by Robert Brow
Auto dealers are often caricatured as fast talking, high pressure, and probably dishonest. There are, however, salesmen with the gift of summing up the needs of the customer, judging the payments he can wisely afford, helping him to select the car suited to his family, and completing the sale with a minimum of fuss. The customer leaves satisfied, he recommends the dealer to his friends, and he can be expected to return for his next car in three years. Such salesmen may be rare, but obviously at its best the salesman's art is a public service. Most of us appreciate the man who can be helpful when we are trying to make up Our minds. But when there is a shoddy product or a decision for which we are not ready, we resent the salesman with uncommon loathing.
So with the evangelist. Given the fact that Jesus Christ is the pearl of great price, that we genuinely sense our need of him, and that we are ready to make a vital decision, the evangelist is a man who can help us. He is the salesman who helps us to see the issues, to choose, to commit ourselves. There are millions in the church today who are grateful for his help out of indecision. If, however, the evangelist's gospel is shoddy, his methods uncouth, or our decision is forced, we do well to be angry.
The salesman differs from the engineer as the evangelist differs in temperament from the Bible scholar. Few engineers are good salesmen: they know too much, explain too much, and muddy the simplicity of decision. When a man needs a car he is not much helped by learned discourses on the internal combustion engine. The engineer is important in his place, but not in the selling situation. So the biblical scholar, the theologian, the expositor. They provide necessary functions in a sensible, well-taught church; but they rarely help the ordinary man who knows his sin, needs Jesus Christ, and longs for one who can direct him out of indecision into the peace of faith. The church must have salesmen, and the thousands who are grateful to Billy Graham for help in choosing life are sufficient answer to the wise who think that scholastic erudition is sufficient. The evangelist also illustrates the fact that men do not expect the church merely to provide mercy and healing and other good works. These things are necessary to accompany the Word of God, they may point to the truth, but apart from preaching they are a meaningless service to a meaningless world. It is as if the Ford Motor Company should provide a magnificent service organization without any means of selling the cars it proposes to service. A church that neglects the gift of evangelism is as near to disaster as a company that tries to do without its sales force on the assumption that good products sell themselves.
Having mentioned Billy Graham and the methods of mass evangelism, we need to counter two other reasonable objections. Like the salesman, the evangelist is tempted to press for results and to use the faster, slicker methods. These methods may put more people off than they help to true faith. This is a real danger, but at his best the salesman should be a man who genuinely cares for the customer: his motive is to satisfy rather than force. The evangelist also is human, and his chief temptation is to count heads, but temptation need not overcome a man of God. He can recognize the temptation and seek to guard against it. The fact of temptation and the occasional failure is in any case no argument against evangelism. If the church becomes too respectable to use her best salesmen, she cannot hope to fulfill her mission in the world.
This brings us to the other objection. If we are to have evangelists, why is it that we usually hear only the name of Billy Graham? One reason is that so few others have taken the time and efforts to excel in their art. When Paul names the spiritual gifts he exhorts us to give ourselves to our own gift (Rom. 12:6-8). The purpose of this study of the gifts in the body of Christ is to encourage us to specialize and seek excellence in our own function. Probably the chief reason for the lack of acceptable evangelists is that on the whole the church has not honored or encouraged this gift. Denominations are willing to pay for theologians, administrators, and ministers, but not for the evangelists who are most likely to make the church grow. It does seem indisputable from the evidence that churches that have stressed evangelism and evangelists have grown the fastest.
How are these "selling" evangelists going to be selected and trained? They are unlikely to benefit from existing requirements of a university degree followed by a three-year course of theological discipline. A theologian may also be an evangelist, but it is not because of his studies. Many evangelists are unlearned and ignorant men, as were Christ's disciples. The evangelist must have about the same level of education as his average listeners. His forte is to know the hearts of men and the language of the people, and to believe implicitly in what he has to offer. He will usually learn by doing, sometimes taking short refresher courses to keep up with the requirements of his work. He needs the supervision and encouragement of an experienced leader, and he will do better in a team than if left entirely to his own devices. If he becomes uncouth, or misrepresents the cause of Jesus Christ, there must be a way to correct him and if necessary dispense with his services.
After a period of apprenticeship in which a man has proved that he can present the claims of Jesus Christ with dignity and the power of the Holy Spirit so that men accept him as Lord, a man becomes an evangelist. It is now the church's responsibility to recognize him as such and to invite him to exercise his gift both in special meetings in the churches and in every place where he can be given a hearing in society. Every denomination should maintain a list of such approved men as well as give opportunities for younger men to develop this gift.
