentucky is my home and has been all of my life. I have my M.Div. and PhD from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. I did my doctoral work in the Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Leadership. The title of my dissertation was "A Rhetorical Analysis of the Preaching of Evangelist Asahel Nettleton During the Second Great Awakening." I have served as a pastor of local churches for over 20 years (as of July 2017!) in a variety of settings. I long to see church life reformed so that the church looks more like the committed, called-out, holy people of God that we see in the book of Acts. My spiritual heroes are men like John MacArthur, Charles Spurgeon, Asahel Nettleton, Billy Graham, Alistair Beig, and Albert Mohler. I enjoy the outdoors and time with my family. I am also an avid collector of comic books, action figures and all things pop-culture! Visit my personal blog at www.terryleap.com and follow me on Twitter @drterryleap
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