If I were to ask what spiritual gift is the most helpful for evangelism what would people suggest?
I suspect many would say something like the gift of faith or teaching. However, I am going to suggest that encouragement is high on my list of spiritual gifts helpful for evangelism. My reasoning is simple. Lots of people can be encouragers which means evangelism is not restricted to the super gifted or talented. Secondly when Paul went on his missionary journeys he chose Barnabas as one of his main travelling companions. Barnabas is known as the son of encouragement.
Encouragement is mentioned as a spiritual gift in Romans 12:8. It says "If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging." Some translations use the word exhortation. In New Testament Greek it is the word parakletos which literally means to come alongside and comfort. This word is used to describe the Holy Spirit in John 14:16 who is described as a helper, a comforter, and advocate.
Sometimes the best evangelism is to come alongside people, to empathise, to help and advocate on their behalf, it is an act of intercession, calling on God to intervene in their life.
Let's think about the ministry of Barnabas. He is a Jew from Cyprus and called an apostle in Acts 14:14. He is the cousin of John Mark, author of the gospel of Mark (see Col 4:10). He is described in Acts 11:24 as "a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith". So clearly he has godly character, is dependent on the Spirit and moves in faith. This is a powerful combination.
However Barnabas, despite all his credentials is primarily known as an encourager. He is introduced at the end of Acts 4 as Joseph. It says:
"Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet."
Barnabas is a nickname. He was such an encourager they called him son of encouragement. This included financial generosity as well as spoken words. It was Barnabas who made a way for Paul after his conversion to meet the apostles in Jerusalem, despite Paul's fearsome reputation as a threat to the church. Barnabas saw the best in people. It was this quality that made him such a good evangelist (despite being an apostle).
In Acts 11:25-26 it reveals that the first place the term christian was used was the church planted by Barnabas in Antioch.
"Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch."
Barnabas the encourager was a church planter, a disciple maker and a team player. It was Paul and Barnabas who returned to Jerusalem together with donations from the new churches to care for the poor in Jerusalem. He had a social conscience.
All of this is the work of evangelism, the encouragement, the church planting, teamwork, the disciple making, the social justice. At heart, Barnabas just wanted to come along side people and help. He did this practically and with the good news of Jesus, making disciples in the process.
Are you an encourager? If so, you are an excellent candidate to do the work of evangelism. Can you come alongside people and help? I think many people are qualified to do this. Perhaps you volunteer at a community cafe, or a food bank? Is your kitchen table open for supportive conversations? Do you give financial help to projects or those in need? There are many opportunities for encouragement.
Barnabas is clearly a man of great ability but he is remembered by his nickname, son of encouragement. This is why I think encouragement is one of the most important qualities in evangelism. Let's not be distracted by charismatic or very gifted individuals who seem to be more able but let's include ourselves as encouragers and evangelists who can share good news with those in need.