K Neill Foster

Some Random Thoughts

by K. Neill Foster
General Assembly, July 1996
The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada

My assignment has been to address the subject of evangelists. I am herewith seeking to do that, making random comments about the whole subject out of the context of the biblical material and 22 years of experience as an evangelist.

1. The Scriptures

The word evangelist (euangelistes) is mentioned only three times in Scripture, Acts 21:8, Second Timothy 4:5 and Ephesians 4:11. Luke describes Phillip as an evangelist with a dramatic soul-winning and deliverance ministry, and Paul indicates that evangelists are gifted leaders given to the church. Paul also urged Timothy to do the work of an evangelist.

However, when one includes references to preaching (euangelizomai) and the gospel (euangelion) which use essentially the same word, then there is an immense amount of biblical material. Evangelize is found 55 times in the New Testament and the word for the gospel is found 77 times (Gesswein 1945:4, 6). If one adds to this wealth of material observations on the evangelism of Jesus and the expansion methods of the church in Acts, the role of evangelist is wide indeed.

2. Biblical Exegesis, Definition

Evangelists preach the gospel. In Greek we would be using three forms of the same word to get that said.

The preaching of the gospel is to them that perish, foolishness, but unto us who are being saved, it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18 paraphrase).

euangelistes -a proclaimer of the good news, . . . congregational as well as missionary proclamation is denoted. There is also joy in the root of this word.

euangelizomai -is the verb which goes along with evangelist and it denotes preaching and proclamation. Again the implication is good news and joy.

euangelion -is the noun which describes the good news, the gospel. This is what evangelists proclaim and through preaching this message is communicated. It includes the concepts of news of victory and joy (G. Friedrich TDONT 1985:267-273).

Definition - John Stott has become a somewhat unreliable witness, having openly advocated annihilation (Cook 1994:5). Though he has now sided with Adventism and Jehovah's Witnesses on this doctrine, he has given us a fairly good definition of evangelism at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. Probably 29 years earlier, evangelicals would have had no trouble using "preaching" rather than "sharing" in the first line of Stott's definition.

Evangelism, then, is sharing the gospel with others. The good news is Jesus, and the good news about Jesus which we announce is that He died for our sins and was raised from death by the Father, according to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and that on the basis of His death and resurrection He offers forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit to all those wholly repent, believe and are baptized. (Stott 1975:71)

3. The Gift-Evangelist, Proclaimer of the Good News

My observation is that related gifts - apostleship, miracles, gifts of healings, discerning of spirits - are often found in evangelists.

One must observe that God gives His gifts in multiples. Frequently, the evangelist is gifted in a variety of ways. Likewise, the Apostle/special messenger/ missionary is often an evangelist. Indeed, his (her) dominant gift may be as a special messenger to the church, but still exerting the evangelistic role. Phillip apparently had giftedness in miracles and discerning of spirits, probably also in healing while he was an evangelist.

CS-Clarence Shrier was a Canadian business man with tuberculosis. For thirteen years he bled nearly to death while he clung to God's promise, "Bless the LORD, O My soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgiveth all my iniquities, who healeth all my diseases" (Psalm 103:2-3). After his dramatic healing, his was a ministry in demonstration of the Spirit and power. The power of the Lord was present to heal. He was an Alliance evangelist. His preaching was adequate, and often long, but mostly, he ministered in great power.

4. The Outside Voice

Being a new voice has its power and perils. The implication here is itineration. The evangelist is a rolling stone. From the very earliest days of the Christian church, there have been the itinerants. They were called prophets then, and if we were really willing to call Billy Graham what he really is, we would call him Prophet Billy or Apostle (special messenger) Billy. He preaches exactly as our pastors do, and many times not nearly so well. But there is an aura of excitement and charisma with Billy Graham.

The early church went so far as to establish criteria to handle itinerants - they were false prophets if they stayed more than three days, if they asked for money, if they commanded a banquet and then wanted to eat of it. Also, strangely, if they painted their eyes with what was called stibium they were false. Various documents never made it into the New Testament, but it is interesting nevertheless (Foster 1988:177).

Still, if God has gifted evangelists and they are in the church and for the church, though they be itinerant, and though they be outside voices, can they be ignored? Can any church be truly healthy without exposure to evangelists, to itinerants? The answer is no. The outside voice, oblivious to local situations, is not inhibited in what can or cannot be said and often touches issues that a local pastor is unable to address. Many evangelists refuse to allow the pastor to tell them anything about the local church. As outside voices, they know they will touch deep needs.

