“Ministry of Evangelists” by Duane Couey

Published in September Saints Herald (Vol. 136-9:367-368)

Modified terms to be the currently accepted gender-neutral “Evangelist”.

Many people recall from time-to-time the moving events of the last week of Jesus’ life. Mirrored in the thought and action of the apostles is both the potential of the special witness and almost every human failure. They were confused and uncertain about themselves; they were perplexed by Jesus’ actions and speech. That they were concerned about themselves and their destiny is understandable. Their boastings about places of honor and importance marked their feelings of insecurity. Over that hung the question posed by Jesus at Caesarea Philippi, “Whom do ye say that I am?”

This question is significant, and how it is answered determines the substance of our testimony and witness. Occasionally, devoted church members engage in anxious conversation that does not address this question, but often reflects the bureaucratic concerns of the church – who will do this, or who will do that, or what about this situation or that. We sometimes refer to it as a “talking church” in the same sense that working people may “talk shop.” All institutions have bureaucratic structures and functions, but they can never be as important as the institutions’ purpose.

Apostolic Witness

A parallel can be drawn between the apostles in their Last Supper conversation and our tendency to spend time talking about the secondary matters of the gospel. It is appropriate to talk about the church because it is the body of Christ, but it is more important to talk about the expression of the witness of the Lord Jesus. The question, “whom do you say that I am?” was equally important at Caesarea Philippi, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and on Easter morning. But its applicability does not cease there. It continues through all of life. The quality of our witness depends on how we respond to that question.

Clifford A. Cole, in an article appearing in The Patriarchs edited by Reed M. Holmes, wrote the following:

“The [evangelists] share in the ministry of the apostolic witness. The evangelist shares with the apostle in the functions of witness and spiritual ministry, which is most fully characteristic of the high priestly calling. The function has sometimes been called the witness of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a spiritual ministry that calls all persons to the precious faith in God through Jesus Christ.”

The apostolic witness helps nurture an inspiring, refreshing spirit in today’s church. This responsibility lies with the First Presidency and Council of Twelve, with the Quorums of Seventy in developing churches, and with evangelists as standing ministers in local jurisdictions. Of course, every member of the church shares in this task.

The particular functions of evangelists are misunderstood at times. The interpretation and definition of this function are treated only marginally in the Restoration movement until well into the administration of Joseph Smith III. Perhaps the church must understand its need before a prescription for fulfillment can be articulated.

The Restoration, traditionally, has placed much emphasis on structure and organization. This is probably why we enjoy talking about it as much as we do. However, this was not the purpose for which the office was called into being. The church needs a category of high priests who stand outside of the regulating, directing functions of the church – people who are free for the functions of evangelism, revivalism, and spiritual parental counseling.

For this reason such high priests, as they are designated by the Twelve, are liberated from their directing functions to give primary emphasis to the broadly based spiritual ministry for which they are called. This basic ministry takes on a particular shape in the life of the church through this calling.

Evangelists schedule their ministry remembering their need to have access to all people in their jurisdiction. As members of this standing ministry, they are accountable to the appropriate jurisdictional administrator and are respected as a part of the total ministerial team. The evangelist’s role easily becomes stereotyped as “the blessing giver” and the who who is asked to offer prayer. These functions are important and necessary, but they are only a small part of the potential to meet people’s spiritual needs.

Scope of Responsibilities

That evangelists be kept free of administrative functions is well-known. What is not well-known is the scope of the responsibilities of this calling.

Here are some of those responsibilities:

One function of the apostolic witness is to articulate a world view. Evangelists try to keep current on world events and take particular note of societal changes and how these affect people. They minister out of a broad sense of religious values, which transcend doctrinal issues and reflect an understanding of the universals of Christianity. These concerns also rise above the usual vested interest of church organization and bureaucratic concerns.

They consistently seek to deepen our understanding of God’s purpose in the world. They work to develop coherent understandings that reflect theological competency and the consideration of the many facets of new knowledge born every day.

In our pluralistic society they attempt to address the achievement of a dynamic unity that gives careful consideration to different values while fortifying the basic faith of people.

An amazing number of people suffer from low self-esteem. The evangelist always seeks to affirm the worth of all people and to help them understand that their value is far greater than any instrumental definition that can be devised.

Church people often are loaded with responsibilities until they have more than they can carry. Then leaders sometimes admonish them that they are not doing all that they might. This happens not only because leaders want to see the work accomplished but because relatively few people do most of the work in the church and are dependable sources of financial support as well. It is only in the great sacrificial efforts, such as the Temple, that this pattern tends to change.

Evangelists should promote the expression of gratitude for those who serve and motivate those whose contribution is minimal to expand their efforts.

When I was much younger, I remember, people anticipated a visit of the apostles to a district conference or the rare occasion when they would receive ministry from a member of the First Presidency or Presiding Bishopric. As the church has expanded into the world – even though the general officers make great efforts to be “in the field” as much as possible and are every bit as dedicated to this need as any of their predecessors – it is difficult to visit as many places as would be desirable.

This has increased the need for evangelists to bring their special witness to the people because they have been planted in the church by the action of those who have been called to be special witnesses.

Evangelists are called to give faith-building and growth-producing ministries. They are especially called to invite new people to the witness of CHrist in contemporary situations. THe range of possible and appropriate ministries for evangelists is broad and should be studied continuously and creatively by both members of the order as well as administrators.

Little has been said here about the giving of blessings. A great deal has been written on the aspect of the work of the order. It is the most common image of evangelists in the minds of church members. This ministry is offered continuously, but there is a great need to have available the substantial potential of other ministries of this office. A new Temple School on the office of evangelist is now available for those who wish to study the ministries in more detail.