By Evangelist Ernie Perkins, Th. D., D. Min., Ed. D., Ph. D.
“There is no such thing as ‘a spiritual gift,’” I heard the seminary professor proclaim.
“Ernie, evangelism is not a spiritual gift,” my evangelist friend said as we sit together on the plane.
“Evangelism is not a spirit gift,” was the headline of the article. Each of these was a statement spoken or written with a great deal of conviction but I believe with an equally amount of error.
Whether one believes evangelism to be a spiritual gift or not, depends upon that person’s belief in the purpose of spiritual gifts. There are basically two interpretations for the purpose of spiritual gifts. Both interpretations would agree that Jesus in His incarnation is the only person who had all of the spiritual gifts; however this where the similarities end.
The First interpretation, and the one most Christians probably hold, is as follows:
The local church is the body of Christ in its community. Thus, various members have various spiritual gifts so that together they can do the work of Christ in that community and beyond. One pastor has stated that he would not have anyone teaching in his Sunday School whose spiritual gift was not teaching. This is an example of this interpretation. (I sincerely doubt that the pastor would also say that no financial gifts would be accepted by anyone whose spiritual gift was not giving.)
The second interpretation is as follows:
The foundation for this interpretation is the belief that God’s goal for each Christian is to become as much like Jesus on planet earth, as is heavenly possible. If this is true, and since the incarnated Christ had all the spiritual gifts, each Christian should strive to reproduce those characteristics in his or her life. All those that are not spiritual gifts are to become spiritual disciplines with the person working toward developing it as much as heavenly possible.
For example, giving is not my spiritual gift, but it does not disqualify me from my responsibility to be a giver, thus, I had to develop it as a spiritual discipline. To do so, I needed a teacher or teachers to demonstrate by their example of giving how to give. God gave me such a teacher in my wife of fifty-five plus years when He joined my life with the life of one whose spiritual gift is giving. Thus, for all the years my wife and I have lived together, I have had a marvelous teacher whom God has used to teach me to develop the discipline of giving that has become so strong in my life that some may think it is a spiritual gift . . . it isn’t.
If the major task of the church is evangelism, and I believe it is, then God intends for each of us to faithful share the message of salvation to a lost world. Each of us is to do evangelism. Few of us have the gift of evangelism and so we need teachers to help us develop this discipline.
There are such teachers. I have friends whose spiritual gifts include evangelism. These gifted people win more people to Christ each year by accident than I do on purpose. It is as super natural for them to witness with the goal of leading the person to a response as being an encourager is to me. Almost every encounter for some is an evangelistic event with a sharing and an invitation. It isn’t something they think about doing; it isn’t something they pray about; it is just part of who they are and what they are. They are just practicing their spiritual gift.
It is true that evangelism is not among the listed various spiritual gifts in the New Testament. Can one believe that the different lists name all the spiritual attributes that were in the life of the incarnated Christ? One cannot see all of who He was and what He was by the various lists of spiritual gifts.
There are differences between a spiritual gift and a spiritual discipline. Among those differences is this major one: a spiritual gift can never be lost, but one can lose his or her spiritual discipline by not using it. It is like a muscle in that unless it is used it become flabby and useless. This is the reason why we need to continuously offer our people opportunities for additional training and help in evangelism. Witnessing programs such as those developed by Campus Crusade, the Billy Graham Evangelism Association, and Evangelism Explosion are needed by the new Christian as well as by the older Christian. “Use it, or lose it” is a characteristic of any spiritual discipline, but especially by the discipline of evangelism. The crown of joy is the crown given to the soul-winner; thus, the devil will permit the Christian to have “joy” in any part of the Christian life if it will take him or her away from the task of evangelism.
A major danger of any spiritual gift is the tendency of the gifted person to use the practice of his or her spiritual gift as the measuring rod for the love that others have for Christ. My wife, for example, could easily become guilty of wondering, “how anyone can love God and not at least tithe.” Because it is so super naturally easy for her, it should be for others . . . if they love God as she does.
I have been on too many evangelism conferences where a fellow evangelist will proclaim, “If you love Jesus, you will find it easy to witness and share Christ.” For some it will never be easy, but for none does it take away from our Lord’s commission to do so . . . easy or not.
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