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By Knowing Him

The Fatal Mistake of Missionary Evangelists

Ken Norton


There are certain terms used in Adventism today that immediately bring up mental pictures. Take for instance the term missionary. For decades a “missionary” has been seen as one trudging through the jungle with a tattered picture roll, swatting mosquitoes and living in a grass hut.
And then there’s the term evangelist. It conjures up scenes of crowded outdoor canvas tents or, for the younger of us, packed church sanctuaries or auditoriums ringing with words preached by a dynamic man of God.
There is nothing wrong with these mental pictures. What is wrong is that, for many Adventists, the term missionary always means someone who goes “way over there” and evangelist means somebody who “is way up there” as a spiritual giant and proclamation professional. This is sad.
Scripture and Ellen White paint a very different picture—one that comes closer to home in every way. First, it’s interesting to note that the Bible never uses the term missionary. The word “missionary” is derived from the Latin missionem,
meaning “the act of sending.” By removing the “em” and adding “ary,” we English speakers have created a definition for missionary as “the one who is sent.”
So why doesn’t the New Testament mention missionary along with other witnessing roles such as prophet, pastor, or teacher? Maybe God never wanted us to think that being a missionary was just the role or job of a select few.
The term evangelist has an equally interesting origin, one rooted more closely in the original language of the New Testament. Without going into any linguistic gymnastics, the term evangelist in the original language literally means “one who declares the good news.” The scriptures do point out that there were those who did this as a full time ministry (Eph. 4:11), but they in no way had exclusive rights as the only ones who could share the good news about Jesus (2 Tim. 4:5). Actually, it is quite the contrary.
Ellen White, writing for the Review and Herald in her later years, tells us,
“The members of God’s remnant church in this our day depend too largely on the ministers to fulfill the commission of Christ to go into all the world with the gospel message. Many have seemed to lose sight of the fact that this commission was given not only to those who had been ordained to preach, but to laymen as well. It is a fatal mistake to suppose that the work of saving souls depends alone on the ordained ministry. All who receive the life of Christ are called to work for the salvation of their fellow men.” {RH, March 24, 1910, emphasis mine}
The Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 is for everyone who claims the name of Christ. We have all “been sent” to “share good news.” We are all missionary evangelists. To our families and our communities here in the U.S. and to the farthest reaches of foreign lands—this is our mission field, and you are the missionary evangelist.