We must also recognize that the evangelist is likely to be an interdenominational man. His business is not to make labeled churchmen. He concentrates on helping men and women to believe in and accept Jesus Christ. After conversion the convert must be encouraged to choose a church where he feels at home, where he will be taught the duties of membership in that congregation. If, however, an evangelist is required to make Anglicans, or Baptists, or what-not, he himself will be frustrated, other denominations will accuse him of sheep stealing, and the poor sheep will wonder whether they are to decide about Jesus Christ or about the history and principles of a denominational system. If the most mature Christians find it hard to discern the right denomination for themselves, how unreasonable to force this decision at the point when the trembling soul is weighing the pearl of great price against the precious trivialities of this world.
By Mentioning Billy Graham we may have given the impression that evangelists are by definition men who speak to great crowds. Jesus Christ told Peter and James and John that they would become fishers of men. We know that Peter was responsible for catching a large shoal of fish on the day of Pentecost. But fish can also be caught with a line and hook. We need the more elaborate arrangements for group evangelism and the use of the mass media, but we also need a large number of personal evangelists. Whitfield, D. L. Moody, and Billy Graham have excelled in large meetings, but thousands Of unnamed Christians are catching men one by one. They too are evangelists, and the fish they catch may be inaccessible by any other means. The sales of insurance policies, race horses, financial empires, and the making of marriage agreements all need individual treatment that is unsuited to the sales floor, the television, or the marketplace. Every church needs experienced personal evangelists who know how to help their friends, neighbors, and even strangers put their faith in Jesus Christ. All Christians do this to some extent, but obviously there will be some who are especially gifted in this way; and these are the ones who should be encouraged to give themselves to this gift and leave some of the other work of the church to others.
If the analogy of "selling" has still left the reader with a bad image of high-pressure, result-counting sales, it may help to remind ourselves of what salesmanship and evangelism at its very best requires: genuine faith in the product, honesty, courtesy, a concern for the buyer's interests, a respect for him as a person who must be left free to make the ultimate decision, without embarrassment if he chooses not to buy. Men of this caliber may be rare, but they do exist, and it should be the Christian church that can produce them.
The title of this chapter is "Evangelists and Teachers." I have concentrated on the evangelistic gift because it is neglected in most of our respectable denominations. The place of the teacher in the church was brought back to prominence by the Reformation. Later the Sunday School movement of the nineteenth century encouraged a host of Christians to give themselves to teaching, though unfortunately it was often assumed that only the very young need teaching. Evidently there are still a large number of teenagers, university students, married couples, and even senior citizens who would be open to Bible teaching if some took the time to learn their subject and present it in a modern, interesting way. The seminaries, theological colleges, and Bible schools, which are the new ecclesiastical feature of this century, have all helped to train teachers. As I have indicated, they may not be suitable for the nurture of prophets, evangelists, and the other gifts of the Spirit, but they have stressed an intensive study of the Bible, church history, other religions, and the various arts needed to teach others. On the whole, teaching is one gift that has not been neglected in Protestant churches.
In terms of numbers we can agree that the gift of teaching has been extended to a larger proportion of laymen. In competence our achievement is still mediocre, however. At secular schools and universities students are taught by experts in their own subjects, but when they come to learn in church they are subjected to intellectual baby talk. An acceptable quality of teaching cannot come from a life of frantic activity. No man can work forty or fifty hours at a job, fulfill his reasonable duties in society and at home, sit on countless committees, organize Boy Scout troops, men's groups, and camps and meetings for businessmen, and then say something worthwhile to a group of high school students on Sunday. The spiritual gift of teaching needs specialization, time for reading and hard study, several hours of class preparation, plus a contagious enthusiasm in communicating the Bible as the most thrilling book in the world. Most high school students are bored with the church because their precious time is wasted by Christians who say nothing worth listening to.
For the church at large we have very few specialists who can teach through the mass media. Books of Christian doctrine are produced and apparently bought, but one wonders how many Of these are readable, let alone stimulating. Our best brains are siphoned off to seminaries where they are expected to write indigestible Monographs for the half dozen other men in the world who can understand what they are talking about. In the past doctors of the church wrote so that literate men could understand, and Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley are much easier to read than our contemporaries. When a C. S. Lewis writes theology in his spare time and millions are fed by his books, our theologians still assume that he shallow because he lacks footnotes, bibliographies, and thesis style. On the whole it is the Roman Catholic orders such as the Jesuits and Dominicans who have best freed their teachers for adequate specialization, though they also suffer from heaviness of presentation. The greatest battle is the battle of the mind, and it is won by words that are shot like bullets-smooth, sharp, powerful, and dead on target.
Kerygma and didache - proclamation and instruction - the evangelist helping men to choose Christ and teachers disciplining them to think straight - these are two basic activities in the Acts of the Apostles and of every effective work of God today. Evangelism and teaching are the essential gifts for building the church, since without them no church is possible. The bene esse includes the gifts of healing, prophecy, administration, pastoral care, giving helps, and the like, but the irreducible esse is that men become Christians and learn in the school of Christ.