What in the
world is a Catholic Evangelist?
By Eddie Russell fmi
A foot in the door bible in your face unwelcome visitor calling at the wrong time of the day to tell you that you are in the wrong Church and going to hell unless you get a full immersion baptism as an adult is what the word evangelist seems to conjure up in most peoples minds. Also, the words evangelisation, evangelism, evangeliser, evangelist all sound the same to many people who might think they are all different expressions of the same thing and, not very Catholic to say the least.
Another commonly held belief is that anyone who gives witness to and about Jesus is an evangelist. That is a truism of course, but it is not an accurate understanding of the work and ministry of an evangelist. So what in the world do we mean by the term, Catholic Evangelist and what in the world do they do?
An evangelist is a specific office and
charism within the Church.
In Ephesians 4: 11-12. Saint Paul says, "And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ." (NAB). We can see from Saint Paul's teaching that the work of an evangelist is a specific ministry within the Church that also includes the ministry of the preacher and teacher. In it he says that the function of the five-fold ministries is to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry which builds up the Church.
This of course includes conversions which add to its numbers. Anyone not doing these two functions is not an evangelist although they may well be involved in the work of evangelisation and functioning as an evangeliser. In addition, the ministry of the evangelist is an office, a specific calling and a charism which should be recognised and commissioned by the Church.
Effective evangelisation: We must be
convinced of our own salvation first.
Before we can be successful in our evangelisation we need to be knowledgeable of the bible and convinced of our own salvation in order to give an effective witness to the saving grace of Jesus Christ to unbelievers. If we have any doubts at all people will pick it up and reject our witness as empty doctrine. If we are not properly informed we will be tempted to give our own opinions or personal theologies and both will invalidate our witness. This will be especially so if the one we are evangelising is fundamentalist bible believing Christian, a cultist or one who simply asks the difficult questions.
Those involved in the new-age movement are usually aware of the bible, Jesus, the Christ or god. If we lack in our definitive understanding of what the true God of the bible has revealed about Jesus, we will fail to convince even the most ignorant new-ager or sceptic. To this end, the work of an evangelist has two major functions: Instructing Christians in the Word of God in line with the teachings of the Church and bringing unbelievers and nominal Christians to conversion.
In the area of instruction and evangelisation, Flame Ministries International was founded in 1990 under Archbishop Foley to meet the specific needs of the new evangelisation in line with the spirit of Ad Gentes, Dei Verbum and Evangelii Nuntiandi which also included bringing disenfranchised Catholics back to the Mass and the Sacraments. In 1996 Flame Ministries International was granted canonical recognition as an 'association of Christ's faithful' (Canon 301) entitled to use the name "Catholic" (Canon 300).
Commissioned by Archbishop Hickey as Catholic Evangelists', Eddie Russell, Frank Tassone and Steve Peake are the only officially recognised evangelists in fmi. The other twenty members assist in the ministry by performing many practical and ministerial functions.
Flame: Equipping the saints for the work
of the ministry.
In the area of 'equipping the saints' as Saint Paul puts it, the Set My People On Fire seminars which have been conducted in Perth twice a year since 1990 and in 1994 in Peterborough and Birmingham in England, have been the major ongoing outreach of fmi in the formation and re-evangelisation of Catholics as well as achieving many conversions to the Catholic Faith in Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and England. Many parish missions, revival rallies and evangelistic outreach missions have also been successfully conducted in these countries.
Saint Jerome said that, "Ignorance of the Bible is ignorance of Christ".
These in-depth Bible seminars therefore have a three-fold function for effective evangelisation. Firstly, they introduce people to a fuller knowledge of the Trinity through the Word of God, encouraging participants to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and to be open to the direct action of the Holy Spirit as it was experienced at the first Pentecost. (The consequence of which was the conversion of thousands and the birth of the Church). Secondly, they instruct participants in subjects that give a solid formation in the Word of God that builds their personal esteem and scriptural knowledge. Thirdly, they equip participants in the practical work of evangelisation wherever they are called to be a witness to their faith.
Each five week segment is joined by three full weekends that allow key bible subjects to be examined and understood in greater depth. The seminars follow a simple three-fold formula; they equip, build and send forth. With a balanced enthusiasm to set God's people on fire for the Gospel and a greater ability to combat fundamentalist errors, the participants can become more effective evangelisers in the parishes and groups to which they belong.