5. Eccentricity, Independence and the Church

As I contemplated becoming an evangelist, and as I observed their various characteristics, I wondered if I would ever be eccentric enough to become one. I need not have worried. During 22 years of itineration, the temptation was always, in my case at least, to give way to the eccentricities. If you consider me normal at all, that is a tribute to my wife, my colleagues and the churches and pastors among whom I ministered.

Independence is another peril for the evangelists. They tend to be Lone Rangers. Dr. Arnold Cook used to say to me, when my ministry had a more inter- denominational flavor particularly, "You always have one foot over the traces." Having known him more than 40 years, I was able to rebut, I think successfully!

Those evangelists who struggle with eccentricities and independences need to feel the warmth of the body, its love and care. The better the church provides for its evangelists, the more they will listen to our admonitions about eccentricities and independences.

CS-Dr. Roy McIntyre was a great church-planting superintendent of the Western Canadian District. It was his responsibility when it stretched all the way from Thunder Bay, Ontario to Victoria, BC. I heard him preach many times, but two sermons I will always remember. His subject in the first, the words of Jesus: "I will build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." The other message: "Adorning the Doctrine of Christ." Both messages became pivotal in my behavior and thinking about the Church. Evangelists who consistently adorn the doctrine, who steadfastly live and breathe for the building up of the church will never lack in ministry opportunities.

6. Tent-Making Evangelists

The Apostle Paul made tents so that he would not be a financial burden for anyone (Acts 18:3). While he saw self-support as a personal prerogative, he affirmed the principle of financial support for those who labored in the word (Philippians 4:10-18, 1 Timothy 5:17-18). Evangelists are often forced to undertake tent-making so that they may be sustained in the field. We need to respect those who function in this way, because it is difficult.

CS-One of the most difficult periods of my life was in Palm Springs, California. I was pastoring a church which was not fully supporting us. I was running a publishing house long distance from which we took monthly support, and I was trying to finish the PhD I found the pressure nearly unbearable, but at the same time, I gained great respect for those who are tent-makers. It is no easy task.

7. Evangelists with Para church Organizations

The newest buzzword would have us call the parachurch ministries servant organizations. In any case, organizational structures are created by evangelists for the purpose of securing continuing financial support and forwarding their work. Once that elementary need is satisfied, the organization moves forward, hopefully, further enabling the evangelist.

Evangelists with such structures are Billy Graham, Ravi Zacharias, Terry Winter, Barry Moore, Luis Palau and others.

CS-Currently I am serving as a mentor/adviser to Tom Allen who was for a time the preaching pastor of Sevenoaks Alliance Church. No doubt you saw his recent article in Alliance Life (June 12, 1996). Not too long ago, he was set apart by the Board of Managers of the US C&MA as a National Evangelist but was not given support beyond health care. He is currently building his support. He is using a key series of fund raisers once a year, mail appeals and personal contacts to build his network. His Board of Directors is established in Minnesota and is made up of business and professional people who affirm his ministry. Look for Tom Allen Ministries to emerge as a strong organization.

8. Finances and Evangelism

Evangelists, in their itineration are by definition vulnerable in areas of finance. The lack of direct accountability exacerbates the problem. Careful attention to the evangelist's denominational connections helps. If a parachurch structure emerges early in the evangelist's ministry, that helps. The best parachurch organizations are those in which the evangelist surrenders some control so that if he strays, he can hear the truth. The best situation is one in which the evangelist is accountable to men and women who will care for him, not only financially but spiritually as well.

CS-My witness is that the formation of Evangelistic Enterprises Society early on in my 22 years of itineration helped my family and me to be on a consistent income and to gather around us supporters and friends. I would have been better off and would have made better decisions over the years if I had allowed the Board to make me more accountable than I was. The evangelistic society is carefully maintained, even though I am presently sustained and employed by Christian Publications in this present chapter of our lives.

How should the full-time evangelist with no outside income be compensated when he visits a local church? Transportation and hospitality is a given. But beyond that? One rule of thumb might be to take the compensation that a senior pastor of a church of 250 might receive (including housing and fringe benefits) and divide it by twenty. That twenty represents the likely number of full-fledged ministries an evangelist might conduct in a year.

