Definition and Etymology:
“Evangelist” is the Greek noun EUAGGELISTES – εὐαγγελιστής (yoo-ang-ghel-is-tace’) that is related to the verb EUAGGELIZO – εὐαγγελίζω (yoo-ang-ghel-id’-zo) that means, “bring or announce good news, proclaim, or preach (the gospel).” The double G, (γγ), in Greek is equivalent to “ng” in English and is pronounced as such.
EUAGGELISTES is a compound word from EU – εὖ (yoo) that means, “good or well,” and AGGELOS – ἄγγελος (ang’-el-os) that means, “announce, proclaim, report, or bear a message.” So EUAGGELISTES denotes a “preacher or proclaimer of good news,” (i.e., the gospel of Jesus Christ), and is transliterated into English as “Evangelist.”
In secular use, this word identified one who proclaimed “oracular announcements.” It was used for bringing news, especially of a victory in war or some other joyous event, in person or by letter. It carried the idea of fate. As such, the term became a technical one for “news of victory.”
Except in Church writings, this is a rare word. It occurs three times in the New Testament: referring to Philip as “the evangelist,” Acts 21:8, (the only Evangelist named), to Christ’s gift of “evangelists” to the Church, Eph 4:11, and to Timothy, who was the Pastor-Teacher at Ephesus, who was to do the work of an “announcer of the gospel,” 2 Tim 4:5. Epaphras no doubt also falls into this category, Col 1:4-7. The term denotes a function, which Apostles also exercised, though not all who had the gift of Evangelist were Apostles.
Being “bearers of the Good News,” the Evangelist does not proclaim oracles, as among the Greeks, but the good news of salvation in Christ, Rom 10:15. It is the supernatural ability to effectively communicate the gospel and win the lost to Christ with exceptional clarity. Also included in this is the idea that the ministry of an Evangelist was itinerant, and it might be done publicly or privately.
While the gift of Pastor‑Teacher communicates the whole realm of Bible doctrine inside the local church, the gift of Evangelism is designed to communicate the gospel outside the local church. By its title, it is clear that this gift has reference to effective preaching of the gospel message to the unsaved, and as such, it is to be compared to the teaching gift of Pastor-Teacher, which gives instruction to the saved. Therefore, Evangelists are not primarily Gospel compilers, but missionaries who pioneer outreach in areas where the faith has not yet been proclaimed.
Like the other three communication gifts in Eph 4:11, only male believers receive the gift of Evangelism. Their gift is the God-given ability to communicate the gospel in a manner that holds the unbeliever’s attention, where people will gather or assemble to listen to the presentation of the gospel. These unbelievers will give attention and listen to the evangelist, where they would not listen to anyone else, cf. Acts 11:19-21.
The Evangelist exercises his spiritual gift in a group of unbelievers. His gift is designed to reach the unreachable with the gospel message. It is the ability to teach and express the gospel so that unbelievers will listen and have a clear understanding of the issue of salvation; i.e., that faith in Christ means eternal life, and that rejection of Christ means eternal condemnation.
Often, an evangelist will have a speaking talent that goes with his gift, but it is the gift that creates the opportunity for unbelievers to give it a hearing. When this spiritual gift functions, the unbeliever will listen to the gospel almost by compulsion, as the man with this gift is sensational in his communication of the gospel to the unbeliever. He is a sensational speaker with a sensational personality; this is necessary in order to get a hearing from unbelievers.
Philip, as an example of an Evangelist, was a traveling missionary. He went from Jerusalem to preach in Samaria and was on the road to Gaza when he met the eunuch whom he baptized, Acts 8:5f, 26f. He afterwards came to Azotus, (known as Ashdod today), and passing through, he preached the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea, Acts 8:40. Those like Philip, who acted as missionaries to the Gentiles in the early Church and went to those who never heard the gospel, were also called Evangelists.
Pastors do not have this gift, but they are mandated to do the work of an evangelist in 2 Tim 4:5, “Do the work of an evangelist.” Although Timothy was ministering for a while at the church of Ephesus, he was not to forget the work of an Evangelist; preaching the gospel to unbelievers. A local ministry should never in any way neglect evangelism. In addition, every Evangelist should be part of a local assembly and must continue to learn Bible doctrine from his own Pastor-Teacher so that he is better prepared to witness the gospel message.
Likewise, all believers are mandated to evangelize in 2 Cor 5:19-20. Jesus gave the “Great Commission” to the Apostles in order to evangelize the world, Acts 1:8, “And you shall be my witnesses,” cf. Mat 28:19-20; Eph 6:20. This work continues through all believers today. This is because, as a Royal Ambassador, every believer represents God before the human race. The fact that a believer may not possess this gift does not excuse him from being burdened for lost souls or witnessing to them. While all are called to bring the gospel to the lost by whatever means may be at their disposal, and accordingly, like Timothy, should do the work of an evangelist, it is the sovereign purpose of God that certain men should have a special gift in evangelism. Never the less, it is necessary that all believers personally witness for Christ and give the message of reconciliation as opportunity presents itself.
The Apostles and prophets laid the foundation of the Church, and the Evangelists continue to build it, by winning the lost to Christ.