The Evangelist…

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The spiritual gift of evangelism.

I would imagine that one of the world’s greatest evangelists would have a hard time being humble discussing the spiritual gift that he had. The Reverend Billy Graham had the spiritual gift of evangelism to an extreme. As of 2008, Graham’s estimated lifetime audience, including radio and television broadcasts, topped 2.2 billion. One special televised broadcast in 1996 alone may have reached a television audience of as many as 2.5 billion people worldwide. Because of his crusades, Graham preached the gospel to more people in person than anyone in the history of Christianity.*

Yet in his book The Holy Spirit, he barely mentions his own personal gift from God, preferring to discuss evangelism in general. First of all, he says he did not “save” anyone; that is the work of the Holy Spirit. Secondly, he says his work did not convict sinners, build righteousness in believers or judge listeners in his audiences; that also is the Spirit’s work. He writes “the evangelist can invite men to receive Christ, and exhort them. But the effectual work is done by the Spirit as He works on the mind, hearts and wills of the unsaved. We are to take care of the possible and trust God for the impossible.”

The word evangelist comes from the Greek word meaning “one who announces good news” and Graham surely did that. He says that the term evangelist is only used three times in the New Testament, once when Luke called Philip an evangelist, once when Paul said that God gave evangelists to the church and once when Paul urged Timothy to do the work of an evangelist.** But the term certainly applies to him.

An evangelist’s message almost necessarily concerns the content of God’s word. He is a deliverer of a message, rather than a pastor who often teaches spiritual lessons and provides spiritual leadership to members of a church. A pastor’s duties include preparing weekly sermons, preaching and conducting worship services and interpreting Biblical Scripture for the congregation. In contrast, the evangelist centers his comments on “the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His coming again and the need for all men everywhere to repent and believe” [Graham, 181]. The evangelist has a short-term relationship with his audience. Of course, the pastor does not.

The evangelist may speak to the mind and may speak to the heart. Getting a group of people to think and feel are important factors in any presentation. The Greek philosopher Aristotle [who lived three hundred fifty years before Christ], taught speakers that logos [thinking] and pathos [feeling] were essential elements in getting a person to change. Indeed the most effective evangelists do both, hoping the Holy Spirit will guide the listener to make a change and dedicate their life to Christ. With this is mind, Graham says the real work of the evangelist is to “speak to the will” of man [181].

The work of the evangelist is often unappreciated. Graham cites John Wesley, the so-called “founder” of Methodism. Wesley traveled all over England trying to deliver an evangelistic message of reform for the Anglican Church, yet he was rejected by his church, despite the fact that he was an Anglican priest. Nevertheless he dedicated his life to spreading the Word. One of his biographers, Stephen Tomkins writes that “[Wesley] rode 250,000 miles, gave away 30,000 pounds … and preached more than 40,000 sermons…” For any reader who has no knowledge of Wesley, he lived in the 18th century and almost all of his travel was on horseback and to preach that many sermons in a lifetime he had to preach two or three times each day. Indeed, he did that throughout his life, never achieving positive recognition from his own church.  That is the definition of “unappreciated”.

Graham says that any popular evangelist is a special target of Satan; the higher the visibility, the easier the target. Some who have evangelistic gifts refuse to use those gifts due to negative labels that can be attached to their work. Many think of the evangelist as “nonintellectual,” someone who only preys on peoples’ emotions. It is common knowledge that some [but not all] evangelists have grown their ministry to the point that it becomes very commercial.  Many hold that up to negative judgement.   Too many evangelists can be too concerned with their statistics. [Graham recounts a story of a local paper that misreported the numbers of one of his crusades; claiming one thousand people were saved and Graham knew the number was less than five hundred]. His crusades desired honesty and accuracy and too many news organizations used improper terminology and exaggerated numbers. They felt they had to keep accurate statistics and report accurate statistics.  Graham was never obsessed with statistics, even though others were.

Graham’s power as a Christian evangelist is the stuff of legends. He literally preached to thousands and his largest crowd was in 1973 in Seoul, South Korea. It boggles the mind to realize this man preached to 3.2 million people in this crusade.

I head a story one time that amazed me about Graham and I have seen it borne out in the lives of other talented Christians. Graham knew he was capable of using his gift and he made the commitment to do so, but he also knew he was capable of the great human problem of pride. As he started to have larger and larger crowds and his influence began to grow, he deflected the praise he received. “It is not me; it is God” is something I have heard from the most devout Christians I have encountered. These people all know that their gifts are directly from The Lord and they humbly acknowledge that, giving God the glory. The story is that Graham had that attitude and even hired a man to sit beside him at his crusades. After Graham returned to his seat after delivering his sermon, the man told him this:

“It is not you; it is God!”

The Reverend Billy Graham, a man who had the spiritual gift of evangelism.

*Wikipedia “Billy Graham”
**Acts 21:8 , Ephesians 4:11 and 2 Timothy 4:5 respectively


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