Kevin DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church, makes the point that while every Christian should be engaged in missions, not every Christian is a missionary. A missionary is one who is specifically sent (as God the Father sent God the Son, and as God the Son sent the apostles) by the church to go out and further the mission of the church in places where the Church or churches has not yet been established.
Dr. Don Fanning, Chairman of the Department of Global Studies, at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, similarly writes:
“We are all called to Christ in salvation with the task of becoming a witness of His grace and salvation to unbelievers around us, but a “missionary” is to take this mission of evangelism to where Christ has never been know. This is certainly a deeper commitment requiring a broader cooperation and facilitation of the local church.”
As part of my research for preparing this document, I solicited the help (via email) of a number of pastors in making a distinction between the role of the missionary and the role of the evangelist. Here are a few of the responses I received.
Randall Easter, pastor of First Baptist Church of Briar (TX), wrote:
“Missionary – My view of today’s missionary is one who is sent out by a local church to a place that God has made clear that they are to go. The work of the missionary is to reach people for Christ and disciple a native of that place to maturity in order that they can reach their own people. Once a solid foundation is laid the missionary returns to his local church and awaits his future assignment.
“Evangelist – My view of today’s evangelist is similar to a missionary, but can have a different twist. An evangelist is sent out by his local church to an area in his own country that his local church desires to reach with the gospel. The evangelist goes to this area and preaches, teaches, passes out tracts, and gathers a people together who have interest in the things of God. Over time a core group is established and the Evangelist in appearance begins to look like a pastor. He then pastor’s his core group and disciples them to reach others with the gospel and at some point a church is established. God then raises up from that area a pastor who can lead the people. The evangelist returns to his home church and awaits his next assignment.”
Oliver Baker, pastor of Woolwich Evangelical Church (Woolwich, London, UK), wrote:
“My understanding would be that a missionary is a church planter, as the Apostle Paul was, looking to establish local churches in places where there are few or none, over the longer term. The work of the evangelist is to work as part of a local church, or as or in conjunction with a missionary to preach the Gospel to the unconverted. By Gospel I mean the specific, soul-saving message of repentance and forgiveness of sins as opposed to the Roman Catholic concept of the Gospel as the whole Bible.
“A missionary establishes churches. An evangelist builds the church and although there is some overlap they are distinctions.”
Paul Washer, missionary and founder of HeartCry Missionary Society, wrote:
“I do see a tremendous difference between the missionary and the evangelist. Although their ministries are complementary, they are distinct. The missionary is one sent with authority to establish biblical churches and disciple men to become the overseers of the churches he has planted. Although he never ceases to do the work of an evangelist, he labors for the maturity of the church and its leaders. In the midst of this time consuming labor, the evangelist comes alongside the missionary and assists in making the Gospel known through preaching wherever the lost might be found.”
Finally, a word on the subject from Steve Lawson, pastor of Christ Fellowship Bible Church (Mobile, AL):
“The word missionary means ‘one who is sent,’ or ‘a sent one.’ A missionary is one who is dispatched by God, either through a local church, a denomination, or missions agency, and sent to a different location in the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The goal of the missionary is sowing the seed of the gospel, doing initial discipleship work, planting a local church, and appointing elders.
“An evangelist, on the other hand, has a more narrow focus. He is a single-minded person, myopically proclaiming the good news of Christ. His desire is to go wherever the lost are, present the gospel, and urge them to faith in Christ. Rather than stay and plant a church, the evangelist usually moves on to the next venue in an effort to lead others to faith in Christ. He is restless in his drive to reach more souls with the gospel.
“In the New Testament, the difference between the missionary and the evangelist can be seen in the difference between Paul and Philip. The former was a missionary, and the latter an evangelist. As a missionary, Paul was constantly on the road, traveling to the next place, preaching the gospel, discipling the new believers, planting churches, and appointing elders. Philip, conversely, was, uniquely gospel-focused toward the lost. He was pointing people to Christ, persuading them to repent and commit their lives to Him.”
I believe there is a distinction to be made between the evangelist and the missionary.
I do not sense the Lord’s calling to plant a church or churches.
The Lord has affirmed in my heart and mind that He has not called me to shepherd a flock, but rather to serve as a sheepdog to the shepherd. Shepherds lead the flock. Sheepdogs assist the shepherd in gathering, directing, and corralling the flock.
Here are a few real life examples to illustrate my point.
In Beaverton, OR, under the leadership of Pastor Chuck O’Neal and the elders of Beaverton Grace Bible Church, I assisted the church’s leadership in the training and mobilization of the church body to reach their community with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Most were encouraged and equipped to engage people in one-to-one conversations and to distribute gospel tracts, while a few (under the direction of their pastor) were encouraged and equipped to take the first steps toward open-air preaching.
In St. Louis, MO, under the leadership of Pastor Geoff Kirkland and the elders in training of Christ Fellowship Bible Church, I did much the same thing I did in Oregon. In addition to the above, I assisted Pastor Kirkland in the discipleship of the men in the church as well as a much smaller group of men who are training to answer the call to eldership.
One of my first trips abroad, after the inception of Cross Encounters Ministries, was to Stavanger, Norway. There my primary mission was to assist Bjorn Storm, itinerant minister and the leader of one of the country’s first Reformed Baptist house churches in teaching the members basic Christian doctrine, equipping them to discern truth from error (as the evangelical church in Norway is being decimated by a “signs and wonders” cult known as Bethel Church), and equipping them to reach the lost in their country, with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Three distinctly different churches, in three distinctly different social constructs:
Beaverton Grace Bible Church (a well-established church, with years of presence in the community, in the liberal Pacific Northwest)
Christ Fellowship Bible Church (a church plant with just two years of presence in the community, in a densely Roman Catholic part of the Midwest)
Reformed Baptist home church (a fledgling work that continues to this day, growing toward establishing a bona fide church in their community, in a small country with a very low Christian population)
In each instance, I came alongside the shepherds to assist them in ministering to their flocks and in the gathering of their flocks (God’s Elect) from the highways and the hedges through street evangelism (Luke 14:23).
This, I believe, is doing the work of an evangelist. This is what, I believe, God has called me to do and to be—an evangelist.