“How to Spot an Immature Evangelist” is the third in a series of five articles on recognizing immaturity in fivefold ministry and what to do about it. If you have no idea what fivefold ministry is, check out Alan Hirsch’s brief descriptions here, or JR Woodward’s video introduction here.
Missional church planting isn’t easy.
You’re trying to grow something from the ground up in a healthy way, but the vagaries of people’s schedules and commitments make it difficult to gain momentum and critical mass.
That’s why it’s so tempting to release gifted people into leadership too soon. If a competent leader comes along, it’s easy to just let them “go for it” without really evaluating their character.
Unless we also have a way of evaluating how mature these gifted people are, we are asking for trouble. Why? Because putting people into positions of leadership before their character can bear it is a recipe for disaster.
One of the most devastating mistakes we can make as church planters is to assume that giftedness is the same thing as maturity. So how can we avoid this scenario? How can we be more discerning about the people we release into leadership?
This is the third article in a series on recognizing immaturity through the lens of fivefold gifting (sometimes called APEST – Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, Teachers).
How can we recognize an unhealthy evangelist? And what should we do about it if we spot one in our church?
You Might Be an Evangelist If…
Before we talk about immature evangelists, let’s talk about evangelists in general. How are they Christ’s gift to the church?
The word “evangelist” comes from the Greek euangelion, which refers to an announcement of good news, specifically the good news that a new king has been crowned. The early church appropriated this political term because it encapsulated the heart of their life and message: “Jesus is Lord!”
Evangelists, then, are those who proclaim good news. They are the people who can’t help but talk about whatever is getting their attention at the moment. If they find a great new restaurant, they tell everyone about it. They love telling people about whatever they are fascinated with.
And here’s something to note: Not all evangelists are “Billy Grahams.” Most, in fact, are not preachers at all.[Tweet “Not all evangelists are “Billy Grahams.” Most, in fact, are not preachers at all. ~Ben Sternke”]
You need some of these people in your church! Here are some signs of evangelists in general:
- They are connectors; they enjoy introducing people to each other, especially for strategic partnerships.
- They often have large networks of relationships, both personally and professionally.
- They are naturally relational, often extroverted and happy a lot of the time.
- They typically enjoy spending their time with people who are far from faith or marginalized in some way.
- They remind the church that there are still non-Christians out there and urge us to do something about it!
- They are often natural salespeople with very keen “people skills.”
- They can’t help but rally people to causes they believe in.
Signs of an Immature Evangelist
But evangelists need to grow from immaturity to maturity, just like all of us. Their greatest strength is also their greatest weakness.
Here are some signs of an immature evangelist:
- In their excitement to make connections and meet new people, they can neglect depth in their relationships and end up with 1,000 shallow friendships.
- They allow their concern to “reach the lost” to push them into bitterness toward “church people.”
- They devalue discipleship and transformation in favor of the excitement of getting new people involved.
- They flit from relationship to relationship, spending time with whoever seems most exciting, instead of staying with a person of peace.
- They can be a mile wide and an inch deep spiritually because they have trouble engaging in spiritual disciplines that require endurance and patience.
- It’s easy for them to “neglect meeting together” because what we do “in church” never quite feels as exciting or important as hanging out with their non-Christian friends.
Does any of this remind you of anyone? Maybe you’ve got an immature evangelist in your church plant. Maybe you notice these characteristics in yourself? Read on for what to do with the immature evangelist in your life (even if it’s you!).
What To Do with an Immature Evangelist
I’m convinced that every church plant needs an evangelist on board early on in the process because a lot of what needs to happen initially is just “getting the word out” that something’s happening!
As a prophet myself, I find getting the word out about things, even great things, terribly difficult and embarrassing. So it’s tempting for me to use immature evangelists to do the work I find difficult. It’s also tempting for me to reject immature evangelists when they complain that we’re not “getting outside the church walls” enough.
But our job as equippers in the church is not just to get things done or avoid conflict and messiness. Our job is to bring the church to unity and maturity, “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).[Tweet “Our job as equippers in the church is to bring the church to unity and maturity.” –Ben Sternke”]
So if we don’t use them or reject them, what do we do if we find we have an immature evangelist in our church?
We disciple them.
We bring them to maturity so they can become the gift to the church they’re called to be.
After all, this is what Jesus did with the ragtag bunch of immature apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers that were his disciples.
How To Disciple an Immature Evangelist
So how do we disciple an immature evangelist? In some ways, we disciple them like we disciple everyone else. We love them by offering them an abundance of grace and truth so they can grow into the character and competency of Jesus.
But discipleship looks different for an evangelist than it does for a prophet or apostle. The grace and truth they need takes on a certain shape.
So what does grace and truth look like for evangelists?
Grace for an Evangelist
Here are a few notes on bringing grace to an evangelist:
- Listen to their insights about how your church “comes across” to non-Christians.
- Legitimize their ministry outside the walls of the church and empower them to connect with non-Christians.
- Ask them to tell stories of evangelism encounters during church gatherings.
- Take their distaste for “church stuff” in stride. It’s not personal, and they’ll need a safe place to vent when they’re frustrated. You want to be that place.
- Draw out their unconscious competence, connect them with people, and invite them to help train others in evangelism.
- Make sure they know they are valued apart from their gifting–that they don’t need to bring new people to church to be valued in the community.
Truth for an Evangelist
Here are a few notes on bringing truth to an immature evangelist:
- Evangelists need to embrace spiritual depth, but it’s very difficult for them to invest the time and energy necessary to cultivate it. Help them understand that it will make them a far more effective evangelist if they become mature.
- Encourage them to bring others with them when they’re out “doing their thing,” so they can train others in what feels natural to them.
- Evangelists tend to win people to Jesus but then “drop” them after they’re “in.” Insist that they invest in discipling the people they bring to Jesus.
- Evangelists tend to be “all over the place” in terms of what they think God is calling them to. Hold them accountable to follow through on the last thing they think God said.
A mature evangelist is a wonderful gift for a church plant to have. But they don’t just fall into your lap magically. Church planters often have to disciple their team into maturity before they can lean on their team to disciple others into maturity.
Questions for Discussion
How about you? Have you had experiences with immature evangelists? What have you learned about discipling evangelists? If you are an evangelist, what has been most helpful in your growth?
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