When someone says 'evangelist', it seems that many Christians automatically think of a Billy Graham-esque figure: someone who draws huge crowds and preaches the Gospel to thousands of people at a time. But is this a Biblical picture of the ministry of the evangelist or a cultural model? Although we may be able to learn from historical as well as living examples of evangelists to a certain extent, they cannot be a higher authority than the Biblical picture.
In fact, the Bible doesn't present us with vast swathes of information regarding this ministry. It's mentioned in Ephesians 4:11, and in Acts 21:8 Philip is identified as an evangelist. The third usage of the word evangelist is when Paul tells Timothy (an apostle) to 'do the work of an evangelist' in 2 Timothy 4:5. Perhaps it's because the word is only used these three times in Scripture that we can be so quick to turn to famous examples to learn about evangelists. Three verses doesn't seem like an awful lot, yet these three verses are exactly what God wanted us to know about the ministry of the evangelist. The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture tells us that the Bible means that the Bible tells us all that we need to know on the matter.
In actual fact, there is quite a lot that we can learn from these three verses. Acts 21:8 identifies Philip as an evangelist, which allows us to look at his ministry (recorded in Acts 8) to learn about the ministry of an evangelist. And there we learn something interesting. Yes, Philip speaks to the crowds in Samaria, but he also shares the gospel with individuals (i.e. the Ethiopian eunuch). The work of an evangelist is not simply to fill vast concert halls and sports stadia, but also to tell individuals the Good News. Philip was faithful to his calling to preach the Gospel in whatever situation God set him.
Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us another important detail about the ministry of the evangelist. Evangelists (along with the other Ascension Ministries) are given 'for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry' (Eph. 4:12). That means that an important part of the evangelist's role is directed toward the church. He is not just someone who speaks to non-Christians and tells them the gospel. He is also someone who equips the saints for evangelism. This is something hugely important. Many Christians feel guilty about evangelism. They know that it is something they should be doing, but yet they don't know how, and so they don't. They haven't been equipped for this important responsibility. But God has set in His Church evangelists who will equip the saints for evangelism.
Finally we have 2 Timothy 4:5. What can this verse contribute to our understanding. It's not even actually about an evangelist. Yet this verse can serve as a great encouragement to us. So often we lament the lack of evangelists in the church today. They often seem to be so few and far between. So how can Christians be equipped to make the gospel known if they're aren't evangelists available to equip them. Well, 2 Timothy 4:5 gives us an answer. Other ascension ministries can also be involved in this equipping work. Yes, it might be the primary responsibility of the evangelists, but the evangelists can be joined in that by the apostles (like Timothy) and pastors. So if there is no evangelist, that's no excuse. Pastors can help equip the saints under their care for evangelism and perhaps even through that God will raise up new evangelists.
We need biblical evangelists: evangelists who will proclaim the gospel faithfully in whatever openings God grants them and who equip other believers to take part in the great task of evangelism. Let's pray that God would raise up such evangelists. But let's not just wait around for the evangelists to come, rather, like Timothy, we should 'do the work of an evangelist'.