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Letters to Carlos: Preacher-Teacher, or Evangelist?

Preacher-Teacher, or Evangelist?

Dear Carlos,

I am so glad for your questions about evangelism and your desire to be sure that, as a pastor, you are fulfilling your divine calling. Wanting to lead people to Christ should be the desire of every Christian, and your expressions of those desires are heart warming. Congratulations! There are few joys greater than leading someone to Jesus.

It may surprise you, however, when I tell you that I do not have the gift of an evangelist. God has called and equipped me to be a teacher. It is when I am teaching God’s Word to others that I feel His Spirit soar within me and that I am doing what He has called me to do. I remind you of Paul’s statements in Ephesians 4:11-12: Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. Sure, I believe God can give more than one talent to a person, but let me tell you, I am more than satisfied with the one I have: to be a teacher is fantastic!

What a joy it has been for me to teach the Word of God in so many corners of Latin America. I often feel like Paul: Though I am least deserving of all God’s people, he graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ (Ephesians 3:8). What an honor! What a privilege has been mine!

And yes, I have some very close friends who are evangelists. Theirs, too, is a clear, undeniable, wonderful gift. I think of my good friend Guillermo Villanueva who works out of McAllen, Texas. Wherever he goes–Mexico, Guatemala, small churches, large churches or evangelistic crusades in large stadiums–God uniquely uses him to draw others to Christ. I read his letters and reports and am filled with joy to see God at work through him. The gift of evangelism God has given him is a beautiful and awe-inspiring gift.

To be sure, I´ve tried doing evangelism, but those experiences have been somewhat frustrating. I well remember one of my first evangelistic efforts. I had just arrived in Cuba after finishing my Bible training and was invited to preach a series of evangelistic services twice a day over a three-day period at a church in the eastern part of the island. I was very excited and eager to watch God move in the hearts of men as I boldly proclaimed salvation by faith alone. Finally, after preaching my heart out for three days, one little twelve-year-old boy responded to the invitation. While I was thrilled for the twelve-year-old, that week-end I had my first indication that God had not called me to be an evangelist. A few years later, I was invited to participate in various Billy Graham campaigns in Argentina, Mexico and Puerto Rico. In those events I saw God work through a man God had truly and powerfully anointed with the evangelistic gifts and was overjoyed as throngs of people met their Lord and Savior. And during that time, my role as a teacher was confirmed as I taught those new believers how to take their first steps in their newfound faith. There is no doubt in my mind that God called me to be a teacher and not an evangelist.

While I may not have the gift of an evangelist, that does not mean I do not feel the need to share the Good News. For me those opportunities have come on one-on-one situations, mostly in airplanes, hotels and taxis. For instance, in Lima, Peru, I hopped into a taxi and the driver asked me where I wanted to go. The driver seemed to be in a jovial mood so told him, “Please take me to the most beautiful city that has ever existed.” He turned around with a surprised look on his face and said, “But you´re already there, sir!”

—“Lima is a very beautiful city, but I know of one that is far more beautiful.”

—“Yes? Tell me, about it?”

—“See if you can guess the city I am referring to,” I replied.

—“New York?” I wondered if he was making quick calculations about what the fare would be from Lima to New York City.

—“No, much more beautiful than that,” I told him.

—“Paris!” he said with a smile.

—“No, no. Not even close. Way more beautiful.”

After a few more guesses, he finally said, —“Just tell me, I have no idea.”

—“I am talking about the New Jerusalem,” I said.

—“New Jerusalem…in Israel?”

—“Well, not exactly,” I said. “I am talking about the most incredible and beautiful city ever imagined, the Heavenly Jerusalem. The one God himself is building and preparing for us right now. Do you know how to get there?”

—“I have no idea,” he responded.

Over the time it took him to drive me to the airport, we had the most wonderful conversation about God and Heaven and the Good News of the gospel. When I hopped out of the taxi and paid my fare, I knew a seed had been planted that hopefully would one day lead to a good harvest.

At the same time, Carlos, there have been numerous occasions when my attempts have been rudely refused. I believe that as we interact with people the Lord prompts us and helps us engage others that they may hear the gospel, whether they respond favorably or not. Further, this person-to-person kind of evangelism, I believe, is what every believer in Christ is called to practice, although it is not easy.

I remember a trip to Venezuela, in 1998, with a great co-worker, Jaime Rodriguez, and a series of pastors’ seminars in Barinas, Merida and Maracaibo. I love this part of the world and the beauty of the Andes Mountains, especially around the city of Merida. The Bible conferences were well attended and received and our spirits were soaring so that we felt we were on top of those amazing mountains.

To go from Merida to Maracaibo we contracted a taxi. While the taxi diver was a good driver, he was a dour, old, silent man. As soon as he learned we were preachers he let us know that he was not at all interested in anything we had to say about God or religion. Respecting his request, we kept the conversation on different topics—such as the torrential rainstorm we were experiencing. We arrived at the bridge crossing over the Santo Domingo River, only to learn the river was rising so rapidly the bridge was too dangerous to cross. The military arrived and quickly set up a provisional narrow bridge only for pedestrians. Interestingly, it was our dour, old, clever taxi driver who got an idea that saved the day. He walked across the wobbly planks of that ill-formed bridge and found another taxi with passengers on that side who needed to get to our side. We made a simple “passenger exchange,” and, bags in hand, we braved the loose planks of the military bridge, hopped into the other taxi and were on our way.

Our new chauffeur was a friendly talkative fellow. When he learned we were pastors, he immediately began asking questions—the very opposite of our experience with the other driver. The bridge crossing at the Santo Domingo River provided the perfect analogy. Sin, like the flooding river, broke all the possibility of getting to heaven. To get to the other side we needed a bridge. And we told him how Christ, dying on the cross, made that bridge trustworthy and sure. Before arriving in Maracaibo the driver asked for permission to stop the taxi in order that we might pray with him.

Carlos, our place as teachers is a church podium or a Sunday school class or a Bible study here and there where, with God’s grace and help, we work to “equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ (Ephesians 4:12-13). Ours is the very, very special calling to humbly shepherd, care for, and lead God’s people in the paths of righteousness.

I am not a prophet. I am not an evangelist, nor do I want to be. God called me to be a teacher! What a vocation! This has been God´s marvelous and glorious gift to me—and from our letters—I believe this is your gift as well. I urge you to develop your gift to the maximum. Delight in the tremendous pleasure of opening the unfailing divine truths to God’s needy people.

I continue to pray that God will powerfully use you to enrich the spiritual lives of your congregation and community.

That is enough for now.

Your old friend,

Les Thompson

This is a chapter from Les Thompson’s new book, Letters to Carlos, which will be published in Spanish in the coming months by Editorial Portavoz. The book deals with the struggles, trials and difficulties that accompany a pastor’s life, but also with the supreme joy felt by those who serve Christ.