If we think that such a senior pastor might receive $50,000 per year, including housing, then an appropriate honorarium for a week or weekend of ministry (Sunday is the key day) would be $2,500 (honorarium plus expenses). From experience I know that is an amount an evangelist would rarely see, which immediately points out the need for organizational structure around the evangelist.

An intermediate path has been followed in the United States (C&MA) in which evangelists receive health care plus a housing allowance. After that, they are on their own. Those evangelists receive the designation, National Evangelists. Some National Evangelists who have their own evangelistic associations receive only the credential and are not financially sustained. My view is that denominational assistance is a helpful plan.

9. Evangelists and Moral Failure

Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggart come to mind, especially Swaggart's refusal to come under the discipline of his own denomination. But there are many lesser-known who have fallen, and more will fall. The lowest point in the life of the Alliance so far may have been the incident in which an Alliance pastor was robbing banks and spending the money on prostitutes in the Detroit area.

Accountability is the one great need that evangelists have and because of their itineration, they tend not to be closely bound into local congregations and accountability relationships. If you aspire to be an evangelist, consider account- ability relationships as of the essence.

10. Evangelists and the Holy Spirit

Of evangelism, Jesus Christ our Lord and the work of the Holy Spirit, Armin Gesswein writes:

The same Spirit who anointed Him and led Him up to Pentecost now filled them and led them back over all of His life's stages for a full understanding of His person (1945:56)

Seeing the work of the Holy Spirit in evangelism, Gesswein clarifies further:

Add to this [the coming of the Holy Spirit] the fact that the Holy Spirit is the special gift of Christ to the believer, and we are more than ready to interpret the new method of evangelism: The Holy Spirit in a certain relation to believers set forth the basic factors of this ministry (1945:58).

Evangelists must know and understand the enduement of the Holy Spirit, what it is to be born of the Holy Spirit, what it is to be filled with the Holy Spirit and how to secure the anointing of the Spirit time after time after time for continuous effectiveness in soul-winning and preaching. Get to know an evangelist and you will soon hear about the work of the Holy Spirit.

The biographer of A. W. Tozer cites him thus: "No one was ever filled with the Holy Spirit and didn't know it" (Snyder 1991:45). Billy Graham's repeated question to a large assembly of Christian workers in India was, "Are you filled with the Holy Spirit? Do you know it? Are you filled with the Holy Spirit? Do you know it? (Foster n.d.:13).

11. Evangelists and Writing

It is an interesting observation made by Armin Gesswein that the evangelists wrote the Gospels (1945:3). We would not be stretching it too far to say that evangelists often turn out to be writers. Not all, but many write books and tracts, and edit magazines. They have a passion to communicate beyond the situation immediately before them. Lacking an established congregation, they are always seeking to expand their ministries. The four Gospels were written by the four evangelists. Add to the extra gifts given by the Holy Spirit to evangelists, the gift of writing. It happens frequently.

CS-Robert Kuglin is a friend who has amply illustrated this principle. The circulation of I was the Devil's Egg has been outstanding, and his Handbook on the Holy Spirit has had a wide circulation as well. I take some pride in having helped to launch him into the ongoing publication of his own books through many years of effective evangelistic ministry.

Evangelists who write also often end up using the electronic media because they have a passion to communicate widely. Terry Winter is an example of this in Canada.

12. Evangelists and Revivals

I have seen revival a few times in nearly forty years of ministry. Kelowna, General Santos City and Banga in the Philippines, Bobo-Dioulasso, Dedougou and Sanga in Africa. The list is not long because my definition is extremely narrow, but I think also that being a revivalist is not an expression of my primary gift.

Revival is a sovereign renewing movement of the Holy Spirit so powerful that no other word than revival will suffice. It is a renewal of holiness and love in believers. It is not salvation preaching with people coming to Christ (although that may be a side effect). It spreads spontaneously, like fire. Revivals have geographical dimensions and they flow through windows of time; they are marked by the calendar. As they come, so they end.

The revival under Jonathan Edwards was very intense, and focused in an area about 14 miles in length and two miles in width.

CS-Rev. Paul Edwardson describes a revival that took place in Yarrow, BC. As you enter that town from Chilliwack, you cross an elevated railroad track. Edwardson's witness: "When you dropped in over the tracks, you could feel the revival."

