Whilst it is possible for a church to send a missionary to a place for any particular reason it is certainly the case that most missionaries are sent out for the purposes of evangelism. This appears to be a good thing and as evangelism is very nearly a Biblical word it would suggest that most missionaries have a clear idea of what they were sent to do. However the fact is that evangelism is not a Biblical word and as such it can be prone to mis-definition. The aim of this short paper is to suggest a definition for evangelism that would fit it to be a core task behind our missionary activities.
First it needs to be restated that evangelism really is almost a Biblical word; in fact I would not be surprised if one or two of the less literal translations use it. It is certainly very closely related to another word which is Biblical: 'evangelize'. In Rom 1:15 Paul states: 'I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also' (Bold mine). The expression 'preach the gospel' is a translation of a single Greek word: 'Euaggelizo'. It is this Greek word that is the basis of 'evangelize'. The word is not restricted to this verse either it occurs fifty two times in the New Testament. We therefore see that 'to evangelize' is Biblical.
We also have a clear meaning of 'euaggelizo'. It comes from two other Greek words 'eu' meaning good and 'aggelos' meaning 'messenger'. Therefore if you 'euaggelizo' you are being a messenger of good. The Bible then refines this general meaning a little by asserting that the Good News (the 'euaggelion' in Greek) is the Gospel of Christ. Therefore in the famous section of Romans Paul is saying that he is more than happy to preach the gospel because it is the gospel of Christ.
Given this strong definition of evangelize you may wonder as to why I would suggest that evangelism isn't a Biblical word. If evangelize is really just a transliteration of the Greek word for preaching the gospel then surely evangelism is just a noun given to the process of evangelizing. That could well be true, and frankly if it was I would not have much to write. However the fact is that the Bible does not name the end-goal of evangelizing; it names the method by which it occurs. As soon as we use the word evangelism our gaze switches from the method which is clearly proscribed to the end-goal which is not. Further once focused upon 'the end' we allow our creative minds to second-guess the correct way to achieve that 'end' and before long we begin to assert that the 'end' may well justify any and all means that we chose to invent.
Thus in the modern church we have 'life-style' evangelism, 'non-threatening' evangelism, 'caring' evangelism and many other branches of the evangelism-target all of which suggest different and alternative methods to perform evangelism. Perhaps if we were to ditch the word 'evangelism' and leave ourselves with the authorized 'preach the gospel' we would not have allowed ourselves quite so much latitude.
It is also worth noting that Paul does not simply state that he preaches the Gospel; within the same letter of Romans he is quite proscriptive as to how he did it. In Romans 10:14-15 we get:
Rom 10:14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? Rom 10:15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
First we should note that 'preach the gospel' and 'bring glad tidings' in Rom 10:15 are again 'euaggelizo': Paul is talking about evangelizing. In talking about preaching the gospel Paul states that you have to have a preacher, or in the Greek 'kerusso'. Thayer and Strong will both tell you that kerusso means 'to herald' or 'proclaim as a herald'; Strong goes as far to suggest that the term corresponds to our notion of the town crier. Further 'kerusso' occurs sixty one times in our New Testament; it is even more Biblical than evangelize. I am not necessarily stating that evangelizing only occurs if you carry a large bell and bellow at the top of your voice but it does involve the public, unambiguous verbal announcement of gospel truth.
To balance this paper a little I should add that I fully agree that the nature of the preacher will affect the efficacy of the message. If your life and actions do not match the statements that are being made then your credibility as a messenger are compromised. Outside of evangelizing we are to show compassion and love for others. Most of these good things that Christians are urged to do really are good things and we should do them. However the living of a Christian life is not evangelizing and it should not play into our definition of evangelism.
At a linguistic level this paper has really been an exercise in splitting hairs. Evangelize is an extremely Biblical word which means preaching the gospel. The Good News is the Good News of Jesus Christ and we should not be ashamed of it. The word preaching is further refined and asserted by Paul to be public audible announcement. Insofar as we chose to name that whole process evangelism and insofar as we chose to send missionaries to perform that process then we are being Biblical. If however we allow ourselves to define evangelism as anything which in our opinion may inspire church growth then we are in danger of throwing out the baby and leaving the bathwater behind.