The Church Evangelist

I have been asked to write something for the church newsletter. But how to begin? If this was a New Testament epistle I would begin it like this:
Paul Peter Prescott,
A servant of Jesus the Messiah,
Called to be an apostle evangelist,

To all who are in Cambridge, beloved of God, called to be holy:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now some might read such an opening and appreciate the Biblical ring of it. But some would think, ‘Peter? An evangelist? Isn’t that an awfully grand title for someone with a scruffy beard and a leather jacket? And what does an evangelist do, anyway?’

And that would be a fair question. What does an evangelist do? For some it conjures up images of someone like Billy Graham speaking to thousands of people at evangelistic rallies – but that’s not quite what I’m (yet!) doing in Cambridge.

The Bible, perhaps surprisingly, doesn’t use the word ‘evangelist’ very often – only three times, and never with a detailed account of what it should involve. And in Cambridge we are in a very different context to that of the first century church: the gospel of Jesus’ atoning death and victorious resurrection is not recent news that needs to be brought to those who have heard nothing of it by pioneering evangelists. (Though this remains the case in some parts of the world, and I pray that some even from CPC would be moved to go to those unreached peoples).

Our context is more similar to that of the Israelite prophets – facing a nation whose history and culture speaks loudly of the faithfulness of the true God but who have let that heritage be forgotten and even deliberately despised it. The Israelites had memorial stones set up to remind them of God’s mighty deeds in history – in Cambridge our stones also cry out of God, whether it’s the architecture of colleges named in honour of Jesus, Emmanuel or Christ, or the carved inscription of Ps. 111:2 on the door of the Cavendish Laboratory.

And in taking up the role of ‘church evangelist’ at CPC I am answering the call I feel God has laid on me: to go, like Ezekiel, “not to many people of unfamiliar speech and of hard language”, but rather to my own countrymen “as a watchman”. This metaphor (which God explains to the prophet in Ezekiel 33) uses the image of the man placed in a watchtower as a look-out. He must sound the alarm when he sees approaching danger. He is the one called to declare God’s impending judgment – something which, whenever we speak the gospel, we must do. So it has the sense of publicly declaring God’s word and also first of waiting on God to rightly hear that word.

So this is what my role as evangelist involves: first, prayerfully waiting on God – like Jesus commanded the disciples to do, that they might then have power to declare the word (Acts 1) – and then going out to declare it. And just as God gave Ezekiel specific dramatic actions to catch people’s attention and speak His word to them, I try in my own way to catch people’s imaginations – using mustard seeds to sow the seed of the gospel into Cambridge, giving away bottles of water to thirsty clubbers to speak of the living water that truly satisfies our thirst.

Finally though, I need to mention the one specific thing the New Testament says about the role of an evangelist. Ephesians 4 tells us not that Christ gives the church evangelists so that everyone else can focus on other things, but rather “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry”. That is, my role as church evangelist isn’t to pray and proclaim the gospel on my own – but to encourage all of you to do it with me. If we are to see the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy about “watchmen … [who] never hold their peace day or night” until God’s holy city is established (Is. 62:6-7), then we all need to play our part.
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Peter joins forces with intercessors and evangelists both within CPC and across other churches at various times during the week. If you’d like to be involved with prayer or evangelism, then please just ask him what’s happening at the times that you’re free.

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