Charles G. Finney was adamant that revivals were not prayed down, rather they were worked up when God's people began to humble themselves and obey the Holy Spirit (Finney n.d.:1-16). He did not seem, however, to see that he himself was a sovereign instrument in the hands of the Lord.

God is sometimes pleased to use evangelists as revivalists.

13. Evangelists and Spiritual Warfare

Itinerant evangelists are constantly faced with situations which require spiritual breakthroughs. They learn to fast and pray. They learn to bind and loose. They learn to preach with power for decisions. They learn to heal the sick and cast out demons. And they learn what kind of preaching awakens these results.

CS-The pastor at Vermilion, Alberta, was Howard Woodruff. We were of long acquaintance and had enjoyed various campaigns together. He told me, "Neill, when I fast, nothing ever happens." We decided to fast for the Friday youth service, and I hoped this fasting would produce results for his sake. The church was full. A film was shown. I preached fervently. And when the invitation was given, the response was ongoing, seeming never to end as many came to Christ and many others sought to get right with God. In my mind, this was a clear example of spiritual warfare in the life of an evangelist.

14. Evangelists within the Church.

There are many people with the evangelistic gift within local assemblies. These are the people who gravitate to Evangelism Explosion and other such methods. They will gladly knock on doors and lead others to Christ. The Holy Spirit sees to it that those so gifted are in every church. They are not ordinarily itinerant; they probably are not preachers, but they will and do win souls to Christ. They must not be ignored.

In addition there are those believers willing and able to do, like Timothy, the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5). I have served as pastor in three different churches, with moderate success, I suppose, perhaps, because I was at best, an evangelist doing the work of a pastor. It can be done, and there are those willing souls in the local churches who will do the work of an evangelist. Thank God for them.

15. Evangelists for the Church

Paul makes it very clear in Ephesians 4:11-12 that gifted leaders are given to the church. "Their purpose is to prepare God's people, to serve, and to build up the body of Christ" (God's Word Version 4:12). "To prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up" (NIV 4:12). The evanglists with whom I am most familiar are/were the evangelists who stirred up the local church.

CS-In 1956 Roland M. Gray came all the way from Pennsylvania to Western Canada at the invitation of Rev. George M. Blackett, our District Superintendent at that time. His message to the church was repentance, the denunciation of sin, the filling of the Holy Spirit, divine healing, as well as salvation for sinners and restoration for backsliders.

I will never forget or recover from those days of power. Years later, when I myself became an evangelist, my call was always to the church. I had been convinced by Murray Downey that when Jonah repents, Ninevah will repent (1981:12). Statistically, I found that for every four inquirers among believers who were willing to seek God anew in my ministry, especially for sanctification and the infilling of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit was pleased to give me a backslider restored or a conversion decision.

Ephesians 4:11-12 is the only passage of Scripture that specifically describes the purpose and ministry of evangelists. To believe that evangelists minister only to the unconverted is biblically flawed understanding. Evangelists do minister to the lost directly. But they also minister to the saints in a multiplying revival-like manner that has the capacity to win multitudes to Christ.


We need to celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit in giving evangelists to the church for the work of ministry. They are all different. I have never seen even two alike. They express God's giftedness in infinite variety. The discerning Christian and the discerning church will understand their ministry and welcome it.


Cook, Arnold L.

1994 Remembering Those for Whom No Table Has Yet Been Set
Camp Hill: Christian Publications, Inc.

Downey, Murray W.

1981 The Art of Soul- Winning
Grand Rapids: Baker Book House

Finney, Charles G.

n.d. Revival Lectures
Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell

Foster, K. Neill

1988 "Discernment, the Powers and Spirit-Speaking,"
Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation
Pasadena: Fuller Theological Seminary

n.d. Six Conditions for the Filling of the Holy Spirit
Beaverlodge, Alberta: Evangelistic Enterprises Society

Friedrich, G.

1985 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament
Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Gesswein, Armin

1945 "New Testament Evangelism"
Unpublished thesis
North Hamilton, MA: Gordon College

Snyder, James

1991 In Pursuit of God
Camp Hill: Christian Publications, Inc.

Stott, John

1975 Let the Earth Hear His Voice
Minneapolis: World Wide Publications