“Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:13–14). So wrote Paul, though he was quick to point out that he was not feathering his own nest. He told the Corinthians that he personally was not after any remuneration, only that the church should financially support the work of evangelists generally. It can be debated that this passage refers specifically to the early office of apostle and is therefore no longer applicable. If it is applied these days, it seems to take a stand for ministerial stipends for professional clergy. But the missional-incarnational church will recognize that the gifted evangelist will be in hot demand for dinner parties, lunches, late-night discussions, and gatherings of parents at the school gate after school. If the evangelist can surf, she should be at the beach regularly. If he skydives (to use an earlier illustration), he should be at the airstrip every Saturday. If the evangelist is an artist, a classic-car enthusiast, a great cook, or an expert gardener, he or she must be free to interact with other members of the like-minded community. If this means working part-time to be free to work the nets created by the church’s friendships, then that church should consider supporting the evangelist financially.
Supporting those who proclaim the gospel, when applied to Western culture today, could be a healthy corrective for many people for whom the cycle of work, family, and church is so consuming that they never have time for building friendships with not-yet-Christians. Ironically, full-time clergy in the traditional-attractional churches often find themselves so run off their feet with the busyness of serving on various committees, attending myriad meetings, and running worship services, that they have very few social contacts with unbelievers. We think this is one of the great blights of the institutional church; it covertly withdraws its clergy from casual, social contact with the neighborhood community. The propensity for clergy to move regularly to different parishes means many don’t have long-term friendships in any one area. And when a minister joins the local jogging club or the book-reading society at a local bookshop, he or she is often accused, by the congregation, of not doing the Lord’s work.
While it is the gifted evangelist’s primary role to proclaim the gospel, the New Testament exhorts all believers to talk about Jesus. We don’t think this should take the form of running someone through a prescribed four-step road to salvation. Rather, it seems that the New Testament writers imagined such Jesus-talk would occur in the everyday conversation between friends. Wrote Peter, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15). As the net of friendships expands, so in casual, ordinary ways should the subject of our hope come up. This might be a conversation that emerges from a film you’ve seen together, a reflection on a common experience, or at a time of grief, suffering, or even great joy. Peter saw this happening in such an everyday way. Paul was no less casual about it when he wrote, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Col. 4:5–6). It seems apparent that the two-tiered approach we mentioned earlier is behind Paul’s statement here. Paul, in verses 3 and 4, announced that he was an evangelist (proclaimer), and that the Colossians were to pray for his evangelism (v. 4), live godly lives before unbelievers (v. 5), and give gracious answers to unbelievers’ inquiries (v. 6).
If we’re living holy lives, praying for not-yet-Christian friends, socializing regularly and building friendships with them, and introducing them to our evangelist friends, we will be creating the fertile soil for God to do his exclusive work, giving people the gift of faith. This is the incarnational approach to outreach.