There are many ministries involved in
the work of evangelisation.
However, many of them evangelise into themselves and seek to make people members of their own group. Unlike those ministries fmi does not evangelise into itself, but into the Church. The role of the evangelist is to make people members of the local Church and not members of their own ministry. Therefore, like Jesus, we are small in numbers.
Jesus and his disciples is the model
To understand the different roles of the evangeliser and the evangelist; preacher, and teacher we could take our model from Jesus and his disciples. It was Jesus practice to send his disciples ahead of him when he was planning to minister in a particular place. The disciples would arrive some days earlier and tell the people what Jesus had said and done in the other towns and area he had visited. They would testify that he was the messiah by the works and messages that they had witnessed.
They told the people when and where Jesus would be when he arrived and encouraged them to be there to hear his message. When Jesus arrived the people were gathered in anticipation. When the time was right Jesus would proclaim the Kingdom to them and invite them in. Jesus didn't try to be popular but effective and this gained acceptance as well as rejection, especially from the priests.
In these two roles we see that the disciples were the evangelisers and Jesus was the evangelist. The role of the evangeliser was to bring the people to the evangelist. The evangelist's role was to proclaim the Gospel and bring the people into the Kingdom. Jesus as the evangelist was also the preacher and teacher. He then sent the people to the priests (pastors) for their ongoing nurture and then he moved on to gather more sheep into the fold.
Evangelists seem to be irresponsible
The priests (pastors) of course didn't like the way Jesus had stirred up the people and they considered him an irresponsible and dangerous upstart. Nothing much has changed today. Pastors still consider evangelists to be irresponsible; they come in, stir up the people and leave them to deal with it. We are often asked by leaders and pastors, "What are you doing about follow-up?" Our answer is usually a polite but challenging, "Nothing". Why, because it is the role of leaders and pastors to provide ongoing follow-up, not the evangelist. If anyone leaves the Church after that, then it is not the fault of the evangelist, but rather those responsible for their ongoing formation, growth and participation in the community.
The ministry and role of the evangelist
is itinerant by its nature.
The ministry and role of the evangelist is to proclaim the Gospel, bring the people to accept their salvation through Jesus Christ, empower them by the Holy Spirit and hand them on the pastor for their ongoing nurture and instruction in the believing community where they live. Therefore, the evangelist's ministry is itinerant by its nature and so he moves on to bring in more of the harvest. Thus the process of evangelisation, equipping and growth continues for the building up of the body of Christ. Of course, the evangelist will return as many times as they are welcomed. When they do return, they will inspire the people again by encouraging and teaching them to stay committed to their community and faith in Jesus Christ.
A visiting evangelist can be a breath
of fresh air for the pastor and his flock.
The pastor spends a lot of time with the people often giving homilies every week. After a while the people become too familiar with him and close off. The evangelist can be a breath of fresh air for the people and can usually say things and cover topics that the pastor dare not lest he be rejected. Pastors that understand the value of a visiting evangelist will use them to attract new members and inspire their flocks.
To this end, Flame Ministries International write, conduct and preach various bible seminars, evangelistic revival rallies, parish missions, youth ministry, family concerts, theatre arts, family counselling, school missions and conferences in and for, both Catholic and non-Catholic churches. In addition fmi have published books, magazines, newsletters and a music CD which have been published and distributed in over fourteen countries as part of a vision for a wider form of evangelisation.
What effect can an evangelist have for
the local Church?
Considering the enormity of some mission outreaches it is difficult to estimate the numbers of people that have received salvation through the work of fmi and its evangelists. However an example would be a preaching mission to Singapore in 2000 which saw over 150 youth return to the Church at a youth rally where around two thousand youths came to hear Catholic evangelist Eddie Russell preach a message. During that week alone several Buddhist youths accepted Jesus Christ and approximately 8,000 people attended Eddie's rallies where many conversions and healing were reported.
In Malaysia the following year thousands attended Eddie's rallies in Kuala Lumpur and Penang where hundreds also received healing, conversion and a renewed faith. In Australia fmi have conducted interdenominational evangelistic missions in Mandurah, Northampton, Port Hedland, Perenjori, Dardanup, Esperance and Pemberton as well Perth and Melbourne.
An evangelist can address governments:
WA Rural Summit 2001.
Convened by the Perenjori Shire Council and sponsored by the Minister for Agriculture, Hon. Kim Chance MLC, the National Civic Council, Elders, Midwest Development Corporation and Agriculture W.A, Eddie was invited by the Shire President, Mr. Brian Baxter to be part of a panel of experts to address the plight of Australian farmers in today's troubled rural economy. After his address, which was later reported in the rural press, a non Christian farmer commented. "That message was exactly what we needed. I've never heard religion put that way before. It wasn't what I expected. It was very practical and easy to understand - Excellent!"
An evangelist can affect the morals of
a whole Shire.
The impact of his message at the Rural Summit not only inspired farmers to a new vision but it also had an effect on the morals of the whole community. "Eddie, you've done a great job." Shire President Mr. Brian Baxter said afterwards. "The people of Perenjori are now reassessing their moral values thanks to you and fmi. People are still talking about your session. You've made a big impact. A lot is going to come from this." He said.
The Gospel is in fact practical and easy
The messages preached and taught by the evangelist are delivered in a language and in such a way that those without faith, knowledge or belief can accept them. This can easily irk the intellectual and religious minded because it is the message of Christ expressed in the simple colloquial language of the people. An evangelist does not give 'talks'.
Although many practical and personal examples are given in the messages, the evangelist preaches and teaches from the texts in the bible and explains them in a manner that can be understood by the listeners, not so much that the listener can be educated, but that they can accept it in a personal life-changing experiential way.
The evangelist, preacher and teacher is not interested in what they think the text means to themselves, but rather what God intended it to mean for us. Therefore the messages are all based on the Word of God and what it means for us in today's context. In addition, the evangelist will always give the people an opportunity to make a personal decision to accept Jesus and their salvation. This is often referred to as analtar-call and people will be invited to step forward as a sign of conscious acceptance.
An evangelist meets the challenge of
today's rejection of Christ.
If we do not feed our children good food they will go to their friend's house to eat. If not there, they will certainly be attracted to junk food. No one with ears to hear and eyes to see can deny the ever increasing numbers of Catholics that leave the Church each year either to join fundamentalist sects or give up altogether.
Neither can we ignore the denial of Christ and the disintegration of morality in today's world. The occult and anti-Christ New Age Movement is gaining a major control and influence in all areas of society, media and governments throughout the world including the Church. The fmi evangelists and members are ready and willing to meet these things head on.
Catholics are not impervious to these influences and many have adopted New Age practices and many attend non-Catholic churches seeking to be fed with the "Word". Flame Ministries International is a Catholic ministry of the Word and can meet this need which it proclaims in season or out of season. Catholics are well imbued with the sacraments but many are in poverty when it comes to an experiential knowledge of the bible which is a living and active Word of God.
Protestant Pentecostals want to attend
Invitations to preach come from many areas such as America, India, Africa and other countries, many from Pentecostal churches who are hungry for the Gospel. This is a phenomenon that cannot be dismissed out of hand since these churches are inviting a Catholic ministry to preach to their pastors and revival crusades. In Perth a Pentecostal pastor who invited Eddie to preach at his church, was so impressed that he asked permission to attend Flame's Sunday evening services with his congregation when fmi finally gets a building in which to hold them.
What in the world then is a Catholic Evangelist? That's the one who is serious about preaching the Gospel of salvation and proclaiming the truth that Jesus is Lord for the conversion of nations. Jesus didn't offer the Gospel of salvation as an optional extra and neither does a Catholic evangelist. Rather he seeks out the lost sheep and brings in the harvest of souls without compromising the truth. The world is the field of great price and the evangelist is prepared to go into it and pay the price to gain it for Jesus and the Kingdom God.
Hearing the message preached in their own colloquial language people understand, respond and accept Jesus as their Lord and saviour. The Church exists to evangelise and when she fails to do so, she fails to be Church. While there are evangelists in the Church and ministries involved in evangelisation, the Church cannot fail to be Church. It therefore fulfills the Great Commission and builds up the body of Christ to its full stature. That's what a Catholic evangelist is in the Church and, in the world.
© Copyright Flame Ministries International